stricter clean air rules cost jobs? No:
New rules protect public health, while saving money in long
Lana Pollack / Special to The Detroit News
Americans have the right
to breathe safe air. That right is protected by the Clean
Air Act of 1970, which instructs the Environmental Protection
Agency to set enforceable rules that protect public health.
These principles are so fundamental to American values,
and so clearly stated in the law, that they have withstood
30 years of political and judicial challenges; yet the battle
for clean air is not over.
The Clean Air Act makes it clear that
the standards for protecting our health should be based
on the best available science. Cost is also considered,
but only to determine the most efficient way to meet new
Last year, conservative Supreme Court
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote an opinion in which the court
unanimously upheld new EPA rules to regulate ground-level
ozone (or smog). The EPA issued the rules based on a growing
base of scientific knowledge that shows gauging the amount
of ozone it is safe to breath based on a one-hour measurement
does not adequately reflect real-life conditions or the
public health threat.
The new rule would use an eight-hour measurement
to determine safe ozone levels, because science has shown
that breathing dirty air over several hours is most likely
to cause lung damage. This lower level for allowable smog
contaminants is also based on dozens of studies showing
that current levels are substantially affecting thousands
of people suffering from heart, lung and bronchial diseases.
Smog forms when nitrogen oxides combine
with other chemicals on hot days. On smoggy days, thousands
of Michiganians suffer from shortness of breath, chest pain
when inhaling deeply, wheezing, coughing and asthma attacks,
which can be fatal. Repeated exposures to high ozone conditions
-- such as Michigan suffered for 25 days last year -- can
permanently damage lung tissue. Since the air in parts of
Michigan has been shown to hurt health, we will have to
take steps during the next decade to reduce smog and other
Most smog components at the ground level
come from three major sources: coal-fired power plants,
some manufacturing processes and vehicle emissions. Automobile
emissions have been dramatically reduced, and there has
been some progress in capturing pollutants from industrial
paint shops. However, dirty old coal-burning power plants
take advantage of a loophole in the Clean Air Act to operate
without modern pollution controls.
While the Supreme Court has just upheld
one part of the Clean Air Act, the Bush administration is
proposing to rollback another -- a section called New Source
Review (NSR). According to the EPA, this program, which
phases in modern pollution control technologies on the most
polluting industrial facilities, has prevented the emission
of more than 300 million tons of pollution since 1977.
If the Bush plan were adopted, the dirtiest
old coal-burning power plants could continue to avoid installing
modern pollution controls, putting millions of pounds of
additional particulate matter (very fine soot) into the
air and into people's lungs. Thousands of people in Michigan
would face increased risk of heart attacks.
While the American Lung Association and
doctors don't think even the EPA's new eight-hour standards
and the current NSR rule do enough to protect vulnerable
children and adults, we can count on polluting industries
to whine about the costs of clean air and assert we need
more studies to prove dirty air is bad for people's health.
Fortunately, a unanimous Supreme Court isn't buying it.
These same exaggerated claims were made
before the Clean Air Act was passed. As it turned out, for
every dollar spent to clean the air, $45 was saved in health
care costs. With health care costs soaring and families
seeing that dirty air sickens and kills, virtually all Americans
understand clean air as a right, a necessity and a great
Lana Pollack is president of the Michigan Environmental
Council in Lansing.
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