The Senate voted today to back a new Environmental Protection Agency rule controlling mercury and other toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a member of the Senate environment and energy committees, spoke against a resolution by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) that would have blocked implementation of the EPA mercury rule.
Before the resolution was defeated by a vote of 53 to 46, Sanders discussed the impact of the measure on the environment, public health and jobs.
"I want to create jobs, not cut jobs, and what we're talking about is creating meaningful, good-paying jobs as we retrofit coal-burning plants so they do not poison the children of Vermont and other states around the country. To Senator Inhofe and others, I say, respectfully, stop poisoning our children. Let them grow up in a healthy way," Sanders said.
Power plants are responsible for one-third of the mercury deposits in the United States. Mercury can cause children to have brain damage, mental retardation, blindness, seizures, and the inability to speak, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Leading medical organizations have said that the Inhofe resolution would have left millions of Americans permanently at risk from toxic air pollution from power plants that directly threaten pulmonary, cardiovascular and neurological health and development.
"We also are talking about what is a very serious problem in my state, and that is asthma," Sanders added. "I go to a lot of schools, and I ask how many kids are suffering with asthma, and many, many hands go up. So thank you very much, we do not want to see more asthma in Vermont or in other states that are downwind."
Regarding the impact of the mercury rule on jobs, Sanders cited estimates that meeting the new mercury standards would result in investments by the coal and utility industries in pollution controls that will create 290,000 jobs over each of the next five years. As chairman of the Senate Green Jobs Subcommittee, Sanders chaired a hearing that looked at a utility that created 1,385 jobs retrofitting just one coal-burning power plant.
"The truth of the matter is that if we are aggressive in cleaning up these coal power plants, we can create many good, decent-paying jobs," Sanders said.