Thirty-one physicians sent a letter to the U.S. Senate today, calling for the body to oppose a dangerous rider included in the House of Representatives version of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2011, commonly referred to as the “payroll tax cut” bill. The rider would exempt hundreds of industrial boilers and incinerators from Clean Air Act protections. The U.S. EPA estimates this single rule alone would save between 3,100 and 8,100 people each year from premature death, prevent more than 50,000 non-fatal heart attacks and avoid 50,000 asthma attacks.
The letter comes as the Senate prepares to take up the payroll tax cut bill, which the House passed earlier this week. While attention in that bill has focused on the controversial rider that would force the White House to decide on the Keystone pipeline, mostly ignored has been this important rider that poisons air for millions of Americans.
Physicians for Social Responsibility sent the letter today, stating: “There is no reason whatsoever that legislation to provide tax relief should be coupled with legislation that would deprive Americans of badly needed health protection. We have seen patients suffer and die from asthma, cancer, and other diseases known to result from exposure to pollution. We have the power to greatly reduce those devastating health outcomes. Not to do so is unnecessary and unacceptable.”
The controversial rider has severe and immediate implications for many Americans. Hundreds of these boilers are in place in many large industrial facilities located in cities and towns across the country. The rider “would allow and encourage the combustion of waste chemicals, spent solvents, scrap plastic and tires to be burned in facilities that do not have to control or monitor their toxic pollution at all,” the letter states.
“It’s absolutely unconscionable that the Senate should consider passing legislation that will literally kill thousands of Americans every year,” said Peter Wilk, executive director for Physicians for Social Responsibility.
The boilers rider, a sneak attack on clean air protections, means that polluters would not have to control their pollution until 2018 at the earliest and may never have to control them at all. A delay of four years would cause between 12,400 and 32,400 premature deaths.
“The Keystone pipeline is receiving the spotlight in this payroll tax cut bill,” said Earthjustice attorney James Pew. “But it is the boilers rider that will cost American lives and health. This holiday season, we may all get a payroll tax cut. But if this rider passes, 8,100 of us won’t be around to enjoy that tax cut next year. If Congress wants to provide tax relief, it should pass tax relief. But don’t force Americans to pay for it with their lives and health.”