With an increase in industry’s toxic pollutants, will this be the fate of our water sources?

In exchange for cutting their carbon emissions, power plants want to undermine the EPA and get permission to increase other kinds of dangerous pollution. They even want the go-ahead to dump more sulfur and deadly mercury into our air and water.

This literal “poison pill” proposal would turn progress in climate protection into a devastating setback for the health of all Americans — especially for those who live near power plants. The dirty energy lobby hopes that America can be convinced to accept more poison to get less carbon.

Fortunately, national leaders began sounding the alarm last week. Grist’s David Roberts took a break from vacation to alert the nation, calling the utility companies’ backroom play potentially the “scam of the century.”

Green For All’s Phaedra Ellis Lamkins and the NAACP’s Ben Jealous put the matter bluntly, stating: “[B]ig utility companies apparently are making unconscionable demands that threaten the health and safety of all Americans.” Green For All immediately launched an online campaign to kill this nutty notion before it mutates into a legislative proposal.

American policy can be smart enough to protect both our children and our grandchildren.

We should heed these warnings. The deadly coal mine explosion in West Virginia and the devastating environmental catastrophe in our Gulf of Mexico are just two recent examples of the consequences of weak federal oversight. These tragedies remind us that we need more, not less, environmental protection.

Beltway insiders may be trying to convince themselves that curbing the authority of the EPA and gutting clean air protections is a necessary step to achieving an agreement on climate change legislation.

But this is a false choice. We can have clean air protection for our children today and climate protection for our grandchildren tomorrow. We must not allow the health of our communities to be used as bargaining chips.

This is no time to increase the load of pollutions and toxins in America’s air and water.

  • Already today, particulate air pollution kills 64,000 people in the United States every year — more people than die each year in car accidents. We should be redoubling efforts to reduce these premature deaths from heart and lung disease — not rolling back protections.
  • 27 million children under the age of 13 reside in areas with ozone levels above EPA’s revised standard. Two million children with asthma, or half of the pediatric asthma population under the age of eighteen, lived in these areas.

The utility companies’ shameful proposals would make all of these statistics much worse — resulting in more sickness and death for Americans, including children.

Vulnerable communities should not be asked to suffer disproportionately again.

Worse, these proposals would inflict the most harm on the people who are already suffering. After all: who lives near power plants? Disproportionately low-income people and people of color.

All of us may have to make some sacrifices and adjustments along the path to a greener and more prosperous America. But communities of color already have the worst air and drinking water — and suffer the most risk from environmental hazards. In the last century’s dirty energy economy, they already suffered disproportionately.

  • People of color are exposed to 70 percent more of the dangerous particulate matter linked to greenhouse gas pollution.
  • People of color, particularly blacks and Latinos, visit the emergency room for asthma at three and a half times the average rate that whites do, and die from it twice as often.
  • People of color are 79 percent more likely than whites to live in neighborhoods with industrial pollution.

America needs a stronger EPA, not a weaker one.

Therefore, we should look with unease on the willingness of some to strip authority from America’s government to protect our communities and environment. There is only one federal agency standing between our communities and even worse degradation: the EPA.

Undermining the EPA would be a risky choice for all Americans. A climate bill that saves carbon but takes away EPA’s authority to protect communities against toxic hazards is a defeat for all Americans. We should reject false choices.

We must also reject the notion that communities of color and low-income communities will once again be asked to bear the burden of a dirty economy.

Law makers must find a way to achieve progress on a climate bill, but taking major steps backward cannot be part of that solution. An attack on the EPA is an attack on our public health and well being.

We need both a strong climate bill and strong EPA authority to protect our air, our planet, and our public health.