Calling on Senator Merkley to defend the Clean Air Act

Watching the recent congressional attacks on the EPA’s work to protect the public and our planet from the devastation of toxic air pollution, it was heartening to see Oregon leaders stand up to the bullying and special interests. Specifically, Senator Merkley spoke on the floor against amendments that would undermine the effectiveness of the Clean Air Act, saying specifically in a speech on April 7th, 2011:

Merkley: Attacks on Clean Air Act Would Harm Health
Merkley: Attacks on Clean Air Act Would Harm Health

“It is tempting to think that a two- year delay might be an acceptable middle ground, but a two year delay in protecting public health is two years too long.”

Unfortunately, a bill co-authored by Senator Ron Wyden, provides for what many believe is a permanent delay of implementing a law passed by Congress in 1990 that called for the establishment of emission reductions for industrial boilers, which burn solid waste and other fuel for energy and heat.  When I called Oregon DEQ to inquire about the presence of these facilities in Portland, I was told that it is very difficult to quantify the emissions, by the agency’s estimate boilers number in the thousands in the Portland metro area alone.

This is why Neighbors for Clean Air and other public health advocates like Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility are asking that Senator Merkley meet with us. We would like to express our concerns specifically about the very real public health impacts of this bill which will cause the premature deaths of between 7,500 and 19,500 people, and with each year of delay, many thousands more. This is a direct assault on the EPA and the Clean Air Act, according to an EarthJustice fact sheet, Permanent_Damage_Senate, released in August 2011 , which says: In addition to carving out loopholes for industry and permitting premature death, S. 1392 undercuts Clean Air Act protections from the dirtiest industries. Rather than have the EPA set health standards based on the emissions of the cleanest facilities in the country—as the Clean Air Act specifies and courts have repeatedly upheld—the legislation would direct the agency to set its health standards based on the emissions of the dirtiest sources.

This approach to pollution control reflects politics at its worst. It reverses a common-sense approach that has been a keystone of Clean Air Act protection for decades: clean industrial facilities are the model for dirty ones, not the other way around. If a facility can operate without spreading sickness and death to the local community, that should be encouraged, not undercut. We are concerned that bills like this do permanent damage to the excellent progress the Clean Air Act has achieved in protecting the public health from toxic air emissions.

S1392 asks for delay of implementation of critical upgrades to industrial boilers, which our Oregon DEQ estimates are numbered in the thousands in the Portland area alone, to be established not earlier than 5 years, with no provision of a maximum time frame for compliance. It goes further to reclassify a List of nasties as potential fuel, such designation of which will provide the permanent exemption of the burning of old tires, plastics and wood soaked in cancer causing flame retardants in out-dated facilities with no pollution reduction equipment installed. Because only a handful of these facilities are large enough to meet the requirement of federal reporting and monitoring, the rest will be uncontrolled, unmonitored and have no reporting requirements. We need Senator Merkley to stand up for the protection of our children’s health from these harmful emissions, and the protection of our community right-to-know what is in our air.


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