Cleaner air vote fails

April 12, 2012

Environment, Political

The failed amendment was officially known as the “EPA Regulatory Relief Act of 2011.”

by Mary Budinger — 

The latest attempts to weaken the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards that limit mercury and other toxic air pollution from industrial power plants have failed. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced a proposed rider to the 2012 Federal Transportation bill that would have rolled back recently proposed cleaner air standards. On March 9, 2012, the amendment went to a vote in the Senate and lost, 52 to 46. So, the transportation bill, meant to provide funding for the nation’s decaying transportation infrastructure, moves forward without it.

The failed amendment was officially known as the “EPA Regulatory Relief Act of 2011.” It was introduced last year and failed to attach itself to any other bills.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Arizona Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain were among the 46 lawmakers who voted “to protect the narrow profits of the dirty air lobby.” The EDF and other environmental groups described the amendment as a giveaway to big polluters unwilling to invest in clean air technologies.

“Rolling back Clean Air Act protections by attaching Sen. Collins’ amendment to the Surface Transportation Act (S. 1813) would have needlessly exposed the public to unsafe levels of toxic air pollution that can make people sick or kill them,” said the American Lung Association. “According to the EPA, reducing emissions from industrial, commercial and institutional boilers, process heaters and incinerators will save up to 8,100 lives each year. It will also annually prevent 5,100 heart attacks and more than 52,000 asthma attacks.”

“Many people do not know that major industrial operations often have their own personal power plants, which have not been subjected to EPA clean air standards,” said Earthjustice staff attorney Jim Pew. “People who live near industrial power plants pay a disproportionate cost in increased cancer risk, heart attacks, asthma and other respiratory illness.”

In February 2011, under a court-ordered deadline, the EPA issued Clean Air Act emission standards for industrial power plants. In December 2011, the EPA issued a revised proposal and plans to finalize an updated standard by mid-2012. These standards (often referred to as the “Boiler MACT” rule) will bring industrial power plants into Clean Air Act compliance like any other power plant.

“These units mainly burn coal and are the nation’s second largest industrial source of mercury,” said the National Resources Defense Council. “The Council believes that these public health safeguards are critical in the fight to protect children’s health.”

Senator Collins’ office and other supporters of her amendment said that the amendment was meant to provide more time for industry to comply. Critics said the language of the bill was about gutting, not delaying.

Sources:,, National Resources Defense Council and American Lung Association.


Mary Budinger is an Emmy award-winning journalist who writes about integrative medicine. 602-494-1999.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 31, Number 2, April/May 2012.

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