Stand Up for the Clean Air Act
Nov 15, 2011 Posted by Dawn Merritt
By Nancy Lange, IWLA Energy Program Director
More than two decades and a few careers ago, I was working with the American Lung Association of Minnesota to strengthen the Clean Air Act. This landmark law, passed with bipartisan support in 1970, is the first line of defense to protect Americans from air pollution that damages our health and costs lives.
In 1990, we worked closely with Senator Dave Durenberger, a Republican from Minnesota, who had crafted bipartisan legislation to update and modernize air pollution standards. This amendment to the Clean Air Act was passed with support from 89 senators and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush.
This spring, Senator Durenberger reflected back on that important victory, calling the Clean Air Act “one of the greatest public-health achievements of American history.” The law prevents deaths and illness from heart and respiratory diseases, so much so that while implementing the requirements of the Clean Air Act will cost $65 billion, the benefits in health care savings – not to mention lives saved – will reach $2 trillion.
Contrary to those who malign the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its efforts to implement the standards in the Clean Air Act, Senator Durenberger urges instead that EPA “is in the process of acting on recent scientific findings to update and modernize air pollution standards as we envisioned over two decades ago.”
When I came back to work for the Izaak Walton League in 2005, our organization was pushing EPA to do just that. The agency was crafting air pollution standards to reduce mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from power plants. Our members testified before EPA that women and children are at risk from eating mercury contaminated fish. We rallied other fishing and conservation groups to join us in asking for common sense standards to preserve the complete angling experience for future generations. While it took too many years and several twists and turns, in late 2010, EPA finally issued a strong standard to bring down levels of these most toxic air pollutants from power plants. And IWLA members were again there to support these new protective standards. Don Roberston, president of the League’s Pennsylvania Division, testified before EPA this April that because of mercury contamination, fish from the Susquehanna River cannot be safely consumed. He urged EPA not to weaken the standards in the face of utility industry pressure.
Today, the Clean Air Act is under almost daily assault by politicians who are attempting to derail the standards that will keep our air safe to breathe. Those folks are out of step with most Americans. According to a poll by the American Lung Association, when asked who should be responsible for setting the standards to achieve healthy air, a bipartisan 69 percent of Americans believe that EPA scientists – not Congress – should set pollution standards. Seems like a logical choice to me too.
I learned many lessons from these two decades of work. Clearly, you’ve got to hang in there to achieve real progress. We need to keep teaching our kids, grandkids, and other young people to love the outdoors so they too will have the energy and passion to fight for clean air and clean water. We need to remind our politicians that a healthy economy is inextricably linked to the health of our land, water, and air resources. And finally, once again, please let your members of Congress know that you oppose any efforts to strip away sensible Clean Air Act protections that safeguard Americans from air pollution.
— Nancy Lange, IWLA Energy Program Director
Re: Stand Up for the Clean Air Act
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