Earthjustice logo

This opinion piece was written for Earthjustice and is reprinted here with permission.

Sixty-three percent of Americans want the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “to do more to hold polluters accountable and protect the air and water.” This according to a new survey conducted at the end of January by ORC International.

Rep. John Carter (D-TX)—fast becoming a household name around here—isn’t part of that 63 percent. In early January, Rep. Carter sponsored a resolution to effectively block EPA health protections that will limit emissions of mercury and other dangerous air toxics from cement plants. These protections could prevent the premature death of as many as 2,500 people every year when they take effect in 2013. 

Notwithstanding the fact that Rep. Carter has seriously misrepresented the facts in his push to win support for his anti-health resolution, a large majority of Americans generally disagree with his approach. The ORC survey found that 77 percent of Americans—more than three out of every four—say “Congress (should) let the EPA do its job.”

Jim Schermbeck, executive director of the Texas group Downwinders at Risk—an Earthjustice client and longtime force in the campaign to clean up cement plants—finds it surprising that Rep. Carter wants to block these important health protections from taking effect. Schermbeck told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

It's certainly strange for someone who doesn't have a single cement plant in their district—and never commented on emissions standards for cement plants in 13 years of litigation and public hearings—to suddenly be concerned about these standards. It's outrageous that he wants to overturn regulations supported by the vast majority of citizens who, unlike him, bothered to comment on the standards when they were up for debate for those 13 years.

On the subject of letting the EPA do its job, Newt Gingrich proposed recently that the agency should be replaced with a new entity—dubbed the Environmental Solutions Agency—that would work closely with business to deliver "smarter regulation." This is an incredibly misguided proposition, and a majority of Americans oppose it. Sixty-seven percent of respondents in the ORC survey disagree with Gingrich's proposal to dismantle the EPA. That's good news. 

It’s important to remember amid the flurry of ongoing attacks on public health protections that the agency’s mission is to protect human health and the environment. Plain and simple. Reducing emissions of toxic air pollutants that cause cancer, birth defects or other serious ailments (think mercury, lead, benzene and dioxins) is a fundamental part of that mission. Reducing cement plants’ emissions of these hazardous pollutants is an important step in the process, and it’s many years overdue.

A quick history lesson: In 1990, George H.W. Bush signed amendments to the Clean Air Act that specifically gave the EPA the authority to reduce emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants.

Said the former president upon signing the amendments:

In July of 1989, I sent to the Congress a proposal to amend the Clean Air Act of 1970. My proposal was designed to improve our ability to control urban smog and reduce automobile and air toxic emissions, and to provide the enforcement authority necessary to make the law work…
I take great pleasure in signing S. 1630 as a demonstration to the American people of my determination that each and every American shall breathe clean air.

We share the same vision and are working to realize it through our campaign to protect your Right to Breathe