The Billings Outpost

Act saves lives

The Clean Air Act saves lives. Since it was first enacted in 1970 with bipartisan support under a Republican president, the Clean Air Act has succeeded in cutting unhealthy levels of pollution throughout the country, and has done so at reasonable cost, thereby preventing thousands of premature deaths. In 2010 alone, the legislation helped prevent 160,000 premature deaths; 1.7 million instances of asthma exacerbation; 41,000 hospital admissions; and 45,000 cardiovascular admissions.

This has resulted in tremendous savings in terms of health care spending. In fact, it’s estimated the benefit-to-cost radio of the Clean Air Act is 4 to 1.

Now the Clean Air Act is being updated to control toxic air pollutants, curb emissions from big power plants and limit pollutants that continue to put lives at risk.

Unfortunately, special interests and their allies in Congress are trying to side-track these rules.

One thing foes of the Clean Air Act are working to do is prevent or delay rules that limit emissions of toxic pollutants such as mercury, arsenic, lead, dioxin and acid gases from power plants. It is estimated that these rules will save many additional lives and prevent thousands of asthma attacks in the United States each year. Also, by reducing emissions of mercury that can harm developing fetuses and young children, the result may be fewer cognitive problems later in life for these children.

Special interest lobbyists claim that making the technological changes required to reduce these dangerous emissions harms business and could even lead to the closure of power plants and other facilities. That didn’t happen in Montana, where most of our power plants have already made updates to bring mercury emissions to levels acceptable under the proposed rules.

Air pollution doesn’t stop at state lines. Pollutants from neighboring states have an effect on Montanans’ health and quality of life. Consider that 56 bodies of water in our state, including reservoirs, lakes and streams, carry warning about eating mercury-contaminated fish from their waters. To prevent premature deaths and keep our air safe,  facilities in other states should do their part, too.

Not only is this a critical public health issue, it is also a good government issue. In passing the Clean Air Act, Congress recognized that it was poorly equipped to make specific technical and scientific determinations. So Congress set overall goals, including protecting public health, and delegated scientists and engineers to review scientific data, monitoring the industrial processes, and development of appropriate controls. This was common sense, and it would be ill-advised for politicians to know assume they know better than science and health experts how to control dangerous air pollution.

The League of Women Voters of Montana has long supported legislation that protects the public health and safety. These new requirements  won’t be implemented and enforced without a strong Clean Air Act. Surely protecting the health of our children and elders is of greater priority than the agendas of politicians and special interests. We can’t let Congress weaken these protections and put more Montana lives at risk. For this reason, we urge our members of Congress to defend these protections from being watered down and to put public health ahead of some politicians’ self-interest.

Nancy Detrick

Montana League of Women Voters


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