Forcing America to Choose Between Clean Air and a Stable Economy

The debate over raising the debt ceiling has become the latest front for the battle over the power of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect the public from dirty air and climate change by setting standards for greenhouse gases.

Republican leaders in Congress are saying they will not raise the debt ceiling unless they receive concessions on greenhouse gases, discretionary spending, or other issues. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), who is leading the charge in the House against the EPA, clearly opposes a clean, up-or-down vote on the limit: “No debt limit is going to pass by itself, no way,” he said. House Speaker John Boehner has indicated that EPA’s standards for carbon pollution will be a target.

The strategy would force lawmakers to choose between clean air and a stable economy. It’s a dangerous and ridiculous strategy that would either turn back the progress EPA has made to limit greenhouse gases and improve the health of both people and the climate, or thrown the national and global economies into turmoil, punishing most those who are already suffering as a result of neglect in Washington and on Wall Street.

Let’s start with the latter option. Failing to raise the debt ceiling is a non-starter among reasonable people. If the U.S. defaults, interest rates will skyrocket, making borrowing more expensive and making it more difficult for low- and middle-class people to find money to meet basic needs or to seize opportunities to realize their dreams.

As for the EPA, the agency’s efforts to limit greenhouse gases are at a critical stage. The Obama administration set in 2009 and 2010 the first ever carbon pollution standards for vehicles and facilities, but the implementation of those standards is only beginning. Taking away EPA’s authority to set standards would stunt the administration’s progress and leave the public at risk. It would also create confusion for businesses who are already making decisions under the assumption that EPA’s standards will be enforced.

House Republicans are trying to hold hostage the debt ceiling in the same way they tried to hold hostage the FY 2011 budget. To enact their policy priorities, they need to attach them to some must-pass bill – concerns about germaneness be damned.

Ultimately, the anti-EPA crowd has fallen back on this tactic because the American people overwhelmingly disapprove of what they are trying to do. 64 percent of Americans oppose attempts by Congress to take away the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Americans want EPA scientists, not politicians, making the decisions about public health and the environment.

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