Why are Republicans fighting to pollute the air we breathe?
For over 50 years, the Clean Air Act has kept Americans safe from air pollution and the health impacts of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter. As global temperatures have risen, the Clean Air Act also has empowered the United States to reduce pollution from heat-trapping gases, which are a harmful byproduct of burning fossil fuels and are fueling the costly climate crisis. In the past, the Supreme Court has recognized that the Clean Air Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to address heat-trapping gas pollution. But this week, Republican state officials and members of Congress are asking the Court to gut the Clean Air Act, throwing families under the bus at the behest of coal company executives.
Republicans have shamelessly become the party of polluters, putting the profits of oil, gas, and coal CEOs above the health of the folks who sent them to Congress. Through dubious legal arguments in an amicus filed in West Virginia v. EPA, Republicans essentially are asking the Supreme Court to let coal companies pollute without limits. And if they are successful, they will pass on the costs of that pollution to American families. By pushing the Court to side with coal companies, Republicans also are brazenly trying to make an end run around Congress, asking the judicial branch to dismantle legislation that they have been unable to weaken through the legislative branch. The fact is the Clean Air Act was passed and amended by lawmakers of both parties — and it was reaffirmed on a bipartisan basis last summer, through a vote to strengthen safeguards against methane pollution.
As chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, I rallied 190 congressional Democrats with Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) of the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works and Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr., (D-N.J.) of the House Committee on Energy & Commerce to submit our own amicus brief to the high court, urging the justices to rule in favor of American families and established precedent. Our amicus brief, which was signed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) makes a simple case: the Court must not put the profits of coal companies above the health and well-being of millions of American families. It also asks the Court not to curtail any tools needed to solve the climate crisis.
Time and time again, Republicans have claimed that it is impossible to keep our economy growing while cleaning up the air we breathe and addressing climate change. But this argument does not hold water. In the five decades after the Clean Air Act was passed, the United States reduced the combined emissions of the six most common pollutants by nearly three-fourths — all while continuing to lead the world economy and meeting the energy needs of Americans.
The Republican argument also belies the fact that inaction is becoming costlier every year. Four decades ago, the United States experienced, on average, less than three so-called billion-dollar disasters a year. That means that between 1980 and 1989, the United States spent a combined $190 billion addressing the damages caused by climate-fueled disasters. Those days are long gone. Just last year, Americans faced 20 climate disasters — and communities faced a whopping $145 billion in damages in a single year. We know what’s fueling these disasters: heat-trapping gases are making heat waves more intense, strengthening monster storms, and putting lives at risk. This is not the time to kneecap our ability to keep these gases in check and reduce global temperatures.
Republicans don’t have a plan to reduce pollution. If it was up to them, America would go back to the days when polluters wrote their own rules and recklessly endangered the health of the American people. They also have no plans to lower the cost of energy, or to do the work needed to urgently solve the climate crisis. Democrats do. In fact, our Democratic majority in the House of Representatives already passed important provisions to reduce air pollution and electric bills through the Build Back Better Act. These include converting 60,000 diesel school buses and more than 100,000 postal trucks to clean electric vehicles; banning new drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and the Eastern Gulf of Mexico; and upgrading living conditions in public housing to lower costs and make life better for more than 800,000 Americans.
We need every single tool in the toolbox to solve the climate crisis — especially the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court must dismiss this bad-faith attempt to gut one of our keystone environmental safeguards, and Republicans need to stop playing politics with the health of American families.
Kathy Castor is Chair of U.S. House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.