By Lee-Ellen Myles, Sierra Club
Before Congress went out on recess, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held yet another politically-motivated congressional hearing questioning the legality of necessary, legally-mandated environmental protections and the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Senate and House Republicans have a reputation for undermining the work of the EPA and other federal agencies protecting the environment, and they rarely disappoint. This particular hearing, labeled as a review of the EPA under the Obama Administration, was used as an opportunity for the Energy and Power Subcommittee majority to attack a presenting EPA witness, Acting Associate Administrator of the EPA, Janet McCabe. And things got heated. So heated, in fact, that Rep. Bill Johnson (OH-06) stooped to calling the EPA doing its job “un-American”. (See our initial take here.)
For more than forty years, the EPA has faithfully carried out its legal obligations and issued federal standards to protect the American people from air and water pollution. Many of the regulations issued by the EPA between 2004 and 2014 were called for under the Clean Air Act (CAA), which has successfully lowered the levels of the six common air pollutants — particulate matter, ozone, lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide — by 69 percent between 1970 and 2014. According to analysis of EPA data, by 2020, the 1990 Amendments to the CAA will have prevented approximately 4.2 million premature deaths, and reduced the occurrence of pollution-caused illness by millions.
At this hearing, Republican members took particular issue with the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which was finalized in August of last year and protects our communities from dangerous pollution from power plants — which also stand as the largest single source of carbon pollution in the United States. Once fully implemented in 2030, the plan will have reduced carbon emissions from these sources by 32 percent below 2005 levels and will have the added benefit of reducing soot and smog pollution, which make thousands of Americans sick every year, by 25 percent. By 2030, it’s estimated that these reductions will save between 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attack per year.
To Rep. Johnson, however, having clean, breathable air, protecting our climate, and holding polluters accountable to the communities they endanger is un-American.
EPA’s efforts have also succeeded in improving the quality of the water we drink and use. Before the Safe Drinking Water Act was passed in 1974, more than 40 percent of the country’s drinking water systems did not even meet the lowest health standards. Today, the EPA has regulated more than 90 water contaminants, and 90 percent of our water systems have consistently met standards. The EPA’s new 2015 water rule, which has been under fire by congressional Republicans, extends water protections to include water bodies such as streams where 117 million Americans get their drinking water. So, clean water? Must be un-American too.
In his remarks, Rep. Johnson asserted that the EPA is ripping off the American people and “draining the lifeblood out of our businesses”. In reality, a recent report from the White House Office of Management and Budget that reviewed all federal regulations from October 1, 2004 to September 30, 2014 found that the estimated aggregated annual costs of significant EPA regulations during that period ranged from $36.9 to $44.4 billion, while the aggregated benefits ranged from $158.5 to $782.2 billion (in 2010$). This is a net benefit of $121.6 to $737.8 billion. Beyond that, since 1970, for every $1 spent in compliance with the CAA, $4 to $8 have been gained in economic benefits. And if the Clean Power Plan is implemented, Americans would see $7 of health benefits from every $1 spent from just the soot and smog reductions alone. Mr. Johnson, are these smart investments also un-American?
I’m sorry, but I can’t seem to figure it out. Working so that the American people have cleaner air, cleaner water, protected lands, and a robust economy seems pretty patriotic to me. But thank you, Rep. Johnson, for letting us know that it’s not!