Text excerpted from the book: PROTECTING THE PLANET-Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change (ISBN 978-1-63388-225-6)
Budd Titlow & Mariah Tinger
From a federal regulatory standpoint, one piece of legislation—the Clean Air Act (CAA) —stands paramount to resolving the Climate Change crisis, at least here in the US. So let’s take a look at this critical legislation in terms of its history of use and effectiveness. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to read that the CAA has really done its job in terms of protecting the health and environmental quality of the American public.
When Congress originally passed the CAA in 1970, it gave the US EPA the responsibility of protecting the American people whenever scientific studies show that new air pollutants threaten our health or environment. In 1990, the CAA was revised and signed into law by President George H. W. Bush. The strong bipartisan support this action received clearly demonstrated that clean air and less pollution were goals shared by Republicans and Democrats alike.
In summary, during its more than forty-five year history, the CAA has:
- Cut ground ozone—a dangerous component of smog—by more than 25 percent since 1980.
- Reduced mercury emissions by 45 percent since 1990.
- Reduced the main pollutants that contribute to acid rain—sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide—by 71 percent and 46 percent, respectively, since 1980.
- Phased out the production and use of chemicals that contribute to the hole in the ozone layer.
- Reduced the lead content in gasoline, which has cut lead air pollution by 92 percent since 1980.
Pretty impressive stuff—right? Now here’s the essential part of the CAA as it applies to our current Climate Change situation: In the final analysis, the US EPA is required to regulate the emission of pollutants that “endanger public health and welfare”. In 2007, the US Supreme Court in a landmark decision (Massachusetts v. EPA) ruled that Global Warming emissions—caused by GHG—are air pollutants and should be subject to EPA regulation under the CAA.
Then in 2009, the EPA released its scientific findings, which concluded that Global Warming emissions present a danger to public health—now known as the endangerment finding. Citing extensive scientific research, the EPA found that Global Warming pollution is connected with:
- Hotter, longer heat waves that threaten the health of the sick, poor, and elderly.
- Increases in ground-level ozone pollution, linked to asthma and other respiratory ailments.
- Extreme weather events that can lead to deaths, injuries, and stress-related illnesses.
Based on this information, it seems quite clear that the US EPA—operating under the CAA—has all the regulatory authority it needs to immediately and forcefully control the emission of various sources of GHG. Here’s how the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) summarized this situation: “It is time for our nation’s polluters to finally be held accountable for their harmful emissions that contribute to Climate Change. … In passing the CAA, Congress clearly intended it to serve as a living document, in order to ensure that EPA has the tools it needs to respond to new air pollution threats. The science is now clear: Global Warming pollution poses significant threats to public health and welfare, and EPA is obligated under the law to limit sources of this pollution and address the impacts of Climate Change.”
So—if all the necessary regulatory authority is in place and has been sufficiently vetted why isn’t this happening? As with anything that is mucked up with strong bureaucratic machinations and purported economic impacts, the answer has been severely complicated by political infighting.
The science is now clear: Global Warming pollution poses significant threats to public health and welfare, and EPA is obligated under the law to limit sources of this pollution and address the impacts of Climate Change.
Polluters and their allies in Congress are using every opportunity to prevent the EPA from protecting our health by reducing Global Warming emissions. Numerous members of Congress in both the Senate and the House of Representatives have announced their intention to introduce legislation that would block or delay the agency from reducing Global Warming emissions under the Clean Air Act. Some members of Congress even tried to attach bills attacking the EPA to other “must pass” legislation, such as federal spending and budget bills.
These attacks on the Clean Air Act pose a grave threat to EPA’s responsibility to protect our health and environment from the impacts of Climate Change. Some proposed legislation would delay the EPA from setting standards to limit Global Warming emissions for several years, while other bills would indefinitely block the EPA from taking any action on this issue whatsoever. Some proposals would even prohibit the EPA from doing any research or analysis on climate science in its efforts to implement the endangerment finding.
In a nutshell, here’s how the NWF explains the conservative backlash to federal regulation of Climate Change:“Polluter lobbyists continue to cry foul at any mention of EPA fulfilling its obligation under the CAA with respect to Global Warming pollution. This is simply the latest in a string of red herrings that industry has raised time and again to avoid complying with laws that are essential for protecting public health. From seatbelts to catalytic converters to unleaded gasoline, industry falsely claimed that new standards would have devastating economic impacts. History has shown that these requirements have not adversely affected our economy—to the contrary, they have had substantial benefits in saving lives, improving public health, and advancing cleaner technology. It is long past time for the EPA to move forward and require the emission reductions necessary to protect America from the most severe environmental threat we have ever faced: Climate Change! ”
Author’s bio:For the past 50 years, professional ecologist and conservationist Budd Titlow has used his pen and camera to capture the awe and wonders of our natural world. His goal has always been to inspire others to both appreciate and enjoy what he sees. Now he has one main question: Can we save humankind’s place — within nature’s beauty — before it’s too late? Budd’s two latest books are dedicated to answering this perplexing dilemma. PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change, a non-fiction book, examines whether we still have the environmental heroes among us — harking back to such past heroes as Audubon, Hemenway, Muir, Douglas, Leopold, Brower, Carson, and Meadows — needed to accomplish this goal. Next, using fact-filled and entertaining story-telling, his latest book — COMING FULL CIRCLE: A Sweeping Saga of Conservation Stewardship Across America — provides the answers we all seek and need.Having published five books, more than 500 photo-essays, and 5,000 photographs, Budd Titlow lives with his music educator wife, Debby, in San Diego, California.