The U.S. House of Representatives forwarded a bill on Friday that environmental leaders warn would undermine the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to curb air pollution and protect public health. Green groups are now urging the Senate and President Barack Obama to stand strong -- and avoid a repeat of recent environmental health failures, such as the shelving of proposed ozone and greenhouse gas standards.
"The Tea Party House has passed, with ease, the most radical dirty-air legislation in the history of this country," John Walke, the clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told HuffPost. "It absolutely eviscerates the legal standards for adopting emissions limits under the Clean Air Act."
Introduced by Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.), the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation (TRAIN) Act would create a special committee to oversee the EPA's rules and regulations, and require the agency to consider economic impacts on polluters when it sets standards concerning how much air pollution is too much. For the last 41 years, since passage of the Clean Air Act, only scientific and medical considerations have been allowed in that analysis.
"This results in lying to the American people about whether the air is healthy or not," said Walke.
The TRAIN Act would also repeal or block new and pending clean air safeguards, from standards that would curb mercury emissions from power plants to limits on pollution that travels across state lines. According to EPA estimates, such measures would save 140,000 lives over the five or more years of proposed delays.
Another provision would postpone new EPA regulations on gasoline -- a welcome revision, according to industry groups. "The new requirements could be devastating for consumers and communities across the nation," Misty McGowen, director of federal relations at the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement. "American taxpayers deserve a thorough analysis of the economic and jobs impacts before EPA moves forward with its proposal."
"EPA is a rogue agency," Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) told AP. "They are producing rules in a fast and furious manner that greatly affect this nation's ability to generate electricity. This bill just wraps three of them together and says, 'Take a step back, do a cost analysis as the president has asked of agencies.'"
As HuffPost reported last week, a recent study from the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst estimated a net benefit in jobs from investments made to meet clean air standards.
While the proposed TRAIN Act is not expected to pass the Senate and despite the White House threatening a veto, Friday's vote still concerns many environmental and public health advocates. "It's not really the passage in the Senate that is a reasonable prospect. It's the prospect of the Tea Party putting a gun to the head of this country and refusing to fund the government unless they get their way in eviscerating the Clean Air Act," said Walke.
"It is simply outrageous that in this century we have to protect a law that has been in place since 1970 and has proven itself over and over again in its health benefits and its benefits to this economy," said Sen Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, during a press conference on Wednesday. "If you can't breathe, you can't work."
Boxer underscored estimates from the EPA that, by 2020, the Clean Air Act would prevent 230,000 premature deaths, 2.4 million asthma attacks, 200,000 heart attacks and 5.4 million lost school days. "That is only if our laws remain on the books and are enforced," she added, "and that's why we must defeat this attack being waged by the House Republicans in the name of deregulation."
"We call on the U.S. Senate to stand strong and reject the TRAIN Act and its deadly impacts on public health," a group of leading environmental groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund and the Sierra Club, wrote in a joint statement on Friday. "The House today showed they have bought the false argument that we need to choose between protecting lives and creating jobs. Now we need the Senate and the President to protect our right to breathe."