Attacks on the EPA endanger public health and our economy

Stephen Smith | February 15, 2011 | Climate Change, Energy Policy

The basis for this post was an oped I authored, which ran today – Tuesday, February 15, 2011 – in the Tennessean.  The original is published here alongside US Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s oped advocating undermining EPA authority to enforce the Clean Air Act.

As parents and grandparents, there are many things we worry about for our children. We hope they get the right education, are exposed to good influences, and, most of all, we want them to be healthy. Having personally experienced a child struggling for asthmachildbreath during an asthma attack, I can assure you little else matters when children’s health is at risk. This is why I’m so offended by a number of professional politicians’ attempts to undermine life-saving protective health standards enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

President Richard Nixon, a Republican, formed the EPA in 1970 to be “a strong, independent agency” to “enforce environmental protection standards.” Since its beginnings, EPA, working closely with scientists and health professionals, has made important advances for public health  – from limiting lead exposure to improving air quality by reducing unhealthy soot, smog and other dangerous air pollutants. This is why the Clean Air Act has been a bipartisan success for more than 40 years.

Now, as before, we should rely on good science to show us what more we can do to protect our health and environment. Politicians, who are often doing the bidding of wealthy dirty energy companies like oil and coal, should not interfere with scientists and health professionals. These politicians, under the benign-sounding banner of “regulation reform,” are attempting to nefariously use our anxiety and frustrations during these tough economic times to prevent EPA from updating Clean Air Act safeguards based on new scientific data.

Ironically, it was this same political mindset of hostility to consumer-protection rules that allowed Wall Street to run wild with our money and caused much of the economic hardship we are all now experiencing. Just as we needed “cops on the beat” during the Wall Street scandals to control corporate greed, we need strong “cops on the beat” to control pollution to protect our health.

Here in Tennessee we have seen improvement in the air quality of our cities and treasured places like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Yet some politicians are attempting to rollback these public health gains by proposing broad attacks on protective standards that reduce levels of toxic heavy mercury, soot, smog and uncontrolled carbon pollution in our air. Indeed one national politician, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, is now calling to dissolve EPA all together.

greenhouse-gas-pollutionAnother sad irony of this radical agenda is that strong, clearly defined standards stimulate innovation and new economic development. We have seen it time and time again. When EPA set clear standards for controlling acid rain, control companies that make scrubbing equipment stepped up with new technology that improved the environment and created jobs at a cost lower than the industry predicted. Now we have the opportunity to unleash a new wave of clean energy innovation. Tennessee is well positioned to lead this effort with billions of dollars of new investments in solar manufacturing, clean cars and new pollution control technologies. To continue and accelerate new investment, we need clear market signals that investors can bank on as they grow the clean technology industry. Attacking protective health standards not only endangers our children, but it also sends the wrong market signals and endangers economic growth.

Stephen Smith
Dr. Stephen A. Smith has over 35 years of experience affecting positive change for the environment. Since 1993, Dr. Smith has led the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) as…
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