House Republicans' Bill Seeks to Eliminate Right to Breathe Clean Air
By John Walke
Used with permission of NRDC - Switchboard
*To read the official NRDC statement on the Gasoline Regulations Act of 2012 passed today by the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, click here.
What do gasoline prices have to do with eliminating Americans' 40+ year right to clean air?
Nothing—and everything to some House Republicans.
In a gratuitous legislative assault that is cynical even by jaded Washington standards, Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) has introduced a draft bill entitled the “Gasoline Regulations Act” that repeals Americans’ right to breathe healthy air.
If that doesn’t make sense to you, you’re not alone. This bill is a parade of horribles lined up to delay and block health and environmental protections involving oil and gas. But the bill’s most pernicious feature—which proponents prefer not talking about—would force Americans to breathe unhealthy levels of air pollution from all industrial activities across the nation, not just from oil and gas facilities.
Just like its backward cousin, 2011's TRAIN Act, this professed “study” bill would create layers of bureaucratic red tape and delays, obstructing public health safeguards that protect Americans against dangerous air pollution. As my colleague Scott Slesinger put it, the bill “raises the cost of gasoline to a new level: Americans would have to pay with both their money and their health.”
Though there are many aspects of the bill that are deeply troubling, Rep. Whitfield has included the worst attack on clean air safeguards at the very end of his bill.
Section 6 of the bill eliminates the forty year-old requirement that EPA base clean air standards on health science and medicine alone in determining whether the air is safe to breathe. Just like its predecessor, Rep. Latta’s amendment to the TRAIN Act, section 6 of the Gasoline Regulation Act forces EPA to define healthy air based in part on the “feasibility and cost” to polluting industries rather than what is healthy according to medical science.
Clean Air standards would no longer be based upon what is necessary “to protect the public health,” “allowing an adequate margin of safety” to protect the vulnerable, including the elderly and asthmatics.
For more than 40 years, the Clean Air Act has required air quality standards to be founded on science and the best medical understanding of air pollution’s health hazards. Economic considerations may not distort the scientific decision over how much air pollution is unhealthy for Americans. Economics can and do factor in to how best to reduce unhealthy air pollution levels using cost-effective measures. So when implementing the law’s air pollution control programs, costs may be considered to ensure the most cost-effective, feasible measures are selected while still cleaning up air pollution to levels that medical science considers genuinely healthy.
The Gasoline Regulation Act's irresponsible legislative maneuver would compel EPA and all of us to accept air quality standards that are not protective of public health. Instead, the legislation would force EPA to set unprotective air quality standards for smog, soot, lead and other pollution that are at odds with health science, based on cost complaints by polluting industries.
Worse, the bill would compel EPA to misrepresent the healthiness of air quality to the American people. Clean air would no longer be “clean” based upon whether medical science shows humans are unharmed by given levels and concentrations of air pollution. Instead, air quality would be “clean enough for polluters’ bottom lines,” departing from genuinely healthy air quality if economists and political appointees in a future administration decided it would cost industrial polluters “too much” to clean up air pollution that, after all, they force upon all of us.
Why would Congress wish to change the Clean Air Act to compel deliberate and conscious lying to the American people about something as basic as clean air? Why would a Congressional bloc wish to rob Americans of their fundamental right to honestly, medically-defined clean air, a right we all have enjoyed since the Clean Air Act was adopted in 1970?
The answer is that the country’s biggest polluting industries and their lobbyists have been clamoring for decades to eliminate the Clean Air Act's foundational right to clean air. And this longstanding industry lobbying campaign shows why this bill has nothing to do with gasoline prices and everything to do with fulfilling a strident demand on an industry wish list.
Partisan gas price legislation is just today's body for this persistent industry virus.
The legislation’s objective is to overturn a unanimous 2001 Supreme Court decision by Justice Scalia that upheld Americans' right to clean air. The Supreme Court ruled there that any consideration of cost to polluting industries would violate the Clean Air Act when EPA sets health standards for ozone or other air pollutants.
The House Subcommittee on Energy and Power has scheduled a markup of the Gasoline Regulation Act that starts on April 16. Expect the bill's proponents to talk very little or not at all about eliminating Americans' right to breathe clean air.
Rep. Whitfield’s Gasoline Regulations Act is just the latest example of House Republicans attacking clean air and health safeguards, following an unprecedented legislative barrage in 2011. The bill won’t do a thing to lower gas prices—and proponents have not presented one shred of evidence that eliminating the right to clean air will lower gasoline prices.
But the bill will make our air less safe to breathe. That point cannot be seriously disputed; the very aim of the legislation is to eliminate the right to safe air and replace that with unsafe air that polluters deem to pose tolerable costs to their balance sheets. If House Republicans were really interested in easing Americans’ pain at the pump, they would look for real solutions to reducing our dependence on foreign oil, instead of taking away all Americans’ right to breathe clean air.
For more information, click here.
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By Bob Jacobs
Hanako, a female Asian elephant, lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo for more than 60 years, often in chains, with no stimulation. In the wild, elephants live in herds, with close family ties. Hanako was solitary for the last decade of her life.
Hanako, an Asian elephant kept at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo; and Kiska, an orca that lives at Marineland Canada. One image depicts Kiska's damaged teeth. Elephants in Japan (left image), Ontario Captive Animal Watch (right image), CC BY-ND
Affecting Health and Altering Behavior<p>It is easy to observe the overall health and psychological consequences of life in captivity for these animals. Many captive elephants suffer from arthritis, obesity or skin problems. Both <a href="https://doi.org/10.11609/JoTT.o2620.1826-36" target="_blank">elephants</a> and orcas often have severe dental problems. Captive orcas are plagued by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank">pneumonia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections</a>.</p><p>Many animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.09.010" target="_blank">try to cope</a> with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviors. Some develop "<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stereotypies</a>," which are repetitive, purposeless habits such as constantly bobbing their heads, swaying incessantly or chewing on the bars of their cages. Others, especially big cats, pace their enclosures. Elephants rub or break their tusks.</p>
Changing Brain Structure<p>Neuroscientific research indicates that living in an impoverished, stressful captive environment <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">physically damages the brain</a>. These changes have been documented in many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.903270108" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">species</a>, including rodents, rabbits, cats and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">humans</a>.</p><p>Although researchers have directly studied some animal brains, most of what we know comes from observing animal behavior, analyzing stress hormone levels in the blood and applying knowledge gained from a half-century of neuroscience research. Laboratory research also suggests that mammals in a zoo or aquarium have compromised brain function.</p>
This illustration shows differences in the brain's cerebral cortex in animals held in impoverished (captive) and enriched (natural) environments. Impoverishment results in thinning of the cortex, a decreased blood supply, less support for neurons and decreased connectivity among neurons. Arnold B. Scheibel, CC BY-ND<p>Subsisting in confined, barren quarters that lack intellectual stimulation or appropriate social contact seems to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1590/S0001-37652001000200006" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">thin the cerebral cortex</a> – the part of the brain involved in voluntary movement and higher cognitive function, including memory, planning and decision-making.</p><p>There are other consequences. Capillaries shrink, depriving the brain of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to survive. Neurons become smaller, and their dendrites – the branches that form connections with other neurons – become less complex, impairing communication within the brain. As a result, the cortical neurons in captive animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.901230110" target="_blank">process information less efficiently</a> than those living in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.420020208" target="_blank">enriched, more natural environments</a>.</p>
An actual cortical neuron in a wild African elephant living in its natural habitat compared with a hypothesized cortical neuron from a captive elephant. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Brain health is also affected by living in small quarters that <a href="https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040" target="_blank">don't allow for needed exercise</a>. Physical activity increases the flow of blood to the brain, which requires large amounts of oxygen. Exercise increases the production of new connections and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw2622" target="_blank">enhances cognitive abilities</a>.</p><p>In their native habits these animals must move to survive, covering great distances to forage or find a mate. Elephants typically travel anywhere from <a href="https://www.elephantsforafrica.org/elephant-facts/#:%7E:text=How%20far%20do%20elephants%20walk,km%20on%20a%20daily%20basis." target="_blank">15 to 120 miles per day</a>. In a zoo, they average <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150331" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">three miles daily</a>, often walking back and forth in small enclosures. One free orca studied in Canada swam <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-010-0958-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">up to 156 miles a day</a>; meanwhile, an average orca tank is about 10,000 times smaller than its <a href="https://www.cascadiaresearch.org/projects/killer-whales/using-dtags-study-acoustics-and-behavior-southern" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">natural home range</a>.</p>
Disrupting Brain Chemistry and Killing Cells<p>Living in enclosures that restrict or prevent normal behavior creates chronic frustration and boredom. In the wild, an animal's stress-response system helps it escape from danger. But captivity traps animals with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1215502109" target="_blank">almost no control</a> over their environment.</p><p>These situations foster <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/rev0000033" target="_blank">learned helplessness</a>, negatively impacting the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6391686" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hippocampus</a>, which handles memory functions, and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.02.024" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amygdala</a>, which processes emotions. Prolonged stress <a href="https://doi.org/10.3109/10253899609001092" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevates stress hormones</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.10-09-02897.1990" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">damages or even kills neurons</a> in both brain regions. It also disrupts the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.03.021" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">delicate balance of serotonin</a>, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood, among other functions.</p><p>In humans, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deprivation</a> can trigger <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">psychiatric issues</a>, including depression, anxiety, <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mood disorders</a> or <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858409333072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">post-traumatic stress disorder</a>. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-010-0288-3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephants</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">orcas</a> and other animals with large brains are likely to react in similar ways to life in a severely stressful environment.</p>
Damaged Wiring<p>Captivity can damage the brain's complex circuitry, including the basal ganglia. This group of neurons communicates with the cerebral cortex along two networks: a direct pathway that enhances movement and behavior, and an indirect pathway that inhibits them.</p><p>The repetitive, <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2014.05.057" target="_blank">stereotypic behaviors</a> that many animals adopt in captivity are caused by an imbalance of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.02.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">serotonin</a>. This impairs the indirect pathway's ability to modulate movement, a condition documented in species from chickens, cows, sheep and horses to primates and big cats.</p>
The cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala are physically altered by captivity, along with brain circuitry that involves the basal ganglia. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Evolution has constructed animal brains to be exquisitely responsive to their environment. Those reactions can affect neural function by <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/311787/behave-by-robert-m-sapolsky/" target="_blank">turning different genes on or off</a>. Living in inappropriate or abusive circumstance alters biochemical processes: It disrupts the synthesis of proteins that build connections between brain cells and the neurotransmitters that facilitate communication among them.</p><p>There is strong evidence that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0577-11.2011" target="_blank">enrichment</a>, social contact and appropriate space in more natural habitats are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1090.2003.tb02071.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">necessary</a> for long-lived animals with large brains such as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152490" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elephants</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/13880292.2017.1309858" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cetaceans</a>. Better conditions <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543669/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce disturbing sterotypical behaviors</a>, improve connections in the brain, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/cdd.2009.193" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trigger neurochemical changes</a> that enhance learning and memory.</p>