Here is a video of Rick Santorum lying about the history of clean air in America and specifically Pittsburgh.

The entire clip is full of howlers, including an applause line in which Santorum, who denies the science of climate change, says that environmentalism is “anti-science.” But here’s the one that grabbed me:

[Someone came to Pittsburgh] during the heyday of the steel industry when we didn’t have any environmental regulations in Allegheny County. And someone looked at it and saw — it was night all the time in Pittsburgh, and it was black. And they said to Pittsburgh, “Abandon it.”

And what did we do? Well, we here locally, not the federal government, not the state government, came forward and said, “Well we’ve got to do something about this.” And eventually the community gathered together and passed clean air regulations, and was able to begin to change things. There’s obviously a role for government to play in making sure we have responsible environmental stewardship. No more than we want to leave it to Earth to manage itself, than do we want to leave it to individuals to be able to do whatever they want to do.

I almost teared up there at the end when he made a subtle dig at his Libertarian opponent. (If you couldn’t follow the grammar carnage, that’s what’s happening in the last line.) But let’s get one thing straight: Small municipal governments don’t generally have the power to stand up to gigantic industries, especially when they are dependent on them for jobs and a tax base. Santorum’s whole narrative about Pittsburgh is a fantasy.

What cleaned up Pittsburgh was: first, the Clean Air Act, signed into law by a Republican president (Nixon), and second, the collapse of the domestic steel industry. Most of our steel production was shipped overseas, so Pittsburgh’s air did clear up — but at the cost of American jobs.

So what is Santorum trying to say here? That we should give up on manufacturing, or that cities like Pittsburgh prove that strong federal interventions like the Clean Air Act are precisely what we need to keep our cities from looking like Dickensian London?