Missoulian: Public health, outdoor heritage at risk

For four decades the Clean Air Act has been instrumental in protecting human health and the outdoor heritage we all value in Montana. Despite this fact, Congress has recently entertained several proposals to weaken this bedrock conservation law.

A couple of months ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill preventing the implementation of new mercury regulations. Rep. Denny Rehberg voted for the bill. Three weeks ago, U.S. Senators in the pockets of the dirty fuels industry attempted to pass a rider prohibiting the regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Fortunately, it failed on a 50-50 vote.

Both Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus voted against the rider. Unfortunately, the next day the U.S. House of Representatives actually passed a bill to prevent the regulation of carbon under the Clean Air Act. Rehberg voted for the bill.

These attacks on the Clean Air Act are unfortunate. Gutting it would put our health at risk. Since its passage in 1970, the Clean Air Act has cut emissions of the six most widespread pollutants by 60 percent. In 2010 alone, the act prevented 41,000 respiratory and 45,000 cardiovascular hospital admissions, 1.7 million instances of worsened asthma, 54,000 cases of chronic bronchitis, and 160,000 premature deaths.

For these reasons, on April 4 nearly 500 health organizations from all 50 states submitted a letter to Congress calling on them to reject efforts to disable the Clean Air Act saying that keeping the law intact “is quite literally a matter of life and death for tens of thousands of people and will mean the difference between chronic debilitating illness or a healthy life for hundreds of thousands more.”

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