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Children's health and Republican efforts to lift restrictions on air pollutants

The Clean Air Act is under attack.

House Republicans have passed a bill to lift restrictions on pollutants in the air we breathe. The Clean Air Act is considered one of the most cost-effective laws ever enacted in the United States. While costing relatively little, it has saved billions of dollars in health care costs due to respiratory and heart diseases. The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) most recent report concludes that by 2020, implementation costs of the act will have reached $65 billion while the benefits in health care savings, not to mention lives saved, will reach $2 trillion.

You don't see many laws that return $30 dollars to taxpayers for everyone dollar invested.

Last week the Republican-controlled House passed the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation Act (TRAIN). Republicans call it the TRAIN Act, and Democrats call it a train wreck. The bill forestalls standards under the Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Agency's enforcement of those standards.


It is perhaps a sign of the times that Republicans would go against an agency brought into being by Richard Nixon and the Clean Air Act, which he signed into law in 1970 with broad Republican support. The law was strengthened by another Republican president, George H.W. Bush. Whatever Republican ideals it once stood for, the EPA and the Clean Air Act are targets of the new breed of Washington Republicans.

The TRAIN Act proposes to do three things: It would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating gasoline, it would loosen restrictions on pollutants from power plants that cross state lines and it would delay the cleanup of mercury, soot and other pollutants at power plant sites.

A recent headline in the conservative newspaper the Washington Times captures the Republican stance on regulation of the planet's air quality. The headline reads: "Democrats Need to Choose: EPA or Jobs." The TRAIN Act requires that the EPA make regulatory determinations based not only on science, but their economic impact as well. According to Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollum, "Republicans and Tea Party-backed House members are putting ideology ahead of science."

GOP argument
Republicans argue that EPA regulations are job killers and have focused attention on the proposed rules, saying that tougher emission restrictions will raise electricity rates and put workers out of jobs. McCollum says that the jobs-vs.-clean air argument is a false choice.

Republican authors of the TRAIN Act often cite a Texas utility company called Luminant as an example of how the EPA rules kill jobs. Luminant recently announced it would lay off 500 workers because of the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.

But Luminant appears to be the exception. Xcel Energy's incoming chief told a meeting of investors the work already done by the Minnesota utility company to reduce emissions "puts us in a good position to comply with these rules." Gale Klappa, the chairman and CEO of Wisconsin Energy, told investors in May, 2011: "We really see very little impact on customer electric rates or our capital plan between now and 2015 as a result of the new EPA regulations that have been proposed."

Last week Congresswoman McCollum joined the American Lung Association, Environment Minnesota and a specialist in children's respiratory health to talk about the TRAIN Act. It became clear why she chose Children's Hospital as the site of her news conference. McCollum cited figures, backed by various studies, that she says show "[b]locking these standards for just one additional year could result in up to 38,000 premature deaths due to smog, soot and toxic air pollution, more than 19,000 heart attacks, more than 200,000 asthma attacks, and four million more missed school and work days."

According to Ken Bradley of Environment Minnesota, the TRAIN Act creates a panel of cabinet members who will review all of EPA's standards, but says that panel can only consider costs of implementation and not the savings in lives and health care costs.

Since childhood asthma has been linked to pollutants subject to regulation by the EPA, and because the TRAIN Act loosens restrictions on the amount of pollutants utilities can put into the air, the debate has gotten testy.

In Massachusetts, Sen. Scott Brown, who voted against clean-air standards limiting carbon pollution, and the non-partisan League of Women Voters have gotten into a public brawl. The League says Brown has voted against the health and welfare of children. He countered with his own message about jobs and the economy, but has found it difficult to distance himself from the charge.

The same charge has been leveled at Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. The debate raises a serious question: Is a vote in support of polluters a vote against children's health? Republicans and Tea Party-backed members of Congress call it a cheap shot. The Washington Times story critical of environmentalist backlash against TRAIN says even liberal Democrats don't believe the health statistics they cite.

Meet Paul Kubic
Dr. Paul Kubic specializes in pediatric lung diseases, practicing across the state, at Children's Hospitals and Clinic and at Gillete. He says of those in Congress who voted for the TRAIN Act: "I don't think they are being malicious. I just don't think they understand the science surrounding the problem."

Dr. Kubic told me that when he started in medicine more than 40 years ago, he would see three or four asthmatic children a year. "Today, many doctors are seeing that many in a week. Asthma medication is the most prescribed medicine in our school systems, now," he says.

Dr. Paul Kubic
health.allina.com
Dr. Paul Kubic

Kubic points to the growing body of research known as epigenetics. Epigenetics studies the effects of chemicals on DNA. "There is growing evidence that certain pollutants can turn on, or turn off, certain genes in our DNA," Kubic says. The science suggests that if the switch is thrown on some of those genes, the body stops producing some proteins that protect us from diseases like asthma. Worse, the blown breaker can be passed on from one generation to the next without altering the basic DNA.

Kubic says supporters of the TRAIN Act aren't seeing the full economic picture. "They are looking for the immediate benefit, but not looking at long-term costs," he says. "Many of the children suffering from asthma, as one example, live in areas of high pollution, and they don't have the means to get out. They are the most costly group of asthmatics to treat, for a variety of reasons, including poverty and access to healthcare. People who don't have insurance can't pay for the treatment of their children, so ultimately the taxpayer will bear the cost."

Studies have shown, for instance, in the most polluted boroughs of New York City, about 25 percent of the children are asthmatic. Epidemiologic studies show children's asthma cases growing each year.

Kubic remembers a recent televised GOP presidential candidates' debate that gave him pause. Ron Paul was asked what he would do in the case of a 30-year-old man who had chosen to be uninsured and faced a life-threatening medical emergency. Paul was asked who should pay for the young man's care. "Before the candidate could respond," says Kubic, "I heard people in the audience say, 'Let him die.'"

The TRAIN Act will likely fail in the Senate, but if it makes it through to President Obama, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has recommended he veto the bill. OMB has crunched the numbers and found that the benefits of the regulation, like the Clean Air Act itself, far outweigh the immediate savings suggested by the authors of the bill.

But the TRAIN Act is, if nothing else, predictive of things to come from Congress, and leads one to ask again the question: Is the vote for loosening regulation of polluters a vote against children's health?

After taking into account all the facts, it would seem the answer is, regrettably, yes.

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Comments (31)

"You don't see many laws that return $30 dollars to taxpayers for everyone dollar invested." I suspect many Republicans see it as a question of private dollars being invested in a public good as opposed to requiring the expenditure of private dollars to prevent public harm. As in so many cases, perspective dictates the conclusion.

Thanks for covering this important topic, Don. Hat tip to MinnPost, Twin Cities Daily Planet and Minnesota 2020 for coming out to hear what we had to say about the TRAIN Act and what it means to clean air and the health of all Minnesotans.

Robert Moffitt
Communications Director
American Lung Association in Minnesota

This is so scary to me!!! Seems the new Republican regime is only all about the short-term, in more ways than one. Re this issue, if you take away restrictions, thus potentially increasing hazards to the health for future generations, AND take away healthcare options, that's a double-whammy for those who can least afford it. As has been argued before, "those who can least afford it" will not be disappearing, you can't just "wish" them away, much as you try.

Other than writing to legislators, etc., what can I do about it?

Sometimes a loss turns into a gain. I miss Don Shelby on the "news", but am thankful that he now has the freedom to take the gloves off and speak the truth about the environment. Scientific evidence about the fragile state of the environment is too often ignored in an effort to either save money or avoid inconvenient lifestyle changes. Once we have ruined the environment, there is no turning back. How many public policy decisions are that crucial?

Go get 'em Don!

"The debate raises a serious question: Is a vote in support of polluters a vote against children's health? Republicans and Tea Party-backed members of Congress call it a cheap shot."

It may be a low blow, but not below the belt. With many of the Republicans' bellies on the ground, I'm not sure that's possible. In any case, it's time we say it like it is. A vote for TRAIN is a vote for children (and adults) to suffer and die.

Great article on an extremely important topic. You could almost imagine this issue being an entry point to begin communicating more clearly in this debate positioning environmental regulations as costly and job-killing, the facts are so clear.

"You don't see many laws that return $30 dollars to taxpayers for everyone dollar invested."

Sorry, but this is a very broad, throw-away statement without citing evidence to back it up.

As Dr. Kubic says, "I just don't think they understand the science surrounding the problem."

In the October's The Progressive magazine is an article by democrat Mark Pocan, a stealth attendee at a recent American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting. One of the workshops he attended was presented by Sherwood Idso, a "scientist" who, with other family members who are also "scientists," founded the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Climate Change. Their research was the basis for his speech.

Mr. Ipso provided "evidence" that carbon dioxide is good for us (earthworms and forest vegetation improve as its levels rise; it is the reason humans live longer). Ipso and his family and or friends no doubt can "prove" that carbon pollutants are good for children because asthma promotes deep breathing -- or some such nonsense.

It is from people like Idso that politicians on the right learn scientific disinformation that may not be job-killing but certainly can and is people-killing.

Let us not forget the link between the Clean Air Act and crime prevention!

There is a well-documented link between the regulation of lead pollution in the air and a subsequent drop in crime. The introduction of unleaded gasoline and tailpipe emission standards reduced lead poisoning. Lead poisoning has serious effects on brain function, especially for children. Poisoned children can, and many do, develop criminal behavior when they become adolescents and adults.

Economist Rick Nevin has shown "an identical, decades-long association between lead poisoning and crime rates in nine countries."

"It is stunning how strong the association is," Nevin said in an interview. "Sixty-five to ninety percent or more of the substantial variation in violent crime in all these countries was explained by lead."

See source article in the Washington Post here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/07/AR200707...

I can only charitably assume that Republicans who want to deregulate gasoline have no awareness of these facts.

I, too, applaud the attention to this important topic, thanks.

@#7…

A) Cost of implementation: $65 billion

B) Health care savings: $2 trillion

B divided by A = $30.79

You might want to argue about how the “B” figure was arrived at, and thus its legitimacy, but even the math-challenged (i.e., me) can do the division above.

Ray #10, sorry, I did not communicate clearly. I was not speaking of the return on investment mentioned for this program, I meant the flip assertion that government programs rarely show a good ROI.

As an example, NASA's moon program gave us the microchip--an invention of immeasurable value. I do not suggest that economic benefit should be the only reason for government to spend money, but that my impression is that goverment programs often do produce an excellent return in social and economic benefit. At the same time, that is just a perception of mine, I have not researched it.

Thanks for this article. I wasn't aware of this.

I'm very supportive of US business growth and jobs... but not at the cost of the public's health or material environmental impact. So I'm not a fan of this. Thanks for the info.

@#10...

If history is used as a guide, cost of implementation is usually way underestimated and savings are way overestimated.

Do a Google search on Bronx studyand asthma. Lots of exciting informationand data that demonstrates the health side of the equation. I do not even understand how well meaning people can propose such legislation. Unless it's a fallacy to suggest the legislation is from well meaning people.

*Scary*
*Chilling*
*Disturbing*
*Koch Brothers*
*George Soros*
*ALEC*
*Open Society Institute*
*The Children!!*

Any time an issue is framed with red herrings, or layed out with childish emotion you know you're being pandered to.

Getting reliable information on subjects like this is like pulling hair, and reading the source documents is an excersize in walking on glass.

Wouldn't it be nice to have someone out there laying this stuff out so that those of us that might like to consider it thoughtfully had the opportunity to do so, instead of having to wade through the sort of mind numbing pap Minnpost seems focused on offering?

*Do* Republicans hate children and wish harm to them? Yeah, Don...looks like that's the goal alrighty. *Facepalm*

I don't think Repubs hate children, and I don't think they misunderstand the science. I think they worship profit above all else, and in particular wish to protect the rich who are the wellspring of their financial support, and are therefore willing to distort the science in pursuit of short term political goals - and sell their position to gullible supporters by spouting pseudo-scientific b.s. as if it were fact.

I also think we need to come up with a new name other than "Republican". These people aren't Republicans, not in the historical sense. I'm not sure what to call them (that's fit to print), but they aren't the repubs I grew up with. Maybe the Corporate Party, or the Money Party, or the Profit Party.

Perhaps the Obstinate Party. What I see here is what we've seen from the right for the last decade, at least - an all or nothing, my way or the highway, we will not discuss, nor negotiate, nor compromise obstinacy. Luminant throws a hissy fit over environmental regs and says "we don't like your rules, so we're going to lay off a bunch of people." Xcel, on the other hand, shows clearly that such a reaction is not only unnecessary, but silly: "We really see very little impact on customer electric rates or our capital plan between now and 2015 as a result of the new EPA regulations that have been proposed."

Well, Luminant is a Texas company, after all. Maybe they'd like to secede.

I don't know how long the people in this country are going to put up with this nonsense, but perhaps by attacking the quality of the air that kids, and the rest of us, breath, they will have gone too far. The Occupy Wallstreet movement is encouraging, at least - people are finally waking up to the class warfare of the right-wing rich against the rest of us.

Whenever there is a conflict between environmental concerns and economic needs (jobs and profits) the economic is bound to win. This is because for most of us economic interests are short-term while environmental concerns are long-term. But as a famous economist once said; 'In the long-term we are all dead." If we ignore environmental concerns it may by a little sooner than otherwise.

Mr. Swift,
I don't believe I stated that Republicans hate children and wish them harm. I believe the question was whether a vote for protection of polluters was a vote against the health and welfare of children. If you have evidence that it is not, then please provide it. You don't know me. The "face-palm" doesn't work as an effective debating mechanism. It works as a dismissal of facts. If you wish to dismiss the facts, please provide a counter argument based in knowledge. I will be glad to consider your facts.

They don't hate kids. They just love profit. The
sick kids are externalized costs after they internalize the profits that result from their process. Corporations are profit-generating entities not persons.

For U.S. House and Senate Republicans and their Koch-funded Tea Party cohorts, almost any law or regulation that doesn't comport with their anti-scientific, ideological worldview is labeled "a job killer"--whether that label is valid or not. That was also true for Minnesota House and Senate Republicans and their Koch-supported Tea Party cohorts who would have gutted much of our state's progressive environmental legislation in the 2011 legislative session if DFL Governor Mark Dayton hadn't thwarted them. And like their Congressional counterparts, they are apparently using ALEC's child-killer playbook.

Moreover, as Mr. Shelby, Rep. McCollum and others have correctly pointed out in previous MinnPost articles, coal-fired power plants, oil refineries and many other industrial facilities emit CO2 or other greenhouse gases whose destructive global-warming/climate-changing impacts will persist for decades and kill jobs, children and much of life on our planet. That's a stark reality that anti-science legislators and their partners in politics, business, religion, academia and the media are also pathologically denying.

What a tragic shame!

Awesome rebuttal Mr. Shelby! I can't say I was aware of what an asset you are to our community before these reading your articles on minnpost, but I certainly am now. Don't stop, keep it going.

"I don't believe I stated that Republicans hate children and wish them harm. I believe the question was whether a vote for protection of polluters was a vote against the health and welfare of children."

So, you're going to parse the meaning of "is"? Really?

Why would someone vote against the health and welfare of children, Don? To show the love?

Cheeeeya; give it a rest!

If this legislation has consequences related to health, put your proof out there. You say there's a growing body of evidence, and reports...where are they?

But putting out the facts for people to consider just don't get "scary" enough does it? It just doesn't put the finger deep enough into the GOP's eye, does it?

It's no wonder you had to resort to this sort of scare-mongering though, when one realizes that the facts themselves are not quite as bad as you'd like us to believe..for instance, you say:

"The TRAIN Act proposes to do three things: It would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating gasoline, it would loosen restrictions on pollutants from power plants that cross state lines and it would delay the cleanup of mercury, soot and other pollutants at power plant sites."

But you don't say that the restriction loosening is temporary, and that it *postpones* new EPA regulations on gasoline, not prevent the EPA from regulating it.

Just who do you think you're kidding, Don?

It's like I said; getting the stright scoop is like pulling hair, not that I really expected getting it from a warmer on a mission.

@#22
Why do you bother to try to get the "stright scoop" from here if you believe it's malarky? (It's a rhetorical question that I'm asking because MinnPost won't let me post the T-word.)

Honestly, if you vote for something that RESULTS in harm to someone, you are voting to harm that person. It's not so difficult to see that link. It's like paying for a hitman--just because you didn't actually kill someone, doesn't mean that you didn't harm them.

"Wouldn't it be nice to have someone out there laying this stuff out so that those of us that might like to consider it thoughtfully had the opportunity to do so, instead of having to wade through the sort of mind numbing pap Minnpost seems focused on offering?"

Oh, my. Looks like you pushed a button there, Don.

#15, no one is forcing you to wade through any of this so-called "crap." You're doing that all by your onesy.

Using the same logic that Mr. Shelby and others are applying here... I assume it is fair to say that anyone that votes to preserve/support Roe v. Wade can be legitmately accused of supporting policies that kill or at the very least "harm" children.

It's hard to argue with Don's opening comment, Swiftee. The Clean Air Act is under attack, and we are not going to stand by quietly and let that happen.

Got some interesting discussion going here:

#22 Here is a fact, pollution is a cost to society in general, meaning you are OK to pass a cost of business on to the populous in general in order for a corporation to make a profit! You cannot run away or ignore the fact that some industries have harmful to the environment by products. Or does the word "Pollution" mean something else in your world?
Yes, of course it costs more $ to send back to the commons the same clean quality air as you took out.

#25 Nice try, given your stretched logic, it can then be deduced that, anyone against Roe-Wade is for the enslavement of women into biological child bearing breeding creatures, no different than farm animals.

Do you want the logic that follows that line?

"You are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts."

How many times have we heard this from liberals?

Mr. Swift you are correct that Don is distorting what TRAIN would actually do. I was saddened yet amused that a reader thinks gasoline will be deregulated and lead could be added to gasoline because of this legislation!

I am amazed by the number of people who believe all the pronouncements from the high priests of the EPA, without question.

CO2 is not a pollutant. CO2 is an essential trace gas, less than 1/20th of one percent of the atmosphere, of which the majority occurs naturally. Life would not be possible without the "pollutant" CO2!

I guess calling CO2 a pollutant is similar to EPA's ruling that milk is a hazardous waste, in the same category as crude oil.

I noticed another fib from Don when he writes "the non-partisan League of Women
Voters....". Non-partisan? Yeah, just who do you think you're kidding, Don?

@Robert Moffitt
Talk about twisted logic. Enslavement of women? No different than farm animals? Are you serious? Unreal. Get back to me when consensual human relationships are on the same level as the deer rut.

LeeMiller: I think you meant to respond to Dennis, not me.

You are correct Robert. I'm new here and still adjusting to the format. My response was directed @ Dennis Wagner.