The EPA’s current effort to strengthen the Clean Air Act is not a political issue. It is a survival issue for everyone.
Although human beings can survive three weeks without food, and even three days without water, none of us could survive more than three minutes without air to breathe. Even if we know someone who can hold their breath longer than three minutes, at some time they are going to have to breathe.
Unfortunately, millions of Americans today are forced to breathe air that is contaminated with hazardous pollutants from more than 400 coal plants around the country. These pollutants include mercury, benzenes, acid gases and dioxins, which can cause birth defects, brain damage, premature death and cancer.
Pollution from outdated and inefficient coal plants places a tremendous burden on our nation’s health care system, especially for our most susceptible citizens: children, the elderly and people with respiratory illnesses such as asthma.
In 1990, Congress took action to protect Americans from these airborne hazards by adding special provisions in the Clean Air Act that require the EPA to clean up toxic substances. Now, more than 20 years later, the EPA is poised to finally require coal-fired power plants to clean up these dangerous emissions.
Despite the mandate to curb toxic emissions and the overwhelming scientific evidence that demonstrates the harmful effects of air pollution on human health and our ecosystem, closing the toxics loophole has become an uphill battle full of political rhetoric and economic scare tactics.
No one individual or entity has dominion over the air we breathe. It is a resource that is shared by us all equally, regardless of our socioeconomic status, political affiliation, age, gender or religious preference. When we compromise the quality of the air we breathe, we compromise the health and safety of everyone and everything that requires air to survive.
People of faith know that we have a moral obligation to protect public health and the environmental resources that are intrinsically linked to the survival of our species.
For those who are concerned about our nation’s economy and worry about the impacts of further environmental regulations, it should be noted that EPA regulations historically provide our nation with numerous economic benefits.
Since the EPA was chartered more than 40 years ago, our nation’s gross domestic product has increased by more than 200 percent. On average, for every dollar our government spends on protection the air we breathe, $30 is saved from the effects that pollution has on children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with asthma.
Requiring coal power plants to finally rein-in their pollution will create thousands of jobs and spur significant investments in new technology, not to mention the significant economic savings that will result from being able to breathe cleaner air.
According to the EPA, closing the toxics loophole would yield more than $120 billion to $290 billion in annual health and welfare benefits in 2014, including the value of avoiding 14,000 to 36,000 premature deaths. The health care savings alone far outweigh the estimated annual compliance costs of $2.8 billion.
Although political battle lines have been drawn, we should pause to remember that the word conspire originates from the Latin word conspirare: to breathe together. Another definition of the word “conspire”: to act in harmony toward a common end.
Today, more than 40 years after the EPA was first created with strong bipartisan support, I humbly suggest that we should all conspire to ensure the air we need for our survival is as clean as possible. We owe ourselves, our neighbors and all of God’s creation nothing less.
Elizabeth England is executive director of Maine Interfaith Power & Light.