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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.

Last month, Sarah Bucic—a nurse from Delaware—went to Washington, D.C. as part of the "50 States United for Healthy Air" event to defend the right to breathe clean air. Today, she went back to do it again.

Midway through her testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Sarah—who testified on behalf of the American Nurses Association—pulled out a straw and held it up. It was skinny, the kind you might use to stir your coffee or tea—a toothpick passed through one end would more likely get stuck than fall through the other side.

Air doesn't fare much better. During an asthma attack, Sarah said, a person's airway constricts to roughly the size of that straw. In nursing school, she and her classmates were instructed to pinch their noses and breathe only through the straw to simulate what an attack feels like. Her demonstration was a powerful moment.

The report card was a jumble of Cs and Ds. As my coworker gazed over his kid's latest performance in school, a mixture of anger, disappointment, frustration, guilt and uncertainty flooded him. "Where did I go wrong?" he mumbled. No doubt his kid felt a mixture of emotion, too.

Report cards can be grueling for parents and kids alike. Poor performance in school is a hot button social issue, and one that's been studied and debated from many angles—but we may be giving short shrift to one of its roots: air pollution.

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