The Countdown to Clean Air Begins

As the EPA's new mercury standards get posted in the federal register, opponents gear up to destroy legislation that was 20 years in the making

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The fight to protect ourselves from mercury pollution has just begun all over again. Within hours of posting the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in the federal register, Senator Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, has filed a Congressional Review Act, vowing to kill the new regulation — even though it protects us from mercury, arsenic, lead and acid gases.

I had no idea how long and drawn-out the regulation process can be. The new rule, crafted by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson’s team and signed in December 2011, was 21 years in the making. It got through an extensive comment period, and it has been thoroughly vetted by economic teams who have scoured it for efficacy, affordability and job creation. It has been examined by utility industry leaders, most of whom have assured us that it will not make our electric service unreliable. It has been vetted by doctors, nurses, health officials and scientists — people who spend their entire lives studying how potent neurotoxins cause premature birth, neurological damage, birth defects, asthma attacks, lung and heart damage, stroke and premature death.

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On Feb. 16, the rule was posted in the Federal Register, triggering two countdowns: one, a countdown of 60 legislative days — days when Congress is working, and believe me, those days bear absolutely no relation to when the rest of us are working. What with breaks and recesses, 60 legislative days could easily carry us to June. During those days, Inhofe and others will try to overturn the rule using the Draconian Congressional Review Act. The passage of a CRA means that the EPA can never again propose a substantially similar rule.

Inhofe’s fight is backed by people with deep ties to the coal industry — and by congressional representatives who may have spent all of 20 minutes getting briefed on the matter — but who take it for granted that what hurts their coal constituents is much worse than what hurts our children.

What is Inhofe thinking? That an election year showdown over the EPA will be good for Republicans. And in a classic, but more insidious, “dog ate my homework” move, Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) has introduced the Fair Compliance Act to delay implementation of the rule.

And so the game of Chutes and Ladders begins. We climb towards clean air, for our children, and we slide down the chute again.

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