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House Votes to Increase Mercury Pollution, Premature Death and Disease

H.R. 2681 promotes waste-burning, lets some of the dirtiest polluters escape clean air laws
October 6, 2011
Washington, D.C. —

The American public took a blow today in the first round of Congressional votes expected over the coming days that pit the interests of dirty industries against the public's health and well-being. By a vote of 262-161, the House passed H.R. 2681, a public health disaster that outright exempts cement manufacturing plants from the Clean Air Act and encourages uncontrolled burning of tires, scrap plastics, used chemicals and other industrial garbage.

Cement kiln in Midlothian, TX. Clean air standards for industrial boilers and cement plants are projected to yield combined annual benefits of between $29 billion and $72 billion, whereas the most those industries will have to pay to clean up is roughly $2.5 billion. (Samantha Bornhorst)

"Does the House of Representatives think that not enough babies are being born with developmental damage due to mercury poisoning?" asked Earthjustice attorney James Pew. "The House essentially just opened up all the doors and windows in homes across the country and urged polluters to blow their toxic emissions right in. The supporters of H.R. 2681 cast their votes today for more toxic mercury pollution, more premature death and disease, and more days when people have to miss work or school because they are too sick to go."

"My town is surrounded by three cement plants and has two of the most toxic elementary schools in the nation due to dirty air," said Alex Allred of Midlothian, Texas. "I invite, no, I beg the supporters of H.R. 2681 to come to Midlothian and see for themselves. People here are sick, including my son. H.R. 2681 is being sold as an economic remedy, but it does nothing to create or preserve jobs. It only legalizes uncontrolled air pollution, which makes things far worse for working families and children across the country."


Alex Allred, holding a photo of her son and herself.
"H.R. 2681 is being sold as an economic remedy, but it does nothing to create or preserve jobs. It only legalizes uncontrolled air pollution, which makes things far worse for working families and children across the country."
(Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

The House is expected to vote on a similar bill soon (H.R. 2250) that would exempt industrial boilers (the on-site power plants at major industrial polluters) and incinerators from the Clean Air Act and encourage uncontrolled burning of industrial garbage. Taken together, H.R. 2681 and H.R. 2250 will cause between 3,400 and 9,000 preventable deaths every year from respiratory disease alone. They will also lead to dangerous emissions of mercury, arsenic, lead, chromium and other toxic pollutants that cause cancer, birth defects and developmental damage in young children.

In a clear indication of the harm H.R. 2681 and H.R. 2250 would cause, the White House earlier this week indicated that it will veto both bills if they are delivered to the President's desk.

Supporters of both bills have stated that the bills simply "delay" clean air protections for cement plants and industrial boilers. The reality, however, is that language in both bills clearly removes any deadline by which cement plants, industrial boilers and incinerators must control their pollution. Proponents of these bills 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.

Moreover, dirty industries and their Congressional allies have placed their opposition to clean air in economic terms but have produced no shred of credible evidence that clean air is bad for the economy. All signs point to the exact opposite. Clean air standards for industrial boilers and cement plants, for example, are projected to yield combined annual benefits of between $29 billion and $72 billion, whereas the most those industries will have to pay to clean up is roughly $2.5 billion. The annual economic benefits of the Clean Air Act are expected to reach $2.2 trillion in 2020.

"It stands to reason that clean air is good for the economy and our society," added Pew. "Air pollution often makes people too sick to go to work and H.R. 2681 and H.R. 2250 will only make that problem worse. I think the American public deserves an explanation from the supporters of these bills as to how policies that kill and sicken people are in the public's interest."

Contacts

Sam Edmondson, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6705

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.