When It Comes to Clean Air, Must We Choose Jobs Over Health?

Environmental Commentary by Karen Hosler

Why are power plants worth more than the health of 140,000 Maryland children afflicted with asthma? What about pregnant women eating mercury-tainted fish from the Chesapeake Bay? How could their risk be scored so low compared to a utility plant’s profit?

And what of the boaters, watermen, crab house owners and all the others whose livelihoods depend on a healthy Chesapeake? Why should their interests come behind the mostly out-of-state industries that don’t want to meet tougher federal clean air regulations?

The answer we are given is jobs, jobs, jobs: good-paying, steady employment that has become the Holy Grail of our recession-ridden times.

Congress says the economy is so weak and the climate for such jobs so poor that clean air and clean water regulations are simply not affordable.

“As much as we want clean air, we would like jobs,” Rep. John Shimkus, a Republican from Illinois, told the House last week. “We have the cleanest environment that anyone has seen in decades in this country…The debate now is: How clean is clean? What is the cost benefit analysis and what is the effect on jobs if we get to a limit that you don’t find naturally?”

A few hours after he spoke, the House voted 249 to 169, led mostly by Mr. Shimkus’ fellow Republicans, to effectively block two Environmental Protection Agency rules: one that would reduce power plant emissions generally, and a second that would protect downwind states in the East from pollution blowing in from their Midwest neighbors—like Rep. Shimkus’ Illinois.

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