In the clean air fight, opponents of the Mercury Standards and Toxics Rules have begun to step up their game with fresh attacks on the EPA. There is an apparent collective Congressional brain fog about the history and origins of the EPA, the agency established as a bipartisan effort under Republican president, Richard Nixon. Given the aggressive attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency, I think a little reminder of what the EPA has done and is doing might be a timely discussion.
FIVE REASONS WHY WE NEED THE EPA
1. Companies won't clean up on their messes. They will not manage their emissions without regulations and oversight. If there is one thing history's shown us, it's that corporate polluters will continue to pollute until they are made to stop. In fact, they will fight vehemently for their right to dirty our air, water and land. Central New York's Lake Onondagais one of many (many) examples of this. In words of Norbrook, a New York blogger, Lake Onondaga was very important to the development of the city, and various industries. Today, the entire lake is a Superfund site. For over 125 years industrial and chemical operations disposed a variety of pollutants to the lake. At one time, industry discharged approximately 20 pounds of mercury to the lake each day. It's the most polluted lake in the country! No one has been allowed to swim in it since 1940, or eat most fish from it since 1970. See what else NorBrook's blog says about how the industry in NY polluted freely pre-EPA and the price taxpayers are still paying to for the toxic aftermath.
2. EPA regulations save lives. The Environmental Defense Fund created a map that shows among the eastern states, just how many lives will be saved by the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that the Clean Air Act saved 160,000 lives in 2010 alone. Check out their ticker here. It shows how much money the Act has saved to date. The EPA estimates that Mercury Standards and Toxic Rules will prevent up to 17,000 premature deaths, 11,000 heart attacks, and over 12,000 hospital and emergency room visits.
3. EPA regulations create jobs. If you don't believe the EPA estimates for job creation, take it directly from the electric industry leaders themselves. Eight power plant operators, in a joint statement in the Wall Street Journal said this:
Contrary to the claims that the EPA's agenda will have negative economic consequences, our companies' experience complying with air quality regulations demonstrates that regulations can yield important economic benefits, including job creation, while maintaining reliability.
4. EPA protects the most vulnerable segments of society. The EPA protects those most impacted by pollution – children, elderly and the poor. The American Public Health Association said this about protecting the clean air act:
Climate change and rising temperatures expose more Americans to conditions that result in illness and death due to respiratory illness, heat-related stress and insect-born diseases. These maladies fall most heavily on our most vulnerable communities, including children, older adults, those with serious health conditions and poor people.
5. EPA is especially concerned about children. The Mercury Standards and Toxics Rules will improve the lives of everyone. But they will positively impact children by preventing 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 11,000 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children each year.
It's difficult to even fathom that I am compelled to extol the virtues of the EPA after all of these years. The EPA has a 40 year record that boasts major environmental improvements that have been good for the economy and everyone's quality of life. If the opponents of the EPA choose to ignore history, many of them their very own political history, we cannot let them encourage us to forget ours. African-American families have too much on our plates to have to do battle for victories already won. But, if we must stand up and say that our community is tired of paying the heaviest price for corporate polluters, then we will.