Today, U. S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush, Ranking Member of the Energy and Power Subcommittee, circulated a "Dear Colleague" letter signed by Rush and seven House members aimed at defeating back-door attempts by the House Republicans to roll back and undermine key Clean Air Act regulations lawfully adopted and enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Through a series of legislative "riders" House Republican leaders are attempting, through the appropriations process, to accomplish what they could not do by using the normal legislative course for authorizing government agency action. Essentially, these back-door riders would eliminate funding for EPA enforcement authority, which has been affirmed repeatedly by the courts. If passed into law, this bill would severely curtail the ability of the EPA to protect the public health of the American people and would be especially harmful to the health and well-being of those living in low-income, predominantly minority communities.
Rush, whose legacy of leadership on local and national energy and environmental policy extends to his days as a Chicago City councilman, outlined his concerns with H.R. 2584 in his "Dear Colleague." That statement, reprinted below, was also shared with leading environmental organizations, including Environment Illinois, with an appeal for constituents and concerned citizens to contact their elected representatives and urge them to vote against this harmful legislation.
The message in the "Dear Colleague" letter is as follows:
July 26, 2011
We are writing to urge you to oppose H.R. 2584, the FY 2012 Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill. This bill would severely curtail the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect the public health of the American people and would disproportionately impact those living in the communities we represent. In addition to draconian funding cuts, the bill also includes numerous anti-environment riders that would permit polluters to continue harming the public health. We strongly urge you to oppose this bill to ensure that the EPA is able to protect the public from harmful pollutants like mercury and arsenic.
Underserved communities are particularly vulnerable to air pollution and disproportionately suffer from asthma. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "low-income populations, minorities, and children living in inner cities experience more emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and deaths due to asthma than the general population." In fact, according to the American Lung Association (ALA), asthma attacks send African Americans to the emergency room at more than three times the rate of white Americans and almost 1 in 10 African American children suffer from asthma.
These results are not limited to African Americans. According to a 2006 CDC study, 12.7% of Hispanic children have asthma compared to 8% of non-Hispanic white children. A 2010 CDC report found that 21.1% of Puerto Ricans have received a lifetime diagnosis of asthma. In a separate study, a California Healthy Kids Survey found that lifetime asthma diagnosis among the 11 Asian American Pacific Islander subgroups ranged from 10.9% among Korean American students to 23.8% among Filipino American students.
Additionally, a 2000 American Lung Association report found that a disproportionate number of minority children live in areas with high ozone levels. Approximately 61.3 percent of African-American children, 69.2 percent of Hispanic children and 67.7 percent of Asian-American children live in areas that exceed the 0.08 parts per million federal ozone standard. By comparison, 50.8 percent of white children live in such areas.
These findings are not surprising when one considers the fact that many low-income communities are located near coal-fired power plants. According to a 2002 Clean the Air report using 2000 Census data, 68% of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. Coal-fired plants produce over 67% of the sulfur dioxide (SO2) and over one-third of the mercury pollution generated in the U.S. SO2 can be inhaled deep into the lungs, thus affecting respiratory and cardiovascular systems and along with nitrogen oxide or NOx emissions are strongly associated with asthma. A 2002 study by Clear the Air and Physicians for Social Responsibility estimated that 30 percent of childhood asthma is due to environmental exposures, costing the nation $2 billion per year. Mercury, on the other hand, is not inhaled but rather contaminates fish that when consumed by expectant mothers can affect the fetus and produce numerous adverse cognitive issues.
However, in blatant disregard to these impacts, H.R. 2584 contains numerous anti-environment riders that would preclude the EPA from carrying out its mission under the Clean Air Act to prevent toxic emissions from the very power plants that so seriously harm those living in our communities. Among these riders, the bill contains language that would prevent the EPA from finalizing or implementing its Toxics and Cross State Air Pollution Rules. This provision was included despite the fact that many utilities have championed the rules and have cleaned up their operations in expectation of them. But this rider, like too many others in the bill, has been written to satisfy a vocal minority of coal-burning utilities that put profits ahead of lives.
The funding reductions are also very problematic and appear to have been designed to render the EPA a toothless tiger against those special interests that would pollute our communities. The bill cuts $1.5 billion, nearly 20%, from the EPA's budget. But such a cut seems penny wise and pound foolish when one considers that the costs of treating asthma, in children alone, is over $3 billion per year. This bill pushes our nation's environmental efforts in exactly the wrong direction at a time when we cannot afford further ill-health effects from pollution.
Please join us in supporting the public health of our communities by opposing this harmful appropriations bill. Thank you for your consideration.
Bobby L. Rush
Michael M. Honda
Raul M. Grijalva
John Conyers, Jr.
Alcee L. Hastings
Jesse Jackson, Jr.
Grace F. Napolitano