Point of View

Green light for polluters

March 10, 2011 

We don't remember seeing "Dirty Air" or "Polluted Drinking Water" on the ballot last November, but some in Congress seem to think that's what the American people wanted when they cast their votes.

There were a lot of things that North Carolinians and citizens across the country voted for in November - including a reinvigorated economy and reducing the federal deficit. But now a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives seems to think we were also asking them to endanger our health by gutting the nation's core public health and environmental programs. Rather than continuing to protect and clean up our air and water, they somehow got the impression we voted for more asthma attacks, more polluted drinking water supplies and more threats to our treasured national parks.

Why else would the House have used a must-pass federal funding bill on Feb. 19 to launch what amounts to the largest assault on our health, clean air and clean water in recent history?

The bill, H.R. 1, referred to as the "Continuing Resolution," was a dangerous-enough attack on our health and environment when it was introduced. It threatened the health of North Carolina's children, elderly citizens and other vulnerable populations by blocking the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing the Clean Air Act and cleaning up dangerous carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants and oil refineries.

Blocking these pollution limits means that global warming will continue unchecked, putting more of the state's hundreds of thousands of asthma sufferers, including children, further at risk of asthma attacks from global warming-induced smog pollution. And it threatened the drinking water supplies of nearly 5 million North Carolinians by blocking EPA's ability to restore Clean Water Act protections for the waterways that feed these drinking water supplies.

But rather than reject these and other attacks in the bill, the House then made the bill even worse.

An amendment blocking the EPA from doing its job to cut mercury and other toxic air pollution from cement plants was adopted overwhelmingly, with the support of North Carolina Republican Reps. Renee Ellmers, Sue Myrick, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx and Howard Coble.

Exposure to mercury puts children at risk of learning disabilities, developmental disorders and lower IQs. The EPA estimates that one in six women of childbearing age has enough mercury in her body to put her unborn child at risk should she become pregnant.

An amendment blocking EPA from treating toxic coal ash like the hazardous waste that it is, was adopted as well, again with the support of these representatives. Without stricter standards on coal ash, it will be only a matter of time before another toxic disaster occurs like the one that hit the community near Kingston, Tenn., in 2008, when 1 billion gallons of toxic coal ash flooded roughly 85 acres.

And while they were at it, the House even added an amendment blocking EPA from updating air quality standards for soot pollution - a pollutant that causes heart attacks and cuts short the lives of thousands of Americans each year.

When the final votes were cast, the House had passed a bill that amounts to the largest assault on the air we breathe and the water we drink in recent history. The bill reads like a wish list for the nation's polluters, with potentially devastating impacts for our health and environment.

The only good thing to say about this bill is that it's not yet law, as it still has to go through the Senate and be signed by the president. But the polluters' lobbyists and their allies in Congress will be working to push it through anyway. For the sake of our health and environment, we strongly urge Sens. Kay Hagan and Richard Burr to side with North Carolinians and not the dirty-energy lobbyists, and reject this bill.

There are many things North Carolinians voted for in November, but an all-out assault on our public health and environment wasn't one of them.

Locky Stewart is the federal field associate with Environment North Carolina. Dr. Lewis Patrie is the chair of Western North Carolina Physicians for Social Responsibility.

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