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The Dirty Air Act: An Attack on California’s Environmental Legacy

Any day now, the Senate will vote on Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski’s “Resolution of Disapproval.” During an interview this week with Betsy Rosenberg, host of Progressive Radio Network’s “On the Green Front,” I explained that environmental groups are deeply opposed to the bill, which would strip the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of all of its existing authority under the Clean Air Act to reduce carbon pollution. 

Talk about being on the wrong side of history. Amidst the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf and a national economic recession, the transition to a clean energy economy—and the jobs it will create—has never been more necessary or urgent.  

Passage of what’s come to be called the “Dirty Air Act” would be a disaster for our country, plain and simple. The bill takes a giant leap backward:  it would wipe out EPA’s scientific finding that greenhouse gases cause global warming and are a danger to public health–a finding that forms the legal basis for any further steps the EPA can take to address carbon pollution. 

It is also a slap in the face to California and an attack on our environmental legacy. Here’s why: it would dismantle one of President Obama’s major environmental accomplishments thus far—national vehicle efficiency and emissions standards that were spurred by California’s unparalleled leadership.

The national standards are based on California’s clean cars standard passed in 2002. Called the ‘Pavley Standard’ for its author and fearless champion State Senator Fran Pavley, it was the first law in the country to set limits on greenhouse gas pollution from tailpipes. 

California’s standards were adopted by 13 states but faced fierce resistance—and lawsuits—from automakers and the previous administration, which argued that states couldn’t adopt such standards and denied waivers that would allow them to do so. At the same time, the EPA denied its responsibility to reduce global warming pollution. A landmark Supreme Court ruling affirmed EPA’s power to address global warming pollution under the Clean Air Act and helped paved the way for putting the standards into effect. 

One of the Obama administration’s first environmental actions was to grant California’s long-standing request for a Clean Air Act waiver so they could implement the standards. Then the President went one step further. He helped forge an unprecedented agreement—with the EPA, Department of Transportation (DOT), U.S. automakers, United Auto Workers, EDF and other environmental organizations, plus California and other states—to set a national fuel efficiency and emissions standards for cars and light trucks for model years 2012-2016. These passenger vehicles account for 40 percent of U.S. oil consumption and 20 percent of our greenhouse gases. In exchange, California and other states agreed to drop their state standards. 

Those standards were strengthened last month and today President Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum in the Rose Garden directing the EPA and DOT to continue fuel economy improvements for those vehicles for model years 2017 and beyond and to create a first-ever national policy to increase fuel efficiency and decrease greenhouse gas pollution from medium- and heavy-duty trucks for model years 2014-2018. These measures will further reduce our dependence on oil, help cut fuel costs and create jobs.  

These historic achievements would be erased with passage of Murkowski’s bill by prohibiting the EPA from enforcing the standards. 

It’s a horrible attack on progress toward cleaner air and energy at a time when such progress is needed most. It’s a bailout for polluters and takes the EPA off the job for years. It would make us more dependent on foreign oil, do nothing to help American manufacturing compete with China or other nations in clean energy technologies, and cripple efforts to address global warming.  

It’s truly ironic that even as we watch what may end up being the most serious environmental and ecological disasters in our nation’s history – the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – there are senators who are actively trying to block pollution regulations and hamstring the EPA’s ability to protect the public. 

(To tell your Senators that you want them to vote against this bill, hold polluters accountable and reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels, please send them an email today.)

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