Attack on environment continues

Four decades ago, pollution in our nation’s air and water had reached crisis levels. The air was heavily polluted in many places, and so were the rivers and lakes that people relied on for drinking water, fishing and business. Because widespread pollution had become a public health threat for every American, Congress began enacting bipartisan landmark environmental laws that have had a positive impact on this nation. The Environmental Protection Agency was established in 1970 to implement these critical public health safeguards.

Forty years of public health and environmental protections have enabled us to make great strides in protecting the health and safety of Americans in every community nationwide. Today, however, there are special interests that want to gut our landmark environmental laws that have protected children and families for generations, and the House of Representatives is leading the charge. 

It is important to take a moment to consider what is at stake: the health and safety of the American people, a robust economy that enables us to compete globally and our quality of life that has dramatically improved since the enactment of environmental safeguards. We cannot afford to take such things as clean air and clean water for granted, and more work remains to be done.

We know that toxic pollution has serious adverse effects on human health and can increase the risk of heart attacks and asthma attacks, harm reproductive systems and cause cancer, birth defects and premature death. One of our vital health safeguards, the Clean Air Act, mandates strong standards that reduce dangerous air pollution and protect the most vulnerable in society, including pregnant women, children and the elderly. 

Scientists have learned that heavy metals such as mercury and lead can damage a child’s nervous system and harm an infant’s brain, causing slower mental development and lower intelligence. In January 2012, an advisory committee for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reiterated that there is no known safe level of lead in children’s blood, and recommended that the federal government lower the level it currently uses to determine if a child is suffering from lead poisoning. 

Another heavy metal, arsenic, can cause cancer and damage the nervous system, kidneys and liver. Toxic soot and smog pollution can cause difficulty in breathing, harm the lungs, aggravate asthma attacks and increase the risk of chronic bronchitis, heart attacks and premature death. According to the CDC, more than 10 million children and almost 30 million adults in the United States have been diagnosed with asthma.

The fact is, dangerous pollution threatens our children and families, and we know that public health protections work. I often say that if you can’t breathe, you can’t go to work or school. By reducing pollution, employers and families can also save money through lower healthcare costs. 

Our environmental safeguards have had a measurable impact on human health. According to a congressionally required study, the Clean Air Act’s benefits include saving 160,000 lives, preventing 1.7 million asthma attacks and avoiding 13 million lost work days in 2010 alone. 

In addition to concrete health benefits, our environmental laws can boost the economy and create new jobs in our nation’s clean technology industries. Since implementation of the Clean Air Act in the 1970s, followed by the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, Superfund and other important environmental laws, America’s gross domestic product has risen by more than 200 percent, and it remains the largest in the world. Complying with the nation’s public health and environmental-protection laws has bolstered a $300-billion-per-year environmental technology sector that employs an estimated 1.7 million people.

These federal safeguards have been under continuing attack in the House of Representatives. Since Republicans took control of the House in 2011, they have voted 191 times on legislation to undermine our landmark public health laws. House Republicans have tried to undo a long list of environmental protections, including Clean Air Act rules that reduce mercury and other toxic air pollutants from power plants, toxic soot and smog-forming pollution that crosses state lines and harms the health of people in neighboring states, hazardous air pollution from industrial cement-manufacturing facilities and toxic air pollution from industrial and commercial boilers.

Although the Senate has repeatedly stopped these ongoing assaults on public health protections by House Republicans and polluters, there is no end in sight to their campaign to undermine these safeguards, and they have signaled their intention to continue to target clean-air protections in 2012. 

A review of the facts makes clear that our environmental laws provide major health and economic benefits to the American public. A healthy environment and a thriving economy go hand in hand, and those who wish to undermine our public health protections on behalf of special interests will bring harm to the American people. 

The sad truth is House Republicans have chosen to side with big polluters instead of the people who elected them. I will use every tool available to me as chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee to oppose any legislative effort to undermine our longstanding environmental safeguards, which have protected the health and well-being of the American people.

Boxer is chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

The Hill Special Report: Energy & Environment
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♦ Sen. Shaheen: Energy efficiency is good policy, good for economy
♦ Rep. Hastings: Actions louder than words for Obama on energy
♦ Rep. Markey: Drill here, sell there, pay more
♦ Rep. Whitfield: White House is all talk on its energy strategy
♦ Rep. Olson: We need to reduce dependence on foreign oil
♦ Rep. Latta: Obama doesn’t back up his energy rhetoric