New Congress Prepares to Take Away Your Right to Clean, Safe Air

January 13, 2015-by John Walke, Air Policy Director, Natural Resources Defense Council

The Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote soon on legislation that would take away Americans’ longstanding right to clean, safe air based on health and medical science. The legislation is called the Regulatory Accountability Act of 2015, and it would force the Environmental Protection Agency to set unsafe health standards for air pollution, after factoring in cleanup costs to polluting industries.

Indianapolis Power and Light's Petersburg power plant as seen from Interstate 69 in 1/6/15. Photo© 2015 Steve Higgs

Indianapolis Power and Light’s Petersburg power plant as seen from Interstate 69 in 1/6/15. Photo© 2015 Steve Higgs

The legislation marks an extreme departure from the health foundation of our federal Clean Air Act. Since its adoption in 1970, the Clean Air Act has required EPA to set national health standards for air pollution (like smog and soot) based solely on what health and medical science shows to be unhealthy air quality. Setting these health standards provides the very definition of “clean air,” and it guarantees Americans the right to air that is safe to breathe.

The Regulatory Accountability Act would take away this right and eliminate the Clean Air Act’s health centerpiece. The bill does so by directing that EPA shall consider cleanup costs by polluting industries when defining clean air and telling Americans whether the air is safe.

The legislation requires all federal agencies carrying out all federal rulemakings to consider costs to regulated corporations “notwithstanding any other law.” Legislative drafters use this phrase when they want a law (here, the Regulatory Accountability Act) to take precedence and reign supreme over any other otherwise applicable law. So, embedded within the Regulatory Accountability Act is a radically sweeping alteration of scores of federal laws governing clean air and clean water, food safety, investor protections, civil rights and on and on. I doubt the legislation’s co-sponsors even have a complete list of all the federal laws that their bill would supersede.

From the beginning, the Clean Air Act has required EPA to base clean air health standards exclusively on health and medical science. The Supreme Court upheld this requirement in a unanimous ruling authored by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, siding with the Bush administration EPA. The Court wrote that EPA may not consider the compliance costs to polluting industries when deciding whether the air is safe to breathe. Clean, safe air means adopting health standards based on medical science, not politics or compliance costs or other non-health factors. Health standards must be strong enough to protect all Americans’ health, with an adequate safety margin for vulnerable groups like children, the elderly and asthmatics. The Regulatory Accountability Act would overturn that Supreme Court decision and radically weaken our Clean Air Act. Go to Original

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