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The Right to Breathe

Meet Tommy Allred. He lives in Midlothian, TX, a town of fewer than 10,000 roughly 18,000 residents that also hosts three of the nation's most polluting cement plants.

Like millions of kids across the U.S., Tommy has asthma. He developed the condition after his family moved to Midlothian, when he was two years old. First it was pneumonia, then double pneumonia, bronchitis, fever, and inexplicable coughing followed by shortness of breath.

A thousand political fires are burning in Washington, D.C., as members of the House of Representatives hijack the budgeting process. They aim to torch critical environmental safeguards—from endangered species protections to standards that keep our air and water clean.

Their strategy? Since Congress has to pass a spending bill that funds government agencies—the EPA, Forest Service and others—anti-environmental representatives think they can slip bitter pills into the bill and make the country swallow.

Remember the anti-drug commercial where illicit drugs (played by butter) fried a brain (played by an egg)? Over the action, a gravelly voice intoned "This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?"

Those PSAs were a fixture of my childhood. Now, well into adulthood, I wonder if it is perhaps time for a redux. But in the sequel, instead of playing drugs, butter would play the part of dirty air.

Once upon a time, a valley known for being so fertile that it could grow much of America's produce came to be known for something else entirely: air pollution. The people of California's San Joaquin Valley needed help because the polluted air was making them sick with asthma -- at rates three times higher than the entire nation. Thousands were dying each year because of the smog, particulate matter, lead, arsenic and toxic gases in the air.

Imagine two tiny figures perched on a politician's shoulders—one scientific, the other political.

The scientist whispers in the politician's ear: "You can save 6,500 lives every year with these health protections!"

The tiny politician counters, "You can save those lives, but who will save you from the powerful industry lobbyists outside your door?"

When Lisa Jackson took the reins as administration of the Environmental Protection Agency, she issued a memo to staff stating that:

"Science must be the compass guiding our environmental protection decisions. We cannot make the best decisions unless we have confidence in the integrity of the science on which we rely. Therefore, it is my promise that scientific integrity will be the backbone of my leadership of the Agency."

It comes as no surprise: Americans overwhelmingly want clean air. We’re very pleased to see that our friends at the American Lung Association have concluded that 75 percent of American voters support the Environmental Protection Agency and their efforts to clean up smog pollution.

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