As the White House moves to gut environmental regulations like the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, we should all be very, very worried.
The Clean Air Act is the single piece of legislation that has saved the most lives in history. Each year in the U.S. alone, the Clean Air Act prevents about 200,000 premature deaths, 670,000 cases of chronic bronchitis, 21,000 cases of heart disease, 840,000 asthma attacks, 190,000 cardiovascular hospitalizations and 18 million child respiratory illnesses.
I remember the first time I flew into Los Angeles in the late 1970s. It looked like I was flying into a huge bowl of mushroom soup.
But over the subsequent 20 years, the Clean Air Act pretty much stopped that. Then the 1990 Amendment to the Clean Air Act got rid of acid rain with a cap-and-trade system few thought would work.
The Clean Air Act is why coal-generated power only kills about 10,000 people a year in the U.S., but kills over 300,000 people a year in China.
Yes, there are onerous regulations that can be streamlined, but taking a sledgehammer to the most life-saving regulation of all is unethical and uneconomic.
The Clean Air Act was passed under President Nixon, then strengthened under the first President Bush, both Republicans. Over the last 20 years, total emissions of the six principal air pollutants have decreased by more than 40 percent, while our gross domestic product has increased by more than 60 percent. If allowed, the Clean Air Act will deliver even more benefits over the next 40 years.
But when carbon dioxide was added to the list of pollutants as a way to address climate change, irate Republicans focused their knife on the Clean Air Act.
That knife is Scott Pruitt, the new chief of the Environmental Protection Agency. As the former Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times, has filed suit against the EPA to block regulatory amendments to the Clean Air Act for ozone and mercury, and has recently said he will not recuse himself from any of the ongoing lawsuits he was involved in prior to heading the EPA.
According to the New York Times, Secretary Pruitt has drafted legislation that would seriously undercut the Clean Air Act, giving corporations far weaker regulatory goals for air pollutants. He has dismissed research scientists from review boards and slashed enforcement jobs at EPA, so polluters know they’re unlikely to be caught.
In particular, Pruitt argues that the EPA overestimates pollution from coal-fired power plants, and that imposing strict regulations would cause power shortages and widespread blackouts.
There is no evidence of this at all. Everyone in the industry knows coal is declining because of cheap and abundant natural gas — not regulations.
With all the new attacks on the United States, attacking our air by undercutting the best environmental regulation in history is not just a bad idea, it’s killer.
Dr. Jim Conca is a long-time resident and scientist in the Tri-Cities and a science contributor to Forbes on energy and environmental issues at forbes.com/<code_dp>sites/jamesconca.