Clean Air Act assaulted by Congress
by JP Leous
In the wake of a House-passed Continuing Resolution that guts critical science-backed programs designed to protect our families, economy and wildlands from climate disruptions, Republicans from both chambers continue to mount their assault.
Sen. Barrasso’s (R-WY) version of the Dirty Air Act (S.228) is quite simply an attack on science and the economy. Forcing agencies’ heads into the sand and barring any consideration of climate effects won’t stop climate change from occurring, but it will guarantee American businesses and communities won’t be ready for climate disruptions. Don’t think climate change matters to you? Just check out the American Public Health Association’s top 5 reasons why climate change is bad for your health.
Observations across the country are clear: regional climates are changing and affecting communities, wildlands and wildlife in new and dramatic ways. Banning the mere “consideration” of climate effects in “implementing or enforcing any law” puts a blindfold on decision-makers at a time when we need to ramp-up the collection and analysis of scientific information in public policy decisions.
Just as S.228 takes climate skepticism to a new, dangerous level, Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Sen. Jim Inhofe‘s iterations of the Dirty Air Act both gut the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon pollution through one of our nation’s oldest and best public health laws: the Clean Air Act. It is noteworthy that in their joint release on this bill, Reps. Upton, Whitfield and Peterson point to the potential costs of regulating pollution—but never mention the devastating costs (in dollars and lives) unmitigated climate disruptions will bring. Using the brakes on your car will eventually cost you to replace them, but the alternative – crashing into something – is much higher
For its part, the Obama Administration is not shying away from thinking about climate change and putting agencies in a position to address climate disruptions. In addition to the EPA moving forward with regulating carbon pollution, the Department of Interior recently released its long-awaited America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) report - integrating climate-smart conservation throughout the agency’s approach to land management. As part of AGO, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) also recently released their draft Vision for managing our wildlife refuges. Even if you don’t care about the more than 1,300 endangered or threatened species that depend on healthy refuges, I bet you’ll take notice of the economic impact these amazing places generate: $1.7 billion in economic activity, while supporting 27,000 private sector jobs. The value our Refuge System provides us every year through natural services (think improved water quality to nearby communities) is estimated at $4 billion.
Time will tell if agencies, including FWS, will be allowed to successfully address climate disruptions on our wildlands. For its part, the FWS Vision correctly highlights the cold hard reality that climate changes may preclude managing for historic conditions. As such, there is increased urgency to address stressors now (for example, tackling invasive species), work at a landscape level (rather than stopping at a refuge boundary), and continue monitoring and adjusting techniques as additional information is available. Of course, successfully addressing climate impacts will require a robust suite of resources and the latest available science—which makes budget cuts seen in the House-passed CR and bills like Sen. Barrasso’s so dangerous. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that investing in our green infrastructure can protect and create jobs across the country today, while keeping these special places resilient for a warming tomorrow.
Now isn’t the time to double down on climate denialism, and have to pay billions of dollars down the road for fixes that cost millions today. Now is the time to keep pushing forward on climate science and climate-smart conservation that will protect our communities and wild places for generations to come.
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Photo copyright Curran Kellher