Clean air act: Health should trump politics

This item originally appeared in: The Missoulian


Curtis Noonan

 Recently Missoula served as a rest stop for 17 bicyclists crossing the country as part of the American Lung Association’s Big Ride. They have various motivations for undertaking this arduous trek, but each participant rides in support of clean air. Their destination is Washington, D.C., where the topic of clean air is hotly debated.

The 1970 Clean Air Act signed into law by President Nixon was a bold statement that our country values public health. Unfortunately, the Clean Air Act is under continuous legislative threat from lawmakers who put corporate values ahead of public values. A recent example is HR 4480, a bill that threatens to undermine the principle of using sound science to guide regulatory policy and protect public health. This bill would create an additional layer of bureaucracy to impede scientifically based updates to air quality standards. Disappointingly, this measure passed the House with the support of Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont.

It is my hope that the Senate will reject this bill. We should credit Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Max Baucus, D-Mont., for voting against similar attempts to undermine the Clean Air Act. For example, our Montana senators recently helped to reject Senate Joint Resolution 37, a measure that would have blocked the enforcement of air pollution standards for power plants. The implementation of these life-saving standards has already been delayed for more than 20 years. It should be noted that Montana moved years ago to control mercury emissions from power plants, and this was done without plant closures or job losses. More importantly, this was done in the interest of protecting children from exposure to a known neurotoxin.

It is disturbing that Rehberg and others place politics before the health of the people they represent. We must not delay achievable air toxics standards that will reduce hospitalizations and save lives.