The Year of Moving Forward

The Year of Moving Forward
At our 4 person wedding reception in DC

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Clearing the air...or not

One of the purposes of this blog is to make Bessemer a better place by promoting things that will improve this community and pointing out things that will not. Of course, Bessemer is not an island, so often I write about things on a state level or national level that might influence Bessemer one way or another. That includes the environment and congress and...

Indulge me for a moment. Off the subject a bit, yesterday a rerun of Glee was shown, in which the cute new guy, Sam, was introduced to the group.

He was asked to perform a duet with Kurt, who is gay, and Finn advises him not to because he will get labeled as gay, even though he is not.

The same thing can happen in congress. Let's say a Democrat votes alongside the Republicans who proclaim that global warming is junk science. Then she stands to be labeled a contrarian, or someone who is ignoring science, and she certainly wouldn't want that.

Terri Sewell voted in favor of HR 910, the so called Energy Tax Prevention Act (which mentions "tax" zero times in the bill, by the way) which could have been called any number of things more accurately.

Jared Polis of Colorado submitted an amendment to change the title to "The Dirty Air Act of 2011." Gerry Connolly of Virginia was somewhat more industrious. He submitted eight amendments including "The Koch Brothers Appreciation Act," "The Protecting Americans from Polar Bears Act," and "The Head in the Sand Act."

Anyway, the bill's purpose is "To amend the Clean Air Act to prohibit the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from promulgating any regulation concerning, taking action relating to, or taking into consideration the emission of a greenhouse gas to address climate change, and for other purposes.

The bill goes on to name water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and several other gases as "greenhouse gases."

In other words, the bill prohibits the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from protecting the environment.

In effect, the bill would gut the EPA in its attempts to guarantee clean air. Fortunately the Senate will not pass it.

I spoke with someone in Ms. Sewell's office at length about the bill. He told me they had spoken to people in the scientific community and the manufacturing community before deciding how to vote. I asked him to name the scientists, but as it turns out there weren't any, just the "science committee members." (Terri sits on the "Science, Space and Technology Committee, by the way). The committee, like all committees in the house, is chaired by and controlled by Republicans.

They could have spoken to some real scientists at EPA, where they could have learned this. Pay particular attention to figures 1 and 2. You can click on them to enlarge them.

He also made a statement that the gases listed were not the ones causing climate change. And that there are two sides to the issue. And that they wanted the facts from both sides.

  1. No credible scientist would say that carbon dioxide and methane do not contribute to climate change. Specifically, these gases do just that.
  2. There are not two truthful sides to the issue. The contrarians are only interested in profits for the big companies and not in protecting the environment.
  3. There are no facts on the other side regarding climate change, or, if there are some facts they are buried under fake headlines and crazy talk.
Ms. Sewell's office told me that she was concerned about jobs in the area. There is an assumption made that if the greenhouse gases are regulated that jobs would be lost. But maybe, just maybe, new job opportunities would open up with green technology being developed!!! And let's not get into how many jobs will be lost and lives affected if greenhouse gases are not regulated.

Air pollution and restrictive injunctions are not new to Birmingham and Jefferson County. This report tells of the 1971 use (the very first use) of the injunctive authority of the Federal Clean Air Act. Jefferson County is still feeling the effects, having been prevented from allowing certain manufacturing and industrial development because of our non-attainment status related to limitations on emissions.

Those were different pollutants, not greenhouse gases, but my point is that threats to our atmosphere need to be taken seriously, and that there are health risks, known and unknown, that are amplified when those threats are ignored.

Complicating the atmosphere (in a good way) the Obama administration recently reversed a Bush policy that allowed more industrial pollution. Again, these are not greenhouse gases, but other pollutants. But it shows that we do have a president who cares about the environment (at least on this issue).

The ruling is a victory for cleaner air across Alabama and especially in areas such as heavily-polluted Birmingham and Jefferson County, which has failed to meet federal air quality standards for dangerous fine particulates for many years, according to Michael Churchman, executive director of the Alabama Environmental Council.

“What happened here is that some of Alabama’s polluters convinced regulators to relax a rule that had been on the books for 30 years – only after citizens sued to enforce that rule. Today, the EPA recognized that was the wrong decision,” Churchman said in reacting to the news locally. “Technology is used all over the country to better control emissions and should be required to operate continuously in Alabama.”

The Birmingham area has been failing to meet minimum federal air quality standards for fine particles (soot) for seven years. These airborne, microscopic solids and liquid droplets (made up of acids, organic chemicals, metals, and other matter) can lodge deeply in the lungs and bloodstream, aggravating a number of cardiopulmonary diseases.

“There is a demonstrated link between fine particle pollution and asthma in children,” said Tiffany Schauer, Executive Director of Our Children’s Earth Foundation. “Thanks to today’s action, every family in Alabama can breathe a little easier.”

So, as one whose life and livelihood has been dramatically affected by asthma, I would like to have a clean atmosphere. And as one who has studied climate change, I would like to have responsible politicians that take our environment seriously. This is not buyer's remorse, but I do hope that Terri learns from this experience, and that when environmental issues come up in the future, that she can show a little more concern.