kids love the Clean Air ActYou don’t want to disappoint these kids.Photo: Sean Suddes/Sierra ClubChildren’s health won’t be improved by the Republicans’ Dirty Air Act.

From Seattle to Pittsburgh, children can be found outside, playing football and baseball, or just playing a good game of tag. However, hundreds of thousands of children are unable to take part because the air they breathe is making them sick. It was disturbing, then, last week that the Energy and Commerce committee held a hearing in which Republicans were pushing ahead on legislation to gut the Clean Air Act and retire important safeguards against the very pollutants that cause these children and so many others significant health problems.

This week, in their zeal to let big polluters control public policy, Republicans attached their Dirty Air Act as a rider to their 2011 budget Continuing Resolution (CR) — important legislation to fund the operations of the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year.

Hundreds of thousands of children face the severe health risks associated with air and water pollution. That is why Congress first adopted the Clean Air Act under President Richard Nixon, and, in the 40 years since its enactment, air pollution has been reduced by 60 percent, while our economy has grown by more than 200 percent. In its first 20 years, the Clean Air Act has prevented an estimated 843,000 asthma attacks, 18 million cases of respiratory illness among children, 672,000 cases of chronic bronchitis, 21,000 cases of heart disease and 200,000 premature deaths. Further, studies show that the benefits of Clean Air rules to the American people outweigh any costs by 30 to one.

But the hearing last week wasn’t about how the Environmental Protection Agency and Congress could better protect children. Instead it was about Republican proposals to gut the Clean Air Act, to hamstring the EPA, and write Big Polluters a blank check. Some folks wrote about it, but the effort by Republicans to replace successful and needed legislation with their Dirty Air Act has largely slipped beneath the mainstream media.

It is clear, however, that Republicans do not intend to modify the act, revise it, or improve it — they intend to eviscerate it.

It deserves such approbation because it flies in the face of something we all desire — to breathe clean air. Because Americans in both red and blue states exalt in inhaling that precious mix of oxygen and a few other gases upon which all else in life depends.

Nor can a lack of clarity about the science justify the Republicans’ assault on the law. Huge power plants are now burning more than 1.1 billion tons of coal [PDF] and pouring out 2.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, gases that are irrefutably changing our climate and increasing concentrations of ozone that are directly making our children’s asthmatic gasps more frequent and severe. Their effort to spray an ink cloud of doubt about this unassailable fact was revealed as quite pathetic when they failed to produce one credible scientist who contradicted this rock solid conclusion. Not one!

Imagine that. All the billions in the polluter’s pockets couldn’t turn up one peer-reviewed study on the planet to refute this scientific conclusion.

Every time America moves forward in cleaning up our air, lobbyists flock to the Capitol and scream bloody murder about the costs of compliance with the law — costs that have always ended up being a fraction of what they predicted. Americans intuitively understand our power to innovate and solve these pollution problems, and by significant margins they oppose Republican attempts to gut the Clean Air Act.

Americans know a good thing when they see it. Let’s keep the “Clean” in the Clean Air act.

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