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In Dark House, A Few Lights Shine

The U.S. House of Representatives is a dark place right now. Many of its Republican members are maniacally focused on dismantling scores of health and environmental protections, using a budget bill to stowaway anti-environmental amendments that would never get passed on their own.

As Earthjustice’s Patti Goldman quipped: “Like fleas, they come with the dog, only these are far more than irritants.” Indeed, at risk is 40 years of environmental progress, including great strides in reducing harmful air pollution.

Thankfully, the House isn’t all dark. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN)—along with 32 of his colleagues—sent a letter yesterday to EPA chief Lisa Jackson that calls for the strongest possible health protections against the toxic air pollution generated by industrial boilers. These boilers are used as on-site power plants at paper mills, chemical plants, oil refineries and other large industrial facilities. But they don’t just create heat and electricity to power the facilities’ operations… they also create air emissions full of mercury, lead, cancer-causing dioxins and soot.

Back in June, the EPA released draft health protections for public comment. The agency estimated that these protections could save nearly 5,000 American lives every year by reducing soot emissions from boilers. Moreover, by reducing heart attacks, E.R. visits, asthma attacks and other health problems associated with this pollution, the American public would gain billions of dollars in health benefits, which would outweigh the costs to industry of complying with the pollution limits by at least $14 billion.

Industry groups, including the Council for Industrial Boiler Owners (CIBO) put on the pressure to scare Congress and the American public into thinking that these health protections against toxic air pollution were going to be bad for our country. Not surprisingly, numerous non-partisan investigations of industry's economic analyses demonstrate that their dire predictions of job loss and economic ruination are just plain wrong.

Laurie Johnson over at NRDC’s Switchboard has a great, thorough rundown of the many reputable sources that have debunked industry’s claims about the boiler health protections. Most recently, as she mentions, the Congressional Research Service concluded that “little credence can be placed in CIBO’s estimate of job losses.”

In the midst of the all-out assault on our health and environment going on in Congress, Rep. Ellison’s call for strong health protections comes at a good time. The EPA is on a court-ordered deadline to issue final health protections against boiliers’ toxic air pollution by Feb. 21, 2011. I echo Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew’s reaction to Ellison’s letter: “Our hat is off to Representative Ellison and his colleagues for standing up to the industry lobbyists and speaking up for American families.” Check out the letter, and if you see your rep’s name, consider thanking him or her for defending your right to breathe.

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