pollution kills. It's no secret that the toxic
chemicals being pumped into the air every
day kill people, kill wildlife and permanently
damage the environment. Congress recognized
these grim facts when it passed the Clean
Air Act in 1970 and again when the Act was
amended in 1990. The Environmental Protection
Agency has repeatedly emphasized the catastrophic
health impacts of toxic air pollution.
the EPA's actions don't match its words. The
EPA is doing a terrible job in controlling
emissions. It has missed every single deadline
in recent memory for controlling toxic air
pollution. As a result, almost half of the
industries that emit major amounts of toxic
air pollution are still not regulated. They're
polluting and nobody's watching. Thanks to
foot-dragging by EPA, 80,000 major polluters
-- each capable of spewing at least 10 tons
of toxic gas and particles into the air each
year -- are doing little or nothing to reduce
their emissions. These are the EPA's own figures.
is a very real problem so real and mainstream
that Christine Todd Whitman, the former New
Jersey governor and now EPA boss was asked
about it on the "Today Show" on March 7th.
Host Katie Couric said, "The EPA has been
criticized for extending the deadline for
compliance with the Clean Air Act," and then
she quoted a congressman who said that delay
was illegal and exposed people to unsafe air.
To that, Whitman replied, "We're continuing
to meet deadlines. And I'm not sure to what
the congressman is referring."
Whitman's reply simply wasn't true. That's
what makes it so alarming. Doesn't Whitman
know her own agency is currently breaking
the law -- that it is currently in violation
of scores of Clean Air Act deadlines? Didn't
Whitman remember that just two days before
speaking with Couric, she herself signed into
law regulations that put off air controls
for at least two more years -- and set the
stage for yet more delay in the future?
As EPA administrator, perhaps Whitman doesn't
delve into the nitty-gritty of the regulations
she signs. But if Christine Whitman doesn't
know what's in her regulations, who does?
Jeffrey Holmstead, the man directly in charge
of EPA's air program, was -- until joining
the Bush administration -- a lawyer for pro-pollution
lobby groups like the Chemical Manufacturers
Association. These interests stand to benefit
directly from the delay or weakening of air
toxics regulations. Is their former lawyer
making the final decisions about how to protect
public health from air toxics?
When Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments
in 1990, it knew that clean-up deadlines were
not enough; EPA already had been ignoring
statutory deadlines for two decades. So Congress
created an insurance policy: if EPA misses
a deadline to set air pollution standards
by more than 18 months, each major toxic polluter
that EPA fails to regulate must seek a special
permit from its state to stay in business.
Meanwhile, the states must set strong standards
for those sources on a case-by-case basis,
ensuring that each source reduces all of its
toxic emissions by the greatest amount feasible.
This month Whitman ripped up that insurance
policy. Her action allows the agency to keep
violating the Clean Air Act deadlines without
triggering the automatic requirement for case-by-case
controls. What she did is flatly illegal and
an abuse of power by the Executive Branch
- only Congress can make law and only Congress
can change the law. And Whitman's action will
have a real impact on real people. It will
prolong their exposure to pollutants that
are known to cause serious illness and death.
statements on the "Today Show" were misleading.
The Environmental Protection Agency isn't
meeting its deadlines; it is deliberately
putting them off. If she had told people the
truth -- that the EPA is breaking the law
by postponing deadlines in a way that benefits
the Bush administration's corporate backers
-- people might get upset.
But Whitman's false assurances make people
think the EPA is watching out for their health,
when in reality, it's choosing not to act
on toxic emissions that threaten their health.
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