News and views Clean Air, Clean Water Acts/TuValu
Clean Air, Clean Water Acts save millions of lives and billions of dollars, create thousands of jobs. Greenhouse gas control is a crucial part of the job.
The connections among air and water quality, climate change and our health are deep and significant. Landmark legislation passed by huge Congressional majorities during Richard Nixon's Presidency established the National Environmental Policy Act, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Some industries have constantly complained about (and spent millions to lobby policy and file lawsuits over) having to comply with the ensuing regulation of pollution and requirements to consider the effects of development on our environment. However, the facts are that this national concern over land, air, water, our fellow creatures and their effect on human health has paid off overwhelmingly. We are healthier and spend less on pollution related illnesses. Water and air are visibly, chemically cleaner. Thousands of companies have been established in a $300 billion clean tech sector which employs 1.7 million people, and other businesses benefit from a cleaner environment. Workers -- and their bosses -- are less likely to be disabled by pollution. There has been a reduction in acid rain, poisons in waterways and destruction of lands providing clean water, natural resources, food and recreation.
The laws require stringent scientific study, abundant public input, and consideration of economic costs. One example of the outcome, according to a U. S. Senate report on October 6, was that "in 2010 alone, the Clean Air Act prevented 160,000 premature deaths, 1.7 million asthma attacks, 130,000 heart attacks, 86,000 emergency room visits, 13 million lost work days, and 3.2 million lost school days. ... For every $1 spent on clean air protections, we get $30 of benefits in return." There are still many poisons and pollutants at large, regulations have often been delayed strictly because of resistance to change, and President Obama's recent order delaying scientifically-mandated reduction in smog ozone to please certain Republican-leaning industries shows how powerful politics remains.
Now, the measurable flood of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) and the resulting increase in atmospheric temperatures, the most basic and well-established facts of global warming, are creating many new health dangers. In 2009, the EPA determined CO2, methane and other GHGs are pollutants under the Clean Air Act: "GHGs are the primary driver of climate change, which can lead to hotter, longer heat waves that threaten the health of the sick, poor or elderly; increases in ground-level ozone pollution linked to asthma and other respiratory illnesses; as well as other threats to the health and welfare of Americans." Science is documenting that sea level rise along American shores, increased rainstorm intensity, repeated hundred and even 500-year floods, and changing plant and insect regimes which affect our well being correlate to rising greenhouse gas concentrations also.
Predictably, having EPA follow the law to regulate and limit CO2 does not please many GOP and some Democratic politicians and a wide range of industries, especially those who produce and burn huge amounts of fossil fuel. The result is a Congressional fight over the very existence of the EPA, melded with the climate change denier movement and claims that environmental regulations are deepening the recession. A flood of bills from the current Republican leadership of the House of Representatives would remove or delay EPA oversight not just on GHGs but on many of the most basic subjects of those very successful -- and job-creating -- foundation laws of our environmental health. And the EPA is not the only target: Since the beginning of the current Congress in January, according to Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the House of Representatives has passed 125 bills undermining environmental protections and improvements including those provided by the Interior Department, the Energy Department, Commerce Department, Army Corps of Engineers, NOAA and other agencies.
Across the Pacific, small island nations go thirsty.
Tuvalu and other South Pacific island nations are suffering a severe drought and seek international aid. Even though over the past few years Tuvalu families were provided tanks to collect rainwater, lack of rain over six months and pollution of the scant groundwater present in the porous coral atoll has left many with little to drink or cook with. Reports are families have been limited to only a few bucketfuls each day. A dispatch via a Pacific-region environmental activist network says the water desalination plants sent by Australia and New Zealand have arrived and are in operation. Lack of rain and stored water also creates doubt about the survival of the important Taiwan food garden and the resurgence of pulaka farming and family gardens, featured in photo essays here, and here.
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