Sisters of St. Joseph of CarondeletOctober 17, 2017

Earth Concerns News

Global Climate Change and the Clean Air Act by Sister Lin Neil, CSJ


This month we continue our articles on aspects of global climate change by highlighting The Clean Air Act. This act has saved many lives and also has come under a lot of fire in its over 40 years of existence. Senator Gaylord Wilson, the father of Earth Day, proposed the Act in 1970; it was passed in Congress with strong bipartisan support and signed into law by Richard Nixon. The intention of the Act was to remove some very nasty chemicals from our air. Carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and lead were assigned emission limits; standards for pollutants were put in place, and lead was to be phased out of gasoline by 1980. The results were dramatic. In the 1970s, 88.2 percent of children in the United States had elevated blood-lead levels. By 1995, that number has dropped to 4.4 percent. Pollutants addressed by the Act have dramatically decreased: carbon monoxide is down 31 percent; sulfur dioxide, 27 percent; coarse particulate matter, 71 percent; lead, 98 percent. By 2002, the Act had saved 11, 7000 lives just by decreasing the amount of carbon monoxide in our air.

This is very good news but unfortunately not for everyone. Industry, especially coal companies, cement-making operations, power-generating companies, oil companies, to name a few, do not appreciate the Act at all. To industry the Act spawns government regulations, costs and fines. Industry has been pushing back on the Act since its inception.
 
The Act has also entered the fight against climate change. In April of 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act's authority does apply to regulating greenhouse gases, finding that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases are air pollutants under the plain terms of the law. The Court held that the EPA must take action if the administrator finds that greenhouse gas pollution is dangerous to public health and welfare. This ruling means that EPA is required under the Clean Air Act to take action to reduce the pollution contributing to climate change since greenhouse gases are found to be pollutants that endanger public health and welfare. “This is the law of the land. Any effort, even by Congress, to stall or block EPA from following the law is counter to the original intent of our clean air laws and Congress. Stopping EPA from doing its job represents a victory for the lobbyists of big polluters and a retreat from cleaner air and improved public health” (Jake Cadwell, Center for American Progress). Unfortunately, the EPA under the Bush administration did not take action. Now the Obama EPA, under the direction of Lisa Jackson, is working to use the Act to address carbon-dioxide emissions. This process is an ongoing one that will involve more vigorous regulations on fuel emissions, power-plant emissions and refineries.
 
As you can imagine, the push back on this effort is immense. At a recent Senate hearing, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) questioned EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and called links between air pollution and human health "figments of EPA's statistical imagination." According to Sam Perry at the Environmental Defense Fund, “At the same time, the leading global-warming denier in Congress, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), is pushing his toxic-air bill, S.J. Res 37, to deny your right to clean air that won't kill you or make you sick.” So citizens need our own push back; we must let our senators and representatives know that clean air is vital to us! I urge you to take action on this issue by visiting Environmental Defense Fund’s website at: https://secure2.edf.org/site/Advocacy.
 
This topic has been and will continue to be a controversial one in the upcoming election. Whenever I hear a politician waxing on about the horrors of government regulations, I think of the Clean Air Act. Slashing regulations that protect our health, that begin to limit greenhouse gases and insure the well-being of the web of life does not sound like a good idea to me. We really need to understand what “cumbersome government bureaucracy” want to “reform.” For too long now, industry has used our air as a depository of pollutants and waste that should be cleaned up before those pollutants enter our ecosystems. Added to the other pollutants is the crises of greenhouse gases. As citizens we need to step up and protect our air!
 
“Clean the Air” Environmental Defense Fund. http://cleartheair.edf.org/
Klug, Justin. Green Life. http://sierraclub.typepad.com/greenlife/current-events/
Cadwell, Jake, Center for American Progress. http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/02/greenhouse_gases_101.html