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Huffington Post: No More “Red-Eye Days”

April 11, 2011

As a child growing up in Los Angeles, I always knew when summer was coming when I felt that familiar sting in my eyes. As the temperature got hotter, the smog settled into the basin and the dirty air made my eyes water and my throat dry. And I knew that there would be no relief until the rains came later in the year.

Thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Clean Air Act, those “red-eye days” are a thing of the past in our city. But now the Republican Majority in the House wants to turn the clock back on clean air.

Because of its effective record of curbing pollution and regulating major polluters, the EPA has become the latest target of the GOP’s ideologically based budget cuts. The latest salvo in the Majority party’s war on the environment has come from Rep. Fred Upton (MI-6), Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, who has sponsored a bill that undermines some of the most basic tenants of the landmark Clean Air Act and gives our nation’s biggest polluters a free pass. And the damage will be especially felt here in California, where we have reaped the benefits of some of the most progressive air quality laws in the country.

Rep. Upton’s bill would limit the EPA from regulating our nation’s biggest air-polluters. In Los Angeles alone, over 900,000 people (including 240,000 children) suffer from asthma and other respiratory conditions. By limiting the EPA’s ability to force polluters to clean up their act, the Majority party is literally risking the health the safety of Americans across the country to score political points with their big business donors.

But the bill doesn’t stop there. In California, our clean car standards have led the nation and helped cut air pollution by more than 85 percent since 1975. Our cars are 99 percent cleaner and more fuel efficient because of these regulations, and our health and our environment are all the better for it. By limiting the EPA’s ability to regulate the type of air pollution most associated with cars, the Majority party is trying to turn back over 30 years of progress towards cleaner air. 

However, the most insidious aspect of Rep. Upton’s bill is its direct attack on climate science.

In 2007, the Supreme Court confirmed that carbon dioxide is indeed an air pollutant covered under the Clean Air Act, and the EPA has the responsibility to regulate it. Additionally, the EPA itself issued an endangerment finding in 2009 stating that carbon dioxide along with other pollutants threaten human health and the wellbeing of our environment. The Majority party’s bill would essentially overturn this decision and place Congress into the role of undermining scientific findings.

Congress cannot and should not be in the business of manipulating science to fit into political agendas.

The Clean Air Act, and the EPA’s ability to enforce it, has saved over 160,000 lives in 2010 alone, according to a new report by the EPA. As both sides continue to debate the role of government in American society, surely we can both agree that government has an obligation to protect its citizens from environmental threats. Air pollution is a health risk both to ourselves and the environment of which we are a part, and efforts to dismantle our ability to regulate it are misguided at best, and dangerous at worst.

The Congress has an obligation to support the Clean Air Act and the EPA’s ability to enforce it, and I am proud to stand alongside my colleagues like Senators Boxer and Feinstein in protecting Californians’ right to clean air.

We aren’t willing to go back to those “red-eye days” of the past, and the air which we breathe should not be the subject of partisan games.

This article was originally published in the Huffington Post.