It’s Alive! Coal-State Senator Revives the Dirty Air Act

Like a supernatural killer from some schlocky B-horror movie, the Dirty Air Act is back from the dead and threatening us all with a grim fate.

You might recall Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) attempts to gut the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act on behalf of her polluter pals. Murkowski offered a resolution earlier this year to roll back EPA’s “endangerment finding” — its ruling that greenhouse gases are pollutants and a necessary first step to EPA setting climate regulations. Her cynical move to handcuff EPA and preserve the status quo would have been a catastrophic deal for the planet, especially as Congress seems determined to fail the Earth with its own inaction.

Happily, Murkowski’s Dirty Air Act was defeated in the Senate, 53 to 47. Unhappily, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has taken up her mantle and revived the Dirty Air Act for, he hopes, one more go-around this year. Actually, what he did was go back to his secret lair and concoct a new, perhaps even more insidious Dirty Air Act monster to unleash on the world.

You see, Murkowski’s resolution did indeed fail, but not by much. And the vote happened in early June, even as oil gushed unabated into the Gulf with no end in sight. You’d think it would have been defeated by a much wider margin…you would think.

Now, many wishy-washy Dems who voted against Murkowski’s resolution might be persuaded to vote for their fellow Democrat’s bill, which Rockefeller has made a more palatable pill. Instead of entirely rejecting EPA’s authority to regulate, the bill would simply suspend it for two years. Rockefeller is asking for more time. For what, I’m not sure, given that the world is on a pretty tight deadline to avert runaway global warming. (We have until around 2015 before we must reverse the global trajectory of rising emissions.) Two years could really make the difference.

Rest assured Rockefeller and his supporters will have their “coal is good for the economy and good for America” talking points sharpened and ready for battle. Nathan Empsall over at has compiled some good info for pushing back on that nonsense:

The coal industry tries to convince Appalachian voters and lawmakers that their economy will need coal forever and always — and Rockefeller has bought it, hook line and sinker. The fact is, however, that over 50% of West Virginia coal mining jobs have disappeared in the last 30 years and nearly 90% in the last 60 — partly due to the discovery of cheaper coal in Wyoming, and partly due to technological advancements ala John Henry. This is a dying industry. Plus, the American Lung Association says that coal causes 550,000 asthma attacks and kills 24,000 Americans each year. What’s more, even when the industry does create Appalachian jobs, it prevents even more jobs from coming into the state by devastating mountains, creeks, hollows, and health rates in nearby towns.

Sen. Rockefeller, who has received close to $600,000 in total campaign funds from fossil fuel and mining industries, is more than coal’s accomplice, of course. He’s also one of coal’s greatest benefactors, having also introduced legislation to promote carbon capture and sequestration technology — another beast that exists only in an imaginative sense, like monsters from horror movies.

We can’t let polluters win this one. Help banish the Dirty Air Act back to whatever circle of hell spawned it. Sign this petition to tell your Senator what you think.

Image credit: Virginia Lee Hunter / Greenpeace

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