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A letter from Congress

I don’t have any guest posters here, but once in awhile I’ll publish someone else’s words here. This is one of those times. One of my readers is a legislative assistant to Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D, Dallas). He sent me the following op-ed she wrote about Rep. Joe Barton’s clandestine effort to delay a deadline for compliance on the federal Clean Air Act in the upcoming energy bill, which you can see underneath the More link. It was intended for the Dallas Morning News, but since they printed an op-ed piece from her on this topic last week, they passed on this one. Their loss is our gain. Without further ado, here’s Rep. Johnson’s piece, entitled “Clean Air Horror Story”.

Children celebrate Halloween by dressing up in costumes, by going trick or treating and by reveling in horror stories about things that “go bump in the night.” This year is no exception. It is not without irony that during this season the House of Representative is considering the long-delayed energy bill.

It contains a provision so horrific that instead of helping the Dallas-Fort Worth area to solve its long-standing air pollution woes, it could cause the area to get “bumped up” into a classification of compliance that proves more costly to local taxpayers.

It is safe to say that my Republican House colleagues from Texas and I disagree on many aspects of the bill, but one thing we should all be able to grasp is that the future of energy policy in this country is of the utmost importance. It is certainly too important to be used as an excuse to weaken the provisions and mandates of the Clean Air Act.

But unfortunately, my colleague Joe Barton has turned the energy bill into the proverbial Frankenstein’s monster. He is using his position as Chair of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality to graft on all sorts of extraneous provisions that have nothing to do with making our energy future safer or more secure – and in fact will seriously undermine public health. His plan would let our community’s air stay among the dirtiest in the country, and let polluters off the hook nationwide.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 127 million Americans breathe air that violates federal standards for smog and soot pollution. EPA’s own consultants found that each year almost 370 residents of the Dallas-Fort Worth area die just because of the pollution from the oldest and dirtiest unregulated power plants, and 10,500 asthma attacks are triggered.

The 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, signed by the first President Bush, classified cities based on the severity of their ozone smog problem. Areas with higher classifications were given more time to meet clean air standards – but once their deadline came due, they also had to adopt stronger anti-pollution measures. If a city missed its clean air deadline, the Act required that it be reclassified (“bumped up”) to the next highest classification.

But during the past several years, EPA gave several metro areas a free pass, extending clean air deadlines for dirty areas without bumping them up to the higher pollution categories that would require more protective standards. Four separate federal appellate courts all ruled that EPA’s extension policy violated the language and purpose of the Clean Air Act. Appropriately, that led the agency to abandon the policy.

With so many Americans breathing dirty air, it should be obvious that air quality standards are already not being enforced enough. But rather than accepting the judgment of EPA and the courts, Joe Barton and his allies are now seeking to amend the Clean Air Act. His changes would turn back the clock, extend the clean air time frames once again, without raising the bar for air quality. Though it sounds like a bureaucratic distinction, what it will mean in real terms for real people is simple: dirtier air, for longer.

In their desire to pass any comprehensive energy bill, some of my colleagues may be willing to overlook the massive damage this bill would do to our existing clean air policies. Including the Barton dirty air rider means ignoring compelling scientific evidence on the serious health effects of ozone pollution. It will mean pollution in these areas will go unchecked for longer and longer into the future, and could even skyrocket. Asthma attacks, respiratory problems and pulmonary disease will go up, while the amount of time children can spend playing outside will go down.

Developing lungs process 50 percent more air, pound-for-pound, than do those of adults. Children suffer most from the current air quality shortfalls. Letting the situation worsen for years and even decades does nothing for a child unable to go outside today.

It’s true that we must secure our energy future, and that’s why a comprehensive energy bill is moving forward. But this Halloween trick rolls back critical safeguards. We must not pass a bill with great shortfalls simply because we need to pass a bill. We must instead work towards a fair bill that protects us all – and does not endanger ourselves or our children.

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