The TRAIN Act: A Roadblock to Cleaner Air
Last March, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the first national standards
on mercury, arsenic, and other toxic air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants. This exciting and long overdue rule would significantly improve air quality in the United States, reducing toxic emissions by more than 90 percent.
“With the help of existing technologies, we will be able to take reasonable steps that will provide dramatic protections to our children and loved ones, preventing premature deaths, heart attacks, and asthma attacks,” says Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator. The rule gives the coal- and oil-fired power plant industry up to four years to reach the new standards.
Individuals and organizations from across the political and ideological spectrum have come out in favor of this mercury rule: President Obama cited its importance during his Sept. 8 job speech, while pro-life evangelical Christian groups have rallied behind the rule’s environmental and health benefits.
But the rule is by no means greeted with open arms from all politicians. Last Friday, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2401, the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation (TRAIN) Act. The TRAIN Act would limit the EPA’s regulatory power to enforce the Clean Air Act and establish a Congressional committee to review all proposed actions for enforcement before they can be implemented.
The TRAIN Act specifically targets the proposed mercury rule; Representative Ed Whitfield of Kentucky offered an amendment that imposes a mandatory delay in enacting the new mercury standards, and the amendment was included in the version of the TRAIN Act passed last week.
The TRAIN Act would result in costly reports and delay (or prevent) the implementation of important environmental health regulations. The bill eliminates the requirement that the EPA base clean air standards on health and science and requires the agency to consider “feasibility and cost” to industry, essentially forcing the EPA to set unsafe air standards.
Implementing this mercury rule is vital to protecting our health – particularly that of our children. Children in utero and stages of early development are especially vulnerable to mercury’s bioaccumulative properties, which refers to mercury’s ability to remain in the body and build up over time, regardless of whether it is consumed in fish or other substances or inhaled in the air. This accumulation can cause neurological damage even in utero. Furthermore, arsenic, nickel and other toxic metals that would be curbed by the rule have been linked to cancer. The rule targets the main source of toxic emissions in the United States: Power plants are responsible for half the mercury and more than half the acid gas emissions in our air and environment.
Environmental regulations tend to face opposition from those who claim they slow economic growth. But despite what the rule’s critics maintain, holding power plants to higher air quality standards is in no way a “job-killer.” The EPA’s proposed mercury rule is estimated to create 31,000 short-term construction jobs and 9,000 permanent utility jobs. In addition, for every dollar spent on regulating mercury and other toxic air pollutants, the American public will see up to $13 in benefits, including lower health care expenditures.
To defend the EPA’s authority to enforce the Clean Air Act and ensure the mercury rule is implemented, call your Senators and urge them to oppose the TRAIN Act. The Capitol switchboard can be reached at 202.224.3121.
As Jews, we are taught to “choose life, that you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:20). Congress must act now for our health and the health of our children, as well as for our nation’s unemployed and the quality of our environment, by supporting the mercury rule and opposing the TRAIN Act.
Susan Paykin is a 2011-2012 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant.