By Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) - 09/29/15 06:00 AM EDT
It is often forgotten that the Clean Air Act was signed into law in 1970 after passing Congress by a strong bipartisan vote. By enacting this landmark legislation, the federal government took a stand for public health and against air pollution, a move that was heralded on both sides of the aisle and applauded by the American people because it put the public’s interests first. In the decades that followed, we saw substantial economic growth while enjoying a cleaner environment. The fight to protect our environment didn’t end in 1970 though. President Obama is continuing this effort with the Clean Power Plan, which aims to transform the way we produce energy. Unfortunately, just as has been the case with the Clean Air Act, the Clean Power Plan is not short on detractors.
The same cast of characters that cried foul and predicted the end of American competitiveness in 1970 is making the same exaggerated cries today about the Clean Power Plan. This posturing is both shortsighted and ill-founded.
I hear from some of my Republican colleagues that if the United States cuts its carbon emissions, it will have no impact on the global temperature or sea level rise. Yet, that is not the reality. Any effort to reduce emissions will have an impact, and through our leadership we can challenge other nations to do the same. As we heard from Chinese President Xi Jinping, China has accepted this challenge and is introducing a cap-and-trade program that will undoubtedly spur innovation and economic growth from one of our key competitors. The world’s top carbon emitter is now stepping up along with many others around the world. We are not alone. Rather, we are leading the effort to solve the greatest environmental challenge of this generation.
I am proud of the work the Environmental Protection Agency is doing. The agency’s top priority is to protect the health of the public and the planet, and I commend them for staying true to their mission in the face of unfounded and hyperbolic criticism.
So what are the facts? The Clean Power Plan is projected to save American families nearly $85 on their annual energy bill in 2030. It will grow the solar and wind energy industries and make major advancements in energy efficiency across our economy. A notable co-benefit of the Clean Power Plan comes in the form of lives saved. A cleaner energy sector will reduce premature deaths due to power plant emissions by 90 percent in 2030. In addition, fewer asthma attacks in children, fewer missed school days and fewer sick days at work will ultimately lead to a more productive workforce and population.
Scientists have made it abundantly clear to lawmakers and industry leaders alike that climate change is here and we must work together to deal with it. Without transforming our energy sources or reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, we will not be able to address the looming challenge of climate change. The issue of addressing climate change should not be relegated to partisan bickering on the campaign trail or be restricted to academic discussions. This will affect us all, and we all should be concerned.
Leaders in the faith community have also been calling on us to address climate change. When Pope Francis spoke before a joint session of Congress last week, he called for “a courageous and responsible effort to redirect our steps and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.” He went on to state, “I am convinced that we can make a difference, and I have no doubt that the United States — and this Congress — have an important role to play.”
The Clean Power Plan is one piece of the broader effort we need to undertake to ensure a healthy environment and vibrant future for our children and grandchildren. We need to listen to our scientists, to our religious leaders and the American people and support broad-based national policies that will cut carbon pollution, because acting on climate change is not only an environmental imperative, but a public health and economic one as well.
Johnson has represented Texas’s 30th Congressional District since 1993. She is ranking member on the Science, Space and Technology Committee.