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'On Earth Day, let's protect Clean Air Act'

Last modified: 4/22/2012 12:00:00 AM
As we celebrate Earth Day, let's take a moment to appreciate the beauty New Hampshire has to offer, from our mountains and lakes to our clean air and clean water.

No one appreciates our clean air more than Lia Houk of Henniker. Lia has lived with cystic fibrosis for the past 40 years. In order to breathe, she must use a nebulizer three times a day and exercise daily to clear her lungs. When pollution poisons the air, she suffers from chest tightness and lung hemorrhaging that can lead to hospitalization. Pollution also worsens the long-term effects like lung scarring and causes her disease to progress more rapidly.

To protect Lia and millions like her, Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970. It has been one of our most successful public health and environmental laws.

Despite the success of the Clean Air Act, efforts are underway to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating pollution and to undo decades of work to keep our air clean and our families safe.

At issue are the new mercury and air toxics standards, which will require power plants to control the particle pollution that affects Lia and others who suffer from respiratory problems. For the first time, the standards also set federal limits on the amount of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases that power plants can release into our air. These standards will reduce emissions of these poisonous chemicals from coal burning power plants by 90 percent by 2015.

As governor, I worked with the Legislature to enact some of the nation's first limits on mercury pollution. In the Senate I have opposed attempts to roll back Clean Air Act rules on cross-state air pollution and industrial boilers. The new nationwide standards on power plants are based on widely available technologies already in place at power plants across the country. They represent a realistic, achievable goal. Yet a debate is expected in Congress in the coming weeks on whether to let these long-planned standards go into effect, with opponents saying the environmental regulations will hurt the economy. That's simply not true. These standards will benefit our health, economy and environment.

When it comes to our health, we know all too well that mercury and other air toxins are poison.

The presence of these chemicals in the air, along with the particle pollution that worsens Lia's condition, has been linked to a range of powerful health problems including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, neurological problems, developmental disorders in our children and other debilitating, expensive and often fatal health challenges.

Sadly, it is our most vulnerable citizens - infants, children and pregnant women - who are at the highest risk for mercury exposure.

The toxin affects their developing minds and bodies, specifically their nervous systems, which alters their ability to think and learn.

By removing the largest source of many of these toxins, the new standards, once fully implemented, are predicted to prevent an estimated 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks each year. America's children will be spared 120,000 asthma incidents and 11,000 cases of acute bronchitis.

Far from being job killers, these regulations will mean new work for the innovative American companies who supply the equipment needed for plants to comply with the law. A study by the Economic Policy Institute found that enactment of these standards would create a net gain of 117,000 jobs.

And of course, clean air is also vital to New Hampshire's tourism and outdoor recreation economy, which supports 53,000 jobs statewide.

New Hampshire has long had a bipartisan tradition of supporting measures that will protect our state's natural beauty.

All the beautiful sights of our state, from the White Mountains to the Great Bay, can only be enjoyed if our air is free of smog and clean to breathe.

So as we consider whether or not to keep the Clean Air Act in place, we do not have to choose between helping people like Lia or helping our economy. We can and we must do both.

(Democrat Jeanne Shaheen is New Hampshire's senior U.S. senator.)


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