Sen. Kerry should clear the air on climate legislation

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s climate change legislation, the US Senate companion to a “Cap and Trade” bill already introduced in the House, is expected by the end of this month. Those of us with an interest in regulating pollution and greenhouse gases wait to see whether Kerry’s legislation will offer the climate protection scientists say we need.

It appears that the polluters’ lobby had a heavy hand in writing the House version of climate change legislation, and it’s likely that they will influence the Senate version also. Recently, Kerry met with Senators Lindsey Graham and Joseph Lieberman and several energy industry power players, including Tom Kuhn, president of Edison Electric Institute, the lead trade group for investor-owned electric utilities, who was quoted in E&E news on March 9, calling it a “positive, encouraging discussion.”

The current House proposal is riddled with loopholes, provides most of its supposed “clean energy” subsidies to coal or other fossil fuel interests and sets goals for carbon emissions reductions so low that the new rules wouldn’t come close to addressing the problem. Worst of all, the House legislation would gut the enforcement of the only law on the books that can protect our planet from dangerous greenhouse gas emissions—the Clean Air Act, which has for decades resulted in better air quality and health protection. Since 1990, emissions of six common pollutants are down 41 percent, while gross domestic product has grown 64 percent.

Kerry is undoubtedly under intense pressure to “trade” the environmental protections in the Clean Air Act for industry support of a climate change bill. But the air we breathe doesn’t know anything about the political expediencies of Washington. The chemicals we put there will affect our health and climate regardless of whether lobbyists and campaign contributors are happy or not.

Locally, asthma prevalence related to climate change is one of the most salient indicators that we need to preserve the Clean Air Act. As the air heats up, asthma-causing pollutants stay closer to the earth, resulting in a higher concentration of them in the air we breathe. According to Harvard University’s Heart of the City Database , asthma is prevalent across the state of Massachusetts, but is disproportionately high in low-income communities. For example, the asthma rates in Dorchester and Roxbury are 178 percent higher than the state average. Roxbury, Dorchester and Jamaica Plain have three of the top five hospitalization rates for asthma in the state. Without adequate regulation of emissions, this public health issue is sure to worsen.

In the past, serious environmental threats like acid rain have been solved through a combination of incentives to create alternative technology with clear regulations that enforce the reduction of hazards. Sen. Kerry should take his cue from science, the public’s persistent support for strong climate legislation, and his conscience to introduce loophole-free climate legislation that will protect our air and climate and encourage green technology using the tools that we have at hand.

Sandra Ramgeet
New England United For Justice

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