New EPA Clean Air Rule Is a Moral Imperative for Future Generations | Commentary

Posted July 15, 2014 at 3:15pm

While many of my colleagues are focused on the endless and overheated political debate surrounding the newly proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule on reducing carbon emissions, when you remove the rhetoric and weigh the plain facts, this decision rests on two primary questions: (1) What kind of planet will we leave to future generations? (2) Do we have the backbone to put public health ahead of profit?

The honest answers to those two fundamental considerations are clear and compelling.

I strongly support the newly proposed EPA clean air rule because it is a critical moral test of our national will to save lives now and in the future, and to preserve a better quality of life for generations to come.

In my home state of Missouri, 80 percent of our electric power is produced by coal-fired power plants. These power plants are the single biggest source of carbon emissions and other dangerous pollutants like sulfur dioxide. That’s the reality in many other parts of the country too.

Not surprisingly, in the St. Louis area, our rates of asthma and other chronic respiratory diseases are shockingly high, especially for children.

According to recent data provided by the Missouri Department of Health, 10.1 percent of all children ages 17 and younger in my home state have been diagnosed with asthma.

But in the city of St. Louis, that figure climbs to 19.6 percent, and minority children account for 91.9 percent of all emergency room visits for asthma attacks. Last year, 472 young people were hospitalized for asthma, and tragically, five of them died.

The inescapable public health argument for the new EPA clean air rule was made very powerfully by Harold P. Wimmer, national president & CEO of the American Lung Association. In announcing his organization’s support, he said: “Power plant pollution makes people sick and cuts short lives.

“We are pleased to see significant health benefits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed limits on carbon pollution from power plants, which would prevent up to 4,000 premature deaths and 100,000 asthma attacks in the first year they are in place, and prevent up to 6,600 premature deaths and 150,000 asthma attacks in 2030.

“Cleaning up carbon pollution will have an immediate, positive impact on public health; particularly for those who suffer from chronic diseases like asthma, heart disease or diabetes. Steps to clean up carbon pollution can reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, both poisonous emissions from coal-fired power plants that are also major precursors to lethal ozone and particulate matter pollution.”

We also have a very real moral obligation to leave our children a planet that’s less polluted and more sustainable. As a parent, I have a generational duty to do everything in my power to slow the effects of climate change and advance the development of renewable energy sources so that we leave a cleaner, more stable environment for the future.

Regardless of the current rancor on this new EPA clean air rule, the facts are clear, our duty is obvious and no amount of lobbying or political manipulation will change that.

There is no question that this newly proposed rule will save lives and improve the quality of life for future generations of Americans.

Cleaner air and a more sustainable future are not Democratic or Republican issues; they are essential national priorities. That’s why this rule should be fully implemented now, without delay.

Rep. William Lacy Clay is a Democrat from Missouri.