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Michelle Hesterberg,
Environment Minnesota

Local Coalition Stands with Rep. McCollum Against Unprecedented Clean Air Rollbacks

For Immediate Release

ST. PAUL – As the U.S. House prepares two more attacks on federal clean air safeguards on Monday, Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-St. Paul) joined Environment Minnesota and the American Lung Association at Children’s Hospital to condemn U.S. House-passed legislation to indefinitely delay the cleanup of dangerous smog, soot, mercury, and other toxic pollutants from power plants nationwide.

Last Friday, the U.S. House passed H.R.2401, a bill that puts the lives of 139,500 Americans at risk by subjecting to indefinite delay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Rule and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. The bill puts the interests of America’s biggest polluters over those of children, the elderly, and other vulnerable people by requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to base new clean air standards on what polluters deem feasible for them, not what science says is protective of our health.

“Minnesotans deserve clean air. But what the House just passed will only mean more asthma attacks, hospitalizations, and even premature deaths from air pollution,” said Environment Minnesota Director Ken Bradley. “It’s a shame that Minnesota’s history of bipartisan support for clean air and water seems to have been lost. Because of the influence of big polluters on members of Congress, this has become a partisan battle rather than a shared commitment to public health.”

The historically bipartisan approach to clean air has appeared to shift only recently. The Clean Air Act was passed into law under President Nixon with strong support from both Democrats and Republicans. Amendments were passed to strengthen the Clean Air Act under Democratic President Carter, Republican President George Bush Sr. with support in Congress from Democrats and Republicans.

After doctors from Children’s Hospital in St. Paul detailed both the health impacts of these pollutants and their own personal experiences treating Minnesotans stricken with asthma and lung disease, representatives from Environment Minnesota and the American Lung Association drew attention to the anti-clean air onslaught in Congress.

Scheduled for a House floor vote on Monday, October 3rd are two more brazen attempts to put important public health safeguards on indefinite hold. H.R. 2681 would delay the cleanup of mercury, a potent neurotoxin that affects children’s cognitive development, from cement plants, while H.R.2681 subjects the cleanup of mercury from cement plants to this same indefinite delay.

Industrial boilers and cement plants are the 2nd and 3rd largest sources of toxic mercury emissions in the U.S., respectively. EPA has found that 1 in 10 American women currently has enough mercury in her blood to put her child at risk of developmental disability, should she become pregnant. Minnesota has made strides to cut mercury emissions, But 90% of the mercury that is poisoning our air and drinking water comes from out of state.

The House-passed H.R. 2401 would mean more unhealthy air days due to increased smog pollution in Minnesota, a state known for relatively healthy air quality. Smog is one of the most harmful air pollutants, and also one of the most pervasive. It is formed when pollution from cars, power plants, and industrial facilities reacts with other pollutants in the presence of sunlight.  Smog is of particular concern in the summer months when warmer temperatures lead to the build-up of higher concentrations of smog pollution.

Exposure to smog triggers asthma attacks, causes permanent lung damage, and can lead to premature death.

EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, finalized in July, will save 34,000 lives by limiting smog and soot pollution from power plants that crosses state borders and predominately impacts eastern states. The Mercury and Air Toxics Rule, set to be finalized in November, will reduce mercury pollution from power plants by 91 percent, and each year prevent 12,200 trips to the hospital and save 17,000 lives once it is implemented.

More than 800,000 Americans spoke out against mercury and other toxic pollutants during EPA’s public comment period on the rule – a record-breaking total for any EPA standard. Today, Congresswoman Betty McCollum joined those 800,000 Americans by reaffirming her longtime support for clean air and health families in Minnesota.

“The American Lung Association in Minnesota thanks Congresswoman McCollum for her long record as a clean air champion in Washington, D.C,” said spokesman Robert Moffitt. “She has consistently voted to protect air quality and lung health in Minnesota, and she has stood firm against proposals that would weaken the Clean Air Act, and tie the hands of the Environmental Protection Agency.”

“Now we need the rest of Minnesota’s Congressional delegation to join Congresswoman McCollum on the side of children’s health, rather than voting with big polluters,” concluded Bradley.