Protecting Clean Air and Public Health in Congress

Protecting Clean Air and Public Health

Delaware has made great strides in cleaning up its own air pollution; but unfortunately, Delaware – along with other Northeast states – is located at the end of what I call "America's tailpipe." Other states' dirty emissions from cars and power plants drift east, causing pollution that Delaware cannot stop or regulate. This dirty air negatively impacts the health and life quality of Delawareans; for example, over 18,000 asthmatic children live in areas of poor air quality in the First State. At the end of the day, downwind states can only do so much without the cooperation and investment of upwind states. That’s why we need a national approach to cleaning our nation’s air. To ensure all states do their fair share to clean up our dirty air, I have worked to protect and defend the Clean Air Act and the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to pursue commonsense clean air regulations that curb harmful pollution that impacts our health and well-being.

The Clean Air Act and the EPA’s efforts to limit harmful pollutants have repeatedly shown huge returns for the public’s investment in terms of lives saved, reduced health care costs and clean energy jobs. For every dollar we’ve spent installing new pollution controls and cleaning up our air, we’ve seen 30 dollars returned in reduced health care costs and better workplace productivity, not to mention the thousands of saved lives. In other words, fewer people are getting sick and missing work because of the Clean Air Act. Just last year, it’s estimated that in the United States 160,000 lives were saved from the clean air protections in place. Our economy didn’t take a slide because of these protections, either; in fact, quite the opposite has occurred. Since President George H.W. Bush signed the bipartisan Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 into law, electricity rates have stayed constant and our economy has grown by 60 percent. The bottom line is that a clean environment and a strong economy can go hand in hand. We don’t have to choose between them.

As a member of the Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air, I will continue to advocate for stronger, more effective clean air laws because, despite our successes, more needs to be done to further clean up our air, to safeguard public health, and to ensure that we leave a better natural environment to future generations.

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Preserving the Good Neighbor Air Pollution Rule

In November, I joined a majority of his Senate colleagues in voting against Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) Congressional Review Act Resolution of Disapproval of the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (S.J. RES. 27) – legislation that would have prevented the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating harmful pollution emitted from our nation’s power plants under the Clean Air Act. This dangerous bill would have ceased regulation of pollution that travels from one state to another. The Cross-State Air Pollution rule – or “Good Neighbor” rule – ensures that states are, in fact, good neighbors by doing their fair share to clean up pollution that drifts downwind, which poses significant risks to public health in Northeast states. Sen. Paul’s resolution would have ceased the EPA’s efforts to clean up this pollution crossing state borders – putting further burdens on downwind states, like Delaware, and forcing them to live with their neighbors’ toxic air. I’m relieved that many of my Senate colleagues joined me in defeating this resolution, and I’m hopeful that we can move forward in our effort to clean up our nation's dirty air, which will help improve public health and save even more lives.

Fighting to Reduce Toxic Air Pollution

In the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 – which celebrated their 21st birthday in November – Congress directed the EPA to require large emitters of toxic air pollution to clean up their act by 2000. The air toxins affected by these amendments – mercury, arsenic, and the like – are known to cause cancer, neurological damage, and even death. As chairman of the Subcommittee on Clean Air, I’ve worked with the Obama Administration and with my colleagues in the Senate not only to move forward with efforts to reduce the amount of these toxins in the air – like the EPA’s recently released rules requiring coal- and oil-burning power plants to slash releases of toxic chemicals – but also to block attempts to further delay actions that would clean up toxins in our air. We simply cannot afford to wait any longer to address this imminent threat to public health.

Preventing Repeal or Delay of Actions to Cut GHG Emissions

In Delaware, we’re already seeing the dangerous effects of greenhouse gas emissions drifting through our air and warming our climate – rising sea levels and the destruction of coastal ecosystems. Delaware – and other states with coastlines – can’t curb these emissions alone as they see their shorelines shrink and land masses washed into the sea. National, even global, action is needed; but unfortunately, efforts in Congress to reduce our greenhouse gas footprint – efforts which I have fiercely supported for many years – have been unsuccessful. Fortunately though, the EPA can utilize tools under the Clean Air Act to start regulating some of the largest sources of greenhouse gases in this country – cars and power plants – right away. I’m hopeful that with continued work we can see action to limit greenhouse gas emissions early in 2012; and as chairman of the Subcommittee on Clean Air, I’ll continue to work with the EPA to reject delays and put in place strong, commonsense measures to slash these harmful pollutants.

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