“If You Can’t Breathe, You Can’t Work”

On Wednesday, September 21, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairperson of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, held a press conference to discuss concerns about protecting landmark environmental laws. Joining her were EPW Members Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), public health representatives, and voices from the asthma community. Also on the agenda was a reiteration of the Environmental Protection Agency’s role in safeguarding the American public. Scheduled two days before the House of Representatives were set to vote on the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation (TRAIN) Act (H.R. 2401), Boxer characterized that legislation as being “about changing the process of how you set health standards.”

Boxer laid the groundwork with the observation, “The Clean Air Act is under fierce attack by House Republicans.” She presented a series of stats to rally listeners to defend the “health and economy of our nation.” She cited the reasons that air pollution is “dangerous to public health,” noting that asthma affects 7.1 million children. At the podium was Ickey Woods, the NFL fullback who had played for the Cincinnati Bengals. His son died from a severe asthma attack in 2010, at the age of 16.

“It is outrageous that in this century we have to protect a law that has been in place since 1970, and has proven itself over and over again,” Boxer said. She enumerated facts that keep getting lost in the anti-regulation dogma, including that by 2020, the Clean Air Act is projected to prevent 230,00 premature deaths, 2.4 million asthma attacks, and 200,000 heart attacks.

Paul Billings, the Vice President of National Policy & Advocacy at the American Lung Association, presented printed boards reporting the results of a nationwide bipartisan survey his organization had conducted. It evidenced strong support for the Clean Air Act showing:

  • 69 percent think EPA should update Clean Act Air standards with stricter air pollution limits.
  • 68 percent believe that Congress should not stop EPA from enforcing Clean Air Act
  • 69 percent believe EPA scientist, not Congress, should set pollution standards.

In response to the ongoing Republican talking points about how EPA regulations are harming the economy, Boxer suggested, “If you can’t breathe, you can’t work.” She observed that since the Clean Air Act became law, the United States gross domestic product had risen by 207 percent. Commenting on the turn of events since the “Republicans took over the House,” Boxer asserted, “They are fighting for the polluters and not the people they represent.”

Boxer then zoned in on the TRAIN Act”. She didn’t mince words. “Let me be clear,” she pronounced. “This is a dangerous train. It is a train wreck, and it has to be stopped.”

Lautenberg, author of the law that banned smoking on airplanes, identified himself as the grandfather of a child with asthma. He asked Republicans to explain to families why they wanted to “allow polluters to foul our air,” and challenged them to “stand up for children’s health.” He drilled down on specific concerns. One was the issue of mercury in the air—which is responsible for “permanently lowering a child’s IQ.” He drew a futuristic picture of American citizens wearing facemasks, as they do in China.

Cardin underscored the importance of putting the public interest at the forefront. “Families are affected by what we do here,” he said. He continued to chip away at the Republican rationale that the EPA was a jobs buster, articulating, “It’s a false dilemma to say that we have to choose between healthy air and a healthy economy.” Pointing to the “trillions of dollars in health benefits that have been saved” he insisted, “We understand that healthy air will help us with a healthy economy.”

Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Dr. Peter Wilk, related the specific dangers that emanate from particulate matter air pollution. He explained how it impacts the cardiovascular system and damages organs. He referenced mercury, defining it as a neurotoxin. He identified coal-fired power plants, industrial boilers, cement kilns, and cars as the primary sources of these pollutants.

The family of an 11-year-old, who has asthma, participated in the news conference. The father spoke emotionally about his concerns for his son’s health.

On Friday, September 23, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the TRAIN Act, with a vote of 249-169 (View the Roll Call). Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD)—who cast an opposition vote—issued a statement titled, “TRAIN Act Another Republican Attempt to Strip the Clean Air Act.” Indicating how the bill would block “two of the most critical provisions of the Clean Air Act: the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule,” she reiterated the health saving benefits that are “150 to 350 times the cost of implementing the rule.” Like Boxer, Edwards suggested that,  “Instead of working with Democrats and the President to create jobs, Republicans are continuing their ideological agenda to strip bare the Clean Air Act.” Continuing in the same vein, she said, “Republican intransigence has already cost us jobs and economic growth–now it could have a detrimental impact on the health of the American people.”

As for Boxer, her comment upon House passage of the TRAIN Act left no doubt about her upcoming agenda. She stated:

“Today, the House passed H.R. 2401, the TRAIN Act, which would obstruct EPA’s process of setting new health standards–delaying life-saving protections.  Let me be clear: this is a train we must stop.  I will do everything I can to block the rollbacks being pushed by House Republicans and polluters.”

The same day as Boxer’s press conference, the White House issued a strongly worded statement. Message: If the TRAIN act reached the President’s desk, he would veto it.

This article originally appeared on the website Moms Clean Air Force

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