Congressional Assault on Health Protections is Underway

The Republican majority in the 112th Congress has named the EPA as its chief adversary and is preparing to thwart the agency’s efforts to reduce pollution—including attempting to take down standards to control toxic air emissions from cement plants.

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The Republican majority in the new Congress has named the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as its chief adversary and is now preparing to thwart by any means necessary the agency’s efforts to reduce pollution. Today, they took one of their first swipes at the agency.

Led by Rep. John Carter (R-TX), House Republicans are attempting to use an obscure procedure known as the Congressional Review Act to take down the EPA’s recently finalized standards to control toxic air emissions from cement plants—the third largest source of mercury pollution in the U.S.

But this crusade is far more than an attack on the EPA, which under Lisa Jackson’s leadership has become a whipping boy for the congressional allies of big polluters. It’s an attack on Americans and their right to breathe clean air.

The EPA is legally required to protect the health of American citizens from dangerous air pollution that causes premature death, cancer, asthma, heart disease, birth defects and other serious ailments. By attacking these critical, potentially life-saving protections, the Republican majority is defending some of the richest and dirtiest industries in the world at the expense of their constituents.

EPA scientists estimate the standards to clean up toxic air pollution from cement plants would prevent up to 2,500 premature deaths every year, as well as thousands of heart attacks, emergency room visits and cases of aggravated asthma. The public health savings of the rule, which EPA estimates will be somewhere between $6.7 and $18 billion every year significantly outweigh industry’s costs of compliance, which are less than $1 billion. The action by Rep. Carter, if successful, would rob the American public of these tremendous benefits.

It is irresponsible and appalling that the incoming Congressional leadership would make stripping away public health protections one of their priorities. The allies of big polluters claim that health protections hurt our economy, but the cement kiln standards they are attempting to strike down would prevent 130,000 days of work missed because of pollution-related health problems. Moreover, study after study has shown that the economic benefits of Clean Air Act protections vastly outweigh their costs. Pollution hurts our economy, not the other way around.

“House Republicans should be ashamed of themselves,” said Kelly Stryker with Wilmington, North Carolina’s Stop Titan Action Network, one of Earthjustice’s clients in the litigation that led to the EPA’s cement kiln emission standards. “Instead of protecting the most vulnerable members of our community, our kids, the elderly and the poor, they are pandering to the cement industry, one of the nation’s biggest polluters.”

Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in 2004 to compel the EPA to act on mercury and other air pollution from cement kilns and is currently intervening on behalf of the EPA to protect these standards from industry attack. We’ll be following Rep. Carter’s actions so be sure to check back for updates.

Sam Edmondson was a campaign manager on air toxics issues from 2010 until 2012. He helped organize the first 50 States United for Healthy Air event. His desire to work at an environmental organization came from the belief that if we don't do something to change our unsustainable ways, we are in big trouble.

Earthjustice’s Washington, D.C., office works at the federal level to prevent air and water pollution, combat climate change, and protect natural areas. We also work with communities in the Mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere to address severe local environmental health problems, including exposures to dangerous air contaminants in toxic hot spots, sewage backups and overflows, chemical disasters, and contamination of drinking water. The D.C. office has been in operation since 1978.