Not satisfied with already being known as the most anti-environmental House of Representatives in history, this week House Republicans are again attempting to gut fundamental health and environmental laws to please polluters — specifically, the coal industry.
In a new package of bills, House leadership is taking aim at a staggering array of basic laws that hold polluters accountable and ensure Americans have access to clean air and drinkable water; it fundamentally weakens the Clean Air Act and eviscerates the protections of the Clean Water Act. It will increase disease and deaths of tens of thousands of Americans, not to mention devastating the quality of life in communities across the nation currently struggling to clean up coal pollution. It is nothing short of a reckless assault on public health.
Let’s take a closer look at just how bad this attack on public health protections is. The bill package includes:
- The TRAIN Act (HR 2401) would essentially gut the provisions of the Clean Air Act that affect coal plants. It would repeal critical clean air safeguards against deadly soot and smog pollution and forever eliminate any national mercury pollution protections. The bill would also repeal health safeguards protecting the public from out-of-state air pollution. Those safeguards help prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, nearly 5,000 heart attacks, 130,000 asthma attacks, and 5,700 hospital and emergency room visits every year — not to mention reduce the number of children and pregnant women exposed to toxic mercury poisoning.
- The Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011 (HR 910) would bar the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing safeguards for climate disrupting carbon pollution by redefining the term “air pollutant” to exclude greenhouse gases. If this were to become law, our Environmental Protection Agency would be forever prevented from acting to address one of the biggest threats to our health and our children’s future — climate change.
- The Coal Miner Employment and Domestic Energy Infrastructure Protection Act (HR 3409) would handcuff the Department of Interior’s ability to issue safeguards to prevent streams from destruction if doing so would prevent the mining of a single lump of coal. This leaves Appalachian communities at the mercy of coal companies who blow off the tops of mountains for coal and leave destruction and poisoned water in their wake.
- The Recycling Coal Combustion Residuals Accessibility Act (HR 2273) gives a free pass to the wanton dumping of toxic coal ash. It allows coal companies to avoid fixing unsafe coal ash dumps, cleaning up the sites they have contaminated, and closing leaking and unstable coal ash ponds and landfills. Remember the devastating coal ash spill in Tennessee in 2008? There are over 1000 aging coal ash dumps nationwide, most of which currently lack adequate safeguards to prevent toxic chemicals from escaping and contaminating water. This bill would endanger the health and safety of thousands of communities.
- Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011 (HR 2018) is a direct assault on two key components of the Clean Water Act: enforcement of water quality standards and protection of waterways from coal pollution. It also revokes Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to veto the most egregious and environmentally destructive projects, even though EPA has only used this power 13 times in the last 40 years — once to overrule the largest mountaintop removal permit ever proposed in West Virginia’s history.
Unfortunately, it is no real surprise that the coal industry and other polluters would spend millions of dollars to try and block standards that would force them to clean up their act. But Congress has a responsibility to protect the public from the harms of pollution, not cater to polluting industries. These public health protections are a matter of life and death for so many Americans – Congress must stand up to these attacks.