|Peter Bahouth, Executive Director
July 25, 2011
Image courtesy of: Devin Dobbins-McCarthy
From the delivery of more than 639,000 comments in support of strong mercury safeguards to the legislative efforts to cut climate funding and block life saving clean air standards, it was a week of contradictions as intense as the record high temperatures brought on by a tropical “heat dome”, which raged across our Capitol this week.
In addition to drastic cuts to clean energy investment and increases in subsidies for fossil energy, the House of Representatives moved forward with a raft of provisions attached to its spending bills designed to block action to address carbon and other air pollution and its deadly impacts. So far, the House has passed Agriculture appropriation (H.R. 2112), Military Construction appropriation (H.R. 2055), Energy and Water appropriation (H.R. 2354). The Interior and Environment appropriation (H.R. 2584), which could be debated on the house floor as early as today, passed out of committee with more than two dozen policy riders designed to block action to address life-threatening air pollution. The Obama Administration issued a clear statement in opposition to the bill, touted by some in the community as ‘the mother of all anti-environmental bills’. For a full list of many of these anti-environmental riders in the appropriations bills, see a list compiled by NRDC.
In a latest backwards attempt to undermine efforts to control carbon pollution, members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a new bill, the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011. The name of this legislative effort to stop the European effort to control aviation air pollution describes the idea behind it, an attempt to prohibit another country from taking reasonable steps to control carbon pollution. But the House wasn’t the only Congressional branch taking anti-environmental measures last week. Legislation (S.1392) introduced Wednesday by Senator Collins (R-Maine), and a bipartisan group of 5 other Senators, would delay the EPA standard to reduce air toxics from boilers and incinerators for 15 months. An unnecessary measure since the boiler standard, which already includes a 3-year window for facilities to comply, has been stayed until April of next year allowing facilities to continue to dump unlimited amount of pollution into the air we all breathe. Equally troubling is a provision in the bill inserted by Senator Wyden (D-Oregon) that would classify certain materials as nonhazardous fuel including biomass, scrap tires, non-chlorinated plastics, latex paint water and others allowing facilities to burn these materials with no regulation, monitoring or reporting of their emissions.
But there were also leaders to be found this week and in them, hope. As the American Lung Association, issued an open letter to President Obama from more than 265 health groups to protect Public Health on Ozone, over 60 Americans from all walks of life took part in The Clean Air Act: Reducing Pollution, Saving Lives Conference. The advocates visited Capitol Hill to urge their members of Congress to oppose efforts to block clean air standards. They also meet with White House staff to express strong support for the Administration promulgating strong standards that will reduce smog, carbon, mercury and other air pollutants. And Tuesday afternoon, a crowd of concerned citizens gathered in Boston outside the Environmental Protection Agency Region 1 office to deliver more than 639,000 comments calling for strong mercury safeguards. A coalition of more than 200 health, environmental and social justice organizations worked together to make this impressive show of support for the EPA in their efforts to curb dangerous mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants.
In what was a fairly historic move, the United Nations Security Council held an open debate, including an address by UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, and issued a Presidential Statement expressing its concern about adverse effects of climate change aggravating existing threats to international peace and security. It was only the second time the Council has held a debate on climate change, and the first that they were able to reach agreement on a statement. While there is no doubt that the Presidential Statement could and should have been stronger, it was a welcome surprise that the highest diplomatic body on Earth finally managed to overcome its political divide and recognize this fundamental reality.
Meanwhile, back in DC aboard a boat on the Potomac River, with a 62-year-old coal plant behind him and the U.S. Capitol visible in the distance through the summer haze, billionaire news mogul and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he will donate $50 million to the Sierra Club over the next several years, to expand their campaign to wean the country off the country’s “self-inflicting public health risk”, of coal-fired power plants. To quote climate activist Dave Roberts at Grist, “I honestly don’t think I’ve heard news this good since Mass. v EPA.”
Michelle Dixon, Outreach Director