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Shutdown averted and a national emergency declaration; A push in Iowa for virtual caucus attendance for 2020 primaries; and concerns about legislation that could hide oil pipeline records. Those stories and more in today’s news.

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Clean Air Laws Seen at Risk with New Congress

Portions of the Clean Air Act could be eliminated under measures being considered in Congress. (Pixabay)
Portions of the Clean Air Act could be eliminated under measures being considered in Congress. (Pixabay)
January 11, 2017

DENVER – 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 any rule finalized in the last several months of the Obama administration with a single vote. And the REINS Act would require any new regulations be approved by the House of Representatives in order to take effect.

Former EPA administrator Carol Browner says 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; 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," she said. "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.

Dawn Mullally, director of air quality and transportation with the American Lung Association in Colorado, points to national data that found in 2011 alone, the Clean Air Act prevented 160,000 premature deaths, 86,000 hospital admissions, 13 million lost work days and more than three million lost school days.

She says children and seniors are at the greatest risk for asthma and other respiratory problems during the state's bad air days.

"In Colorado, we have about one and a quarter million kids, and we also have a little bit more than half a million adults older than 65," she explained. "And should any kind of regulations get even weaker, then those problems are going to increase."

Browner also is concerned about the nomination of 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," said Browner. "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.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO