By Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard
Californians, like all Americans, love breathing clean, healthy air. We relish that picture perfect moment: a clear view of the mountains or ocean, kids playing soccer or baseball, enjoying a picnic in the park on a warm day, or just a brisk walk with the dog.
These are also the moments we’d like to forget — missed school or missed work due to bad air days, asthma and bronchial attacks and the associated costs to families, business, and the economy.
The EPA and Clean Air Act have delivered much good for us over the past 40 years – everything from reducing lead levels in the air by 92 percent to preventing hundreds of thousands of premature deaths, millions of asthma attacks and more. A recent EPA report revealed that in 2010 alone, the Clean Air Act reductions in fine particle and ozone pollution have prevented more than 160,000 cases of premature mortality, 130,000 heart attacks, 1.7 million asthma attacks and 13 million lost work days.
But though our air is cleaner, it’s not nearly clean enough. Bad air is still the reality for many Americans—just ask the millions of Latinos who live where air quality violates federal safety levels—many right here in Southern California. In 2006, it was estimated that almost half of Latinos lived with unsafe ozone levels and more than a quarter with unsafe fine particulate levels. Air pollution is still a public health problem that hits Latinos particularly hard since so many of us live in communities near sources of harmful emissions and over 30% of us have no health insurance.
Californians understand the critical importance of clean air laws and the need for regulating polluting industries. That was made clear last November when we overwhelmingly voted down Prop 23, which would have rolled back California’s law to reduce air pollution. But that battle was just the beginning of an effort now brewing at the federal level to restrict the tools at government’s disposal to protect the public’s health.
Many in the new Congress are trying to block the Environmental Protection Agency from implementing the Clean Air Act. The Republican spending plan that would fund the federal government for the rest of the year drastically cuts funding to enforce the law and protect public health. The proposal cuts the EPA’s budget by 30 percent, the largest cut of any agency. Under the guise of deficit reduction, opponents of clean air regulations are seeking to gut EPA’s power to enforce the law.
The proposed reductions in EPA funding mirror an effort in both the House and Senate to block the agency from regulating toxic greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other sources. This attempt to disarm the EPA is taking place despite the fact that the Supreme Court held that the EPA has the authority to control these sources of pollution.
The EPA must be allowed to continue cleaning up air pollution and ensuring that safeguards keep up with modern-day scientific findings—findings that show we should add carbon dioxide to the list of pollutants regulated and monitored by the federal government. The EPA relied on the best science available to begin setting carbon dioxide standards, just as it has in updating standards on mercury and arsenic, other power plant emissions that pose serious health risks.
Californians and all Americans should call on Congress to follow the science and renew our national commitment to clean air. This is a public health issue of profound importance, not only for heavily impacted Latino families and children in my Los Angeles communities, but for kids all across the country who deserve to grow up breathing clean, healthy air. Let the EPA do its job.
Congresswoman Roybal-Allard is Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Task Force on Health and the Environment