As a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in the 109th Congress, Senator Obama worked to ensure our nation's environmental laws and policies balance America's needs for a healthy, sustainable environment with economic growth. He will continue to push for sound environmental policies with his colleagues in the 110th Congress.
Global Climate Change
The issue of climate change is one of the greatest challenges that our generation faces. Senator Obama believes that the U.S. must take aggressive action now to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. He is a cosponsor of the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act (S. 309), which was introduced by Senators Sanders and Boxer. This important legislation would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by 80% in the year 2050. Senator Obama is also an original cosponsor of the Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act , which was introduced by Senators Lieberman and McCain and would mandate 60% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Since coming to Washington, Senator Obama has made the elimination of childhood lead poisoning one of his top priorities. Over 400,000 children in the U.S. suffer from lead poisoning. Lead is a highly toxic substance that can produce a range of health problems in young children including IQ deficiencies, reading and learning disabilities, reduced attention spans, hyperactivity, and damage to the kidneys, brain and bone marrow. The most common source of lead exposure is lead paint in older housing.
During his first year in office, Senator Obama successfully fought to get the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to publish long-overdue rules for how contractors involved in the renovation and remodeling of homes should deal with lead paint hazards. To force the EPA to issue the rules, Senator Obama threatened to block the confirmation of an EPA official and passed an amendment to stop the EPA from delaying the rulemaking process. When the rules are eventually finalized, they will prevent 28,000 lead-related illnesses each year, resulting in an annual net economic benefit of more than $4 billion.
Lead is also present in many children's products. In 2003 and 2004, nearly 150 million pieces of toy jewelry were recalled because of toxic levels of lead. To address this problem, Senator Obama introduced the Lead-Free Toys Act to require the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ban any children's product containing lead.
In December 2006, Senator Obama released a report showing that a number of souvenirs purchased in the U.S. Capitol gift shops contained large amounts of lead. Those items were promptly removed from store shelves.
Senator Obama is also an original cosponsor of the Home Lead Safety Tax Credit Act, which would provide tax credits to property owners who eliminate or contain paint hazards in homes where low-income young children or women of child-bearing age live.
Recognizing that 30 years after the ban of lead in paint many of our children are still being exposed, Senator Obama also introduced the Lead Poisoning Reduction Act, which would help protect children from lead poisoning by requiring that all non-home-based child care facilities, including Head Start program locations and kindergarten classrooms, be lead-safe within five years. The legislation would also establish a $42.6 million grant program to help local communities pay to make these facilities safe.
He also introduced the Healthy Communities Act to identify and address problems in communities that are at high risk from environmental contaminants. In addition, recognizing the contribution of housing, parks, trails, roadways, and public transportation to healthy lifestyles, Senator Obama introduced the Healthy Places Act to assess and support improvements to the built environment.
The Great Lakes store one-fifth of the world's surface water, and Lake Michigan alone provides drinking water for an estimated six million Illinoisans. The Great Lakes are also important for recreation, transportation, and economic development. To preserve this national treasure, Senator Obama has been a strong supporter of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration and cosponsored the Great Lakes Environmental Restoration Act in the 109th Congress.
One of the greatest threats facing the Great Lakes is aquatic invasive species. Senator Obama was successful in ensuring that Illinois receives adequate federal funding to operate a barrier to prevent Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan and disrupting the balance of the lake's ecosystem.
In December 2005, the Chicago Tribune published an in-depth report on the extent of mercury contamination in the fish eaten by Americans. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can cause serious developmental problems in children, ranging from severe birth defects to mental retardation. As many as 630,000 children born annually in the U.S. are at risk of neurological problems related to mercury. In adults, mercury can cause major neurological problems affecting vision, motor skills, blood pressure and fertility.
Sampling conducted by the Tribune showed surprisingly high levels of mercury in freshwater and saltwater fish purchased in the Chicago area. The Tribune series also reported on how existing programs at the Food and Drug Administration and the EPA have failed to adequately test and evaluate mercury levels in fish.
To address this problem, Senator Obama introduced two bills: the Mercury Market Minimization Act and the Missing Mercury in Manufacturing Monitoring and Mitigation Act . These bills would significantly reduce the amount of mercury that is deposited in oceans, lakes, and rivers, which in turn would reduce the amount of mercury in fish. Senator Obama will continue to press for these needed changes in the 110th Congress.
In November, Senator Obama called upon the Department of Energy to stop its proposed sale of large quantities of mercury. The Department subsequently announced it would not sell its stockpiles.