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Is Congress Working Behind Closed Doors to Gut Clean-Air Laws?

Portions of the Clean Air Act could be eliminated under measures now being considered in Congress. (Pixabay)
Portions of the Clean Air Act could be eliminated under measures now being considered in Congress. (Pixabay)
January 9, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio – 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 would 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.

Ken Fletcher, director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Ohio, says the country has made great gains in air quality over the past few decades, but much more work remains.

For example, 31 out of 34 Ohio counties in his group's 2016 "State of the Air Report" failed to meet minimum standards for ozone pollution.

"What does that mean?” he states. “Well there's almost 275,000 kids with asthma in the state of Ohio. And when you have a high ozone day that affects their ability to breathe. It may affect their ability to go to school. It could trigger asthma attacks."

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 has not yet been scheduled.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH