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Senators Support Cancer from the Skies While Raking in Big Campaign Cash

New Bill Prevents Regulations on Airborne Toxics for One Year, Helps Polluters

SOURCE: AP/David J. Phillip

Pictured here are piles of coal at NRG Energy's W.A. Parish Electric Generating Station in Thompsons, Texas. The plant, which operates natural gas and coal-fired units, is one of the largest power plants in the United States.

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On September 12, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and 20 of her colleagues introduced the Regulatory Time-Out Act, S. 1538. This bill would establish a one-year moratorium on regulations from the executive branch and independent regulatory agencies. It also would benefit big energy companies by stopping controls on airborne toxic chemicals from major sources. Not surprisingly, these 21 senators received $20 million in campaign contributions from the energy and natural resources sector since 1989.

Sen. Collins said: “Under my bill, no ‘significant’ final rule that would have an adverse impact could go into effect during a 1-year moratorium.” It would apply to rules that cost business more than $100 million annually, which includes most major public health safeguards.

This moratorium would halt the implementation of rules to reduce mercury, dioxin, and other toxic chemicals from coal-fired power plants, industrial boilers, and cement manufacturing. The American Lung Association noted that allowing these sources to continue unchecked will inflict real harm on Americans, particularly children, seniors, and the sick:

These emissions can make breathing difficult and can worsen asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis and other lung diseases. These pollutants can cause heart attacks and strokes, lung cancer and other cancers, birth defects and premature death.

The American Lung Association projects that these two pollution reduction requirements would save at least 51,000 lives and prevent over half a million asthma attacks every year.

S. 1538 would not only block EPA regulations but also other rules that would protect Americans from harm. This includes a proposal from the Department of Health and Human Services that would help the Centers for Disease Control prevent the importation of communicable diseases through on-site inspections at importer facilities, and a Department of Labor regulation that would require chemical manufacturers and importers to evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import.

Blocking EPA’s reductions in airborne toxic chemicals would benefit big utilities, coal companies, and other major emitters because they could continue to pollute rather than purchase and install pollution-reduction equipment. In Sen. Collins’s home state of Maine, her bill would continue the emission of at least 12,000 pounds of mercury and other toxics from Maine power plants and cement plants. At least 2.6 million pounds of airborne toxics are emitted into Maine’s skies every year—or two pounds for every Maine resident. The energy and natural resources companies have contributed over $400,000 to Sen. Collins since she was elected.

But Maine is not the only state that would continue to suffer from airborne cancer-causing and other toxic chemicals. A Center for American Progress analysis of EPA’s 2009 Toxic Release Inventory revealed that in the absence of new emission limits, the power plants in states whose senators support Sen. Collins’s bill would emit 162 million pounds of mercury, dioxin, lead, acid gases, and other toxic chemicals every year. The states have a combined total of nearly 350 million pounds of hazardous chemicals shot into their skies every year—about three-and-a-half pounds for every man, woman, and child. (see chart)

Senators who want to let polluters off the hook

Other senators would also carry on their citizens’ exposure to millions of pounds of toxic chemicals. For instance, Sens. Saxy Chambliss (R-GA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) are both co-sponsors of the Collins bill. Georgia skies receive nearly 42 million pounds of mercury, lead, and other toxic chemicals from industrial sources every year. That’s 4.3 pounds of chemicals per person. Sens. Chambliss and Isakson received a combined total of over $1.3 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas, electric utility, and coal and mining sectors since 2005.

There’s even worse news for the Hoosier state. Indiana has almost 40 million pounds of toxic air pollution annually, or an average of 6.2 pounds per person. This includes nearly 27 million pounds from power plants alone. Yet Sen. Dan Coats’s (R-IN) support of S. 1538 makes it more likely that this pollution will continue unabated. Energy and natural resources companies are major campaign contributors to Sen. Coats, providing him with nearly $675,000 or 20 percent of all money he raised since 1989.

Sen. Collins’s most recent bill continues her yearlong assault on the health and safety of Mainers and other Americans. In February she targeted the Boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology rule, which would require facilities with large industrial boilers to reduce their emissions of mercury, lead, and other pollutants that harm our health. These chemicals have proven, damaging effects on the heart, lungs, and brain. By clearing the air of these toxics, the boiler MACT rule would save 2,600 to 6,600 lives per year.

Sen. Collins has also sponsored the Clearing Unnecessary Regulatory Burdens Act and the EPA Regulatory Relief Act. Both acts target regulations that would reduce emission of hazardous air pollutants.

Sen. Collins says she is proposing S. 1538 in order to give U.S. companies a “sensible breather” from the regulations that suppress job creation. But this would make breathing harder for children, seniors, and the ill by prolonging emission of millions of pounds of toxic pollution.

The moratorium on health protections imposed by S. 1538 may be opposed by state medical professionals, moms, and senior citizens. It is, however, championed by antiregulatory groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business, and the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council. These senators should be ashamed for helping big companies win once again while the public suffers.

Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy and Matthew Kasper is an intern at American Progress.

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