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Lives Threatened by EPA's Indefinite Delay on Clean Air

Shame on the Environmental Protection Agency. Yesterday afternoon, the agency decided that it would postpone indefinitely a new health standard finalized a few months ago that would reduce toxic air pollution from industrial boilers. These small power plants are used at larger industrial facilities like oil refineries and chemical plants—more than 13,000 of them are in operation across the country. In the aggregate, they are among the worst emitters of mercury, chromium, lead, arsenic, dioxins and other hazardous air pollutants.

But rather than clean up their pollution, the EPA decided instead to cave to the polluters and some members of Congress who began ramping up the pressure during the mid-term elections. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Since December, the administration has slowed review and implementations of several closely watched regulations, including two affecting the powerful coal industry: ash disposal and mountaintop-removal mining.”

It seems to be politics as usual with this EPA. According to the agency’s own assessment, the projected pollution cuts from industrial boilers would have saved up to 6,500 lives every year, and outweighed the costs to industry by $22 billion to $54 billion annually. But the delay in implementing these pollution cuts will now cost 6,500 lives, 4,000 non-fatal heart attacks and 4,300 hospital and emergency room visits for every year that we wait.

Perhaps most insultingly, during May—a month the agency designated as Asthma Awareness month—failing to clean up pollution from these industrial power plants will result in more than 41,000 asthma attacks for every year that implementation is delayed.

For months, industry and some members of Congress have badgered the EPA to scuttle this rule. The EPA first went to the courts, requesting an unreasonably long extension on a court-ordered deadline that the court ultimately denied. No matter. With some simple bureaucratic maneuvering, the EPA essentially circumvented that minor setback and has now delivered to those industries who spent millions of dollars on high-paid lobbyists who collectively cried “wolf” on Capitol Hill exactly what they wanted. Let’s hope none of those industry lobbyists have asthma or know someone who does.

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