Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Do We Want Clean Air And Water, Or Is Life-Threatening Pollution Acceptable?

There is the predictable wailing among the 'sky-is-falling' crowd about the burdens of meeting new clean air and water standards that will get more mercury and fine particulate matter (soot) out of our air, water, lungs and fish fries.

How many of the apologists for existing levels of air and water pollution were clucking at the images of the dirty water and grey skies in Beijing during the Olympics, but are willing to accept levels of pollution here that could be reduced?

You'd think these new standards and rules, and the health benefits they are based upon, would be met with universal praise and relief, since mercury and particles from tail piles and brake linings and diesel engines don't discriminate by politics when they get into one's respiratory and circulatory systems.

Actually, they do, as asthma rates are higher in central-city neighborhoods near freeways, and low-income populations, including immigrants, tend to over-consume tainted fish in waterways near coal-burning power plants.

But we all breathe the air and drink the water, so why not ensure that these public resources - - and that is what they are, public resources - - are kept clean and safe?

[Updates: In an editorial to appear in the Thursday paper, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel agrees, recognizing the mutuality of a matter like clean air, but Assembly Republicans Wednesday blocked the mercury rule in committee. Nice.

Reports One Wisconsin Now's Robert Doeckel: "Assembly Republicans blocking the needed rules, which have already successfully been adopted in Minnesota and Illinois, include: Garey Bies, Scott Gunderson, Terry Moulton, Jeffrey Mursau, Lee Nerison, Jim Ott and Mary Williams. All Democratic members of the committee voted against blocking the rule. Republican Dan LeMahieu was absent."]

The safety and longevity of grandchildren and parents and friends and co-workers are important and worth protecting regardless of where they live, play in the park, jog or sit down for a meal of Wisconsin-caught fish.

A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association had this conclusion about exposure to fine particulate matter:

"Long-term exposure to combustion-related fine particulate air pollution is an important environmental risk factor for cardiopulmonary and lung cancer mortality."

Shall we pretend the science doesn't exist, or will be get busy and deal with the problems?

Committing governments and industry to aggressively cleaning the air and water shouldn't be a partisan battle, a fight between environmentalists and business, or a struggle pitting left vs. the right.

It's an opportunity to bring about a cleaner, healthier Wisconsin.


Emily said...

I couldn't agree more. Problem is, those with vested interests in the pollution-producing businesses will still cry foul and claim that new regulations will be cost prohibitive.

It will be up to the rest of us to make sure this isn't so. It shouldn't be--they could get off their duff's and do the research and work themselves, but sadly if history has taught us anything, it's that it usually takes good regulation, not waiting for good faith efforts, to make businesses clean up their acts.

James Rowen said...

I agree, Emily.

I'd also point out that business has resisted every life-saving, or pro-health, sickness prevention measure, from child labor prohibitions to mandatory seat belts to the Clean Air and Water Acts, and others.

Tom McMahon said...

What really would have been great is if Milwaukee's combined sewers polluting Lake Michigan had been eliminated while you were an aide to Mayor John Norquist.