By a vote of 275 to 142, the House of Representatives just passed H.R. 2250, a dangerous bill that allows mercury and other toxic air pollution to pour freely from thousands of the nation's worst air polluters. H.R. 2250 exempts industrial boilers (the on-site power plants at major industrial plants) and industrial waste incinerators from the Clean Air Act's pollution control requirements. It encourages companies to burn tires, plastics, used chemicals, spent solvents and other industrial wastes without doing anything to control the resulting toxic air pollution. And, adding insult to injury, it deprives people in neighboring communities of any ability to find out what wastes their dangerous neighbors are burning and what toxic pollutants they are emitting.
"By taking away pollution control requirements for industrial boilers and incinerators, H.R. 2250 would literally kill and sicken thousands of Americans," said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew. "And what is simply appalling is that the industry lobbyists who pushed for this bill and the members of Congress who voted for it know these facts."
The bill is a gift to industries that have long fought for approval to burn industrial wastes in dirty, uncontrolled facilities rather than dispose of them safely. In a clear indication of the serious threat posed by H.R. 2250, the Obama administration last week indicated that it will veto H.R. 2250 and a similar bill (H.R. 2681) that exempts cement kilns from the Clean Air Act. H.R. 2681 passed the House on October 6, 2011 by a vote of 262 to 161.
The pollution control standards that the House voted to rescind today would save between 2,500 and 6,500 lives every year by reducing emissions of fine particulate pollution from the largest and worst polluters. Annually, these standards would also prevent thousands of heart attacks, asthma attacks, and emergency room visits, and hundreds of thousands of days of missed work and school that would otherwise be caused by pollution-related heart and respiratory illness. The standard's reductions of emissions of mercury, arsenic, and other highly toxic pollutants would prevent cancers, birth defects and other catastrophic diseases. Mercury exposure can cause serious developmental and brain damage to fetuses, babies and young children.
H.R. 2250's proponents seek to portray themselves as helping the economy by eliminating "job-killing" regulations. But they have never provided any credible evidence that the clean air standards for industrial boilers (or cement kilns) would kill a single job or that rescinding these standards would save a single job. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that pollution standards for industrial boilers would lead to the creation of 2,200 jobs, a figure which doesn't even include the jobs created in industries that manufacture and install pollution control equipment.
Further, the money value of the health benefits associated with reducing industrial boiler pollution—$54 billion a year—exceeds the cost of the standard by 38-to-1. For every dollar spent by dirty industries to clean up, $38 in health benefits are generated.
Supporters of H.R. 2250 cynically claim that the bill simply "delays" clean air protections for industrial boilers and incinerators. In reality, the bill removes any deadline by which industrial boilers and incinerators must control their pollution. Proponents of the bill are well aware that pollution reductions never occur without legal deadlines and that the real effect of eliminating compliance deadlines for these pollution sources is to permanently exempt them from the Clean Air Act's pollution control requirements.
In a recently released Gallup poll, nearly 70 percent of Americans expressed a lack of confidence in Congress's ability to handle problems.
"It's not surprising that the American public has lost faith in Congress's ability to solve problems," said Pew. "The supporters of H.R. 2250 and H.R. 2681 have hijacked a real conversation about the economy and injected these terrible bills as a solution. It's snake oil. These bills lift up the rock and reveal what's worst about politics right now—elected representatives for sale and big corporate donors buying exemptions from the law at the expense of ordinary Americans' lives and health."