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Clean Air Act

Anyone who has seen the “Planet Earth” episode on jungles has witnessed the colorful plumes and remarkable displays of the Birds of Paradise.

But when you’re hiking (read: struggling) through the dense growth of Papua New Guinea’s rainforest, one of the world’s largest at over 100,000 square miles and home to 38 of the 43 Bird of Paradise species, it’s pretty difficult to catch a glimpse these magnificent birds.

The 112th Session of the House of Representatives is at it again, doing what they do best: writing legislation to strike and block the clean air and clean water laws that keep us alive and healthy.

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.

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.

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