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Congress v. The Environment: The Attack Begins

(A powerful faction in the new Congress has allied with industry to weaken our nation’s most basic environmental laws. Earthjustice will report on this expected barrage of legislative attacks as they occur.)

<<<Update 6 p.m., Monday, Jan. 31: Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller has introduced his own “Dirty Air Act.” Like Sen. Barrasso's bill (see below), Sen. Rockefeller's bill blocks the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to limit carbon dioxide emissions for two more years.

In 2007, in its landmark Massachusetts v. EPA decision, the Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases are covered by the Clean Air Act. The Environmental Protection Agency is required to regulate them if found to endanger public health and welfare. The EPA made such a finding in 2009, relying on decades of evidence, research by hundreds of the world's leading scientists, and numerous other sources.>>>

Today, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced an offensively overreaching "Dirty Air Act" that is the first of many anticipated attempts to make Congress the executioner rather than the executor of this nation's environmental protections.

Sen. Barrasso represents a loose coalition of senators and representatives who seek to ally the 112th Congress with big corporate polluters.  They are trying to advance a slew of "Dirty Air Acts" that would paralyze the 40-year-old Clean Air Act and prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from reducing health-threatening air pollution such as mercury, lead and carbon dioxide. Sen. Barrasso's bill would specifically stop the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions on the basis of their global warming impacts.

Sen. Barrasso was immediately lauded by industry -- which points to what is really driving this new environmental assault: money. It is becoming obvious that these political figures care more about the profits of the big polluters who fund their campaigns than the health of the public they represent. All one has to do is follow the dirty energy money in Congress and you'll see this list of who, along with the senator, is pushing these Dirty Air Acts:

  • Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK)
  • Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI)
  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
  • Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller (D-WV)
  • Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)
  • Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)
  • Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX)
  • Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA)
  • Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX)
  • Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI)
  • Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK)

These pals of polluters are targeting, in particular, limits on carbon dioxide pollution. Currently, there is no limit on the amount of CO2 that polluters can spew into the air. The EPA has gone about setting some reasonable limits for just the nation's heaviest polluters, but for those industries and folks in Congress, even that's too much.

Meanwhile, since he took over the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Fred Upton has been scheming with Sen. James Inhofe and their corporate polluter friends to give them the gift that just keeps giving: free reign from limits on their carbon pollution and more gag-holds on the EPA's and Clean Air Act's ability to do anything about it.

Next, of course, is the founder of Dirty Air Acts, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who tried this stunt in the last session of Congress but was defeated. She's been promising of late to try again with a "Dirty Air Act: Murkowski 2.0." We've said enough about her and her ties to dirty energy industries in the recent past to keep you reading for a while.

Then, not to be underestimated, is a proposal by Sen. Rockefeller, an longtime friend of dirty coal, who's been at this gig of trying to pay the industry a great favor for a long time. J-Rock's "Dirty Air Act: The Rock Block" would be exactly that: a politically motivated handout to dirty polluters at the expense of the people of his state and others.

Science shows us that if we don't limit carbon dioxide pollution, we as a nation are going to suffer. Asthma rates will increase, life-threatening smog will be harder to reduce, heat-induced sickness and mortalities will increase, and our most vulnerable populations -- babies, kids, seniors, and the ill -- will be at special risk.

In addition, we will face myriad other environmental challenges -- floods, severe weather patterns, dangerous heat waves, drying waterways and threatened drinking water supplies, lower river levels halting critical commercial trade and navigation, stunted grain harvests and agricultural productivity, food security dangers, and more.

Congress gave the EPA the job of protecting our health and environment by placing limits on harmful pollution. After extensive studies and research, the EPA's scientists and scientists from every major U.S. government agency that look at this pollution, have determined that some reductions on CO2 are gravely needed.

The others in the above list came out swinging against the EPA and the Clean Air Act as soon as they took their seats in the 112th Congress. We'll keep you posted on their attempts.