A 40th birthday to remember

However, the compromise tax cut extension package announced earlier this week should have served as the true signal of what was to unfold. The tax cuts envisioned by President Obama and the Republican leadership will result in Bush-era tax benefits for CEOs of major polluting corporations and a $30 billion extension of the Section 40 corn ethanol tax credit. Remarkably the tax benefits for polluters came at the expense of clean energy tax incentives like the extension of Section 1603 Convertible Renewable Tax Incentives of the Recovery Act.  This tradeoff has devastating implications for the environment, emerging clean energy industries, job creation and America’s competitiveness in the global market. It’s estimated if Congress were to extend Section 1603 for two years, 65,000 jobs will be created in the solar industry alone.

Those benefiting from the tax cut extension likely include Massey Energy’s outgoing top executive Don Blankenship (considered by some the Darth Vader of coal). According to the Associated Press, Mr. Blankenship earned $17.9 million in 2009 and his retirement package totals $12 million. Back in April Massey’s failure to protect their workers resulted in 29 miners losing their lives. As tax day and the one-year anniversary of that event approaches, Mr. Blankenship will likely be enjoying his continued tax break. 

Yesterday the EPA publicly requested for a 15-month extension of a court deadline on an air rule that would require a small universe of major polluters to clean up their smokestacks. This rule, the “Boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) rule,” has been litigated for more than a decade. EPA’s own assessment has shown that this air rule is estimated to save $14 billion dollars in healthcare expenses and 5,000 lives annually just by a reduction in small particle pollution that gets lodged in people’s lungs (this figure doesn’t even include the benefits from capturing mercury, arsenic and lead). A 15-month delay could result in the loss of 6,250 lives and at least $17.5 billion dollars in healthcare costs.

Today the EPA announced they want to delay a smog rule for the third time that would protect the health of millions until July citing they’d like to do more consultation with the EPA’s Clean Air Science Advisory Committee (CASAC). The CASAC, comprised mostly of Bush appointees, has unequivocally stated that the current standards compromise human health and recommended more stringent standard. Public health organizations including the American Lung Association, American Medical Association, American Public Health Association and Physicians for Social Responsibility support this scientifically-based standard. EPA was scheduled to finalize those standards back in October and have now signaled delay to July 29, 2011. In EPA’s own statement about the rule, better standards would help prevent up to 12,000 premature deaths, 58,000 cases of aggravated asthma and save up to $100 billion dollars in health costs annually. If averaged over the six month delay, that means up to 6,000 premature deaths, 29,000 aggravated asthma cases and $50 million dollars in healthcare costs.  

So, in “celebration” of such major environmental milestones, we’ve got the Obama administration waffling on following through on major planks of the Obama campaign – assistance for the renewable energy sector and protecting the American public rather than corporate bottom lines. While more money remains in the pockets of CEOs of major polluting industries, the underfunded renewable energy sector continues to languish and the lives of American kids remain at risk from toxic air pollution.

Emily Enderle is legislative representative for Earthjustice.

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