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Protecting Polluters, Not People, One Rider at a Time

The Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, FY 2012 (H.R. 2584) is chock-full of riders that protect polluters, not people. This bill makes excessive budget cuts and policy decisions that compromise public health, especially the health of environmental justice communities already disproportionately impacted by pollution. The outrageous cuts have brought together more than 70 groups on a letter to outright oppose H.R. 2584, citing the bill's numerous cuts with serious environmental justice implications. For the sake of all communities, especially those already overburdened by pollution, Congressional reps need to vote “No.”

The disproportionate impacts of pollution on communities of color, low-income and tribal communities have been well-documented over the two decade. The scholar Dr. Robert Bullard at the Environmental Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University has published prolifically on the topic. And reports like American Lung Association’s Too Many Cases, Too Many Deaths: Lung Cancer in African Americans have shown light on the increased incidence of lung cancer related deaths in the African American community.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published several studies connecting the incidence of asthma, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and other ailments to environmental quality, breaking it down by various demographic characteristics. Their recently released asthma report, CDC Health Disparities and Inequalities Report — United States, 2011: Current Asthma Prevalence — United States, 2006–2008, shares the demographic composition of people in 2006–2008 living in areas below the smog and fine particulate matter standards as well as asthma rates by race, income and education. The differences based solely on race are as follows:

  • Fine Particulate Matter Exceedances: 9.7% of White Americans, 15.2% of African Americans and 26.6% of Latino Americans
  • Smog Exceedances:; 30% of White Americans, 40% of African Americans and 48.4% of Latino Americans
  • Asthma Rates: 7.8% White Americans, 9.2% African Americans and 14.2% Latino Americans

The delays in H.R. 2584 endanger the health of all communities, especially communities of color, low-income and tribal communities, by delaying the implementation of air toxics standards like the Mercury and Air Toxics standard for power plants and the Cross State Air Pollution rule. These standards will drastically reduce mercury and fine particulate matter pollution. Based on fine particulate matter reductions alone, they are expected to prevent as many as 51,000 premature deaths each year. There is an economic savings of $420 billion every year as well, because of the reductions in missed work and school days, hospital visits and more.

Other examples of where this bill undercuts the health of communities include prohibiting the EPA from establishing a more health protective fine particulate matter standard and a federally enforceable coal ash standard. Both fine particulate matter and improper disposal of coal ash impact communities of color and low-income communities disproportionately.

This funding bill makes policy decisions that gives polluters a free pass to continue polluting the air, water and land that all Americans depend on. It removes important public health protections, especially for those already most impacted by pollution. For these reasons, Congressional reps need to vote “No” on H.R. 2584.

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.