Texas Could Pay Bills, Save Ills

With Texas now facing a $27 billion budget shortfall and the possibility of new taxes, layoffs and service cuts at the state level, we’re long overdue in implementing the long-term savings that will help improve our quality of life, save jobs and even make Texans healthier. It’s time for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to stop wasting taxpayer money fighting the Environmental Protection Agency and for state legislators to adopt common-sense solutions like those outlined in the “No Regrets” bill, which offers reductions strategies for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at no cost to business and consumers.

Reducing air pollutants that are harmful to human health (e.g., particulate matter, ozone-precursors, and even GHGs) saves money. How? Fewer missed days at work. Decreased number of hospital visits. Lower mortality rates. We’re talking about the hidden costs of air pollution. Don’t just take our word for it. Consider that in Texas:

  • Asthma accounted for more than 25,000 hospitalizations and an estimated $446.8 million in hospital charges in 2007.  An estimated 2.3 million (12.9%) adults had self-reported lifetime asthma, and 1.4 million (8.2%) adults had self-reported current asthma.
  • Cancer is the second leading cause of death and will become the number one leading cause of death in the next decade. The total estimated direct medical costs due to cancer in 1998 were $4.9 billion, and indirect costs from lost productivity were $9.1 billion – for a total of about $14.0 billion attributable to cancer in Texas that year. (1998 was the most recent year available). With a 10% per year increase in health care costs, we’ve estimated that number may be as high as $43 billion for 2010.
  • We rank first in the percentage of uninsured workers, which can only mean more emergency room visits each year.

Last month, nearly 300 local and national health organizations, public health groups and other clean air advocates sent a letter urging Congress to defend the Clean Air Act for just the kinds of reasons previously listed here.  EDF also signed the letter, which included the following plea:

“Over the coming years the EPA will be fulfilling its duty to reduce the smog and soot pollution, air toxics, and global warming pollution that are the cause of these public health threats.  We urge you to fully support the EPA in fulfilling this responsibility.  Doing so 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."

Texans are overwhelmingly opposed to any tax increases and newly elected members of the Texas House were sent to Austin on promises of “No New Taxes.” Complying with the EPA, adhering to the Clean Air Act, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions will help Texas pull its way out of a major fiscal crisis and have the added benefit of improving the lives of millions of Texans.

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    Ramon AlvarezRamon Alvarez
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