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Congressional action would dismantle fundamental safeguards to health

February 25, 2011

The U.S. House of Representatives launched a major assault on basic anti-pollution safeguards when it passed a “Continuing Resolution” on Feb. 19.

A Continuing Resolution (C.R.) is a budget bill, temporarily extending government funding until Congress can hammer out a new annual budget.  But this year, the C.R. was loaded down with amendments that would prohibit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from carrying out its basic function:  protecting Americans from deadly air and water pollutants.

The Senate will consider the Continuing Resolution the first week of March.  PSR members are urged to ask their Senators to reject the House’s dismantling of these fundamental protections and pass a budget that protects human health and a clean, healthy environment.

Many of the amendments passed by the House have no impact on the budget.  Rather, they forbid the EPA to enforce the programs that stop big polluters from contaminating our air and water.

Ironically, this will drive up health care costs as we deal with the rising illnesses that will inevitably result.

Among the amendments that the House passed that will increase the risks to health:

  • Amendment 165 would block the EPA from enforcing out an already-existing rule to clean up mercury and other air toxics from cement plants.  Mercury is a powerful neurotoxicant that can damage the developing brain.  Exposure during gestation, infancy or childhood can cause loss of IQ and mental retardation, attention deficit disorder and behavioral problems, and developmental abnormalities.

    Cement plants are a major source of mercury emissions in the U.S.  and also emit lead, arsenic, acid gases and particulate matter, causing respiratory problems, asthma attacks, and other illnesses.

    This amendment was introduced by Rep. Carter of Texas.
  • Amendment 466 would eliminate funding for the EPA to implement, administer or enforce any law or regulation that would limit emissions of greenhouse gases from stationary sources.  Effective retroactively to January 1, 2011, it would exempt all stationary emitters of greenhouse gases, such as coal-fired power plants, steel mills and refineries.

    By requiring the EPA to turn a blind eye to carbon dioxide emissions, this amendment would overturn the Clean Air Act, which has saved lives in this country for 40 years; a Supreme Court decision affirming that the EPA is required under the law to address greenhouse gas pollution; and reams of scientific evidence.

    It would also greatly increase the danger that the planet will overheat, creating new deserts, disrupting agriculture and food production, flooding coastal areas, expanding disease ranges, and potentially leading to vast loss of life.

    This amendment was introduced by Texas Congressmen Poe, Barton and Carter.
  • Amendment 217 would prohibit the use of funds by EPA to “develop, propose, finalize, implement, administer, or enforce” any regulation that identifies coal ash as a hazardous waste subject to regulation.  This amendment would halt in mid-process the EPA’s consideration of issuing federal regulations for the safe disposal of coal ash across the nation.

    PSR board, members and staff joined tens of thousands of other Americans in testifying and submitting comments to the EPA in 2010, calling for regulations that would protect human health from the arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, thallium and other heavy metal contaminants from coal ash.

    This amendment was introduced by Rep. McKinley of West Virginia.

Rep. McKinley also introduced a successful amendment to stop EPA from administering or enforcing the sections of the Clean Water Act that govern dredge-and-fill permits. Those permits are needed by mountaintop-removal operations.

Other amendments affected regional water quality.  Rep. Rooney of Florida sponsored a successful bid to stop EPA from using its funding to implement, administer or enforce new water quality standards for Florida's lakes and flowing waters.  Rep. Goodlatte of Virginia’s amendment would prevent federal funds from being spent on control of chemicals or a watershed implementation plan for the Chesapeake Bay.

Not all the amendments were budget-neutral; total funding for the EPA was slashed by $3 billion.

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