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Quiet Congressional Action Could Gut Clean Air Laws

Portions of the Clean Air Act could be eliminated under measures now being considered in Congress. (National Park Service)
Portions of the Clean Air Act could be eliminated under measures now being considered in Congress. (National Park Service)
January 12, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Health and environmental groups are speaking out about what they say are efforts by Congress behind closed doors to gut important public safeguards.

The Midnight Rule Relief Act, which passed the House last week, could eliminate with a single vote any rule finalized in the last several months of the Obama administration.

And the REINS Act could require the House of Representatives to approve any new regulations in order to take effect.

Former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Carol Browner explains the goal is to repeal hundreds of existing protections, including parts of the Clean Air Act.

"They're doing it in a way that's hard to follow,” she states. “It's hard for the public to really see what's happening – and I think that's intentional, because people like clean air and clean water. They don't want those safeguards rolled back, even if Congress wants them rolled back."

Supporters argue the legislation would make it easier to dispense with regulations that some lawmakers believe are unnecessary, improving accountability and transparency.

However, Browner says the bills would affect critical public health laws that reduce carbon pollution from vehicles, oil and gas infrastructure, power plants and other sources.

According to the American Lung Association, pollution such as ozone and soot can threaten the health of children and seniors with asthma and other respiratory disease.

Deborah Brown, president of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, says there are hundreds of thousands of West Virginians at risk from those pollutants.

“They’re causing asthma attacks, cardio-vascular and respiratory harm, and premature death," she points out. "And so if we start removing these safeguards, we are going to possibly make a difference between life and death for these individuals.”

Brower is also concerned about the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the EPA, given his past attempts to overturn climate regulations. But she's hopeful he'll continue the work of past agency administrators, if confirmed.

"We all believed in the mission of the agency,” she states. “We believed it was our job to protect the health of the American people, and I certainly hope Mr. Pruitt will find it within himself to share that."

Pruitt's confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is scheduled for next Wednesday.



Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV