Clean Air Act and Chamber of Commerce

Outside and inside the cloistered negotiating rooms of the U.S. Senate, a furious struggle is going on over the kind of clean air law which will protect the health of the American people for the next decade.

On one side are the public health and environmental groups, and on the other side are the polluters and their slick, campaign-finance contributing trade associations and lobbyists. At stake are the degree and timing of legal controls over acid rain, toxic emissions and other air pollution consequences along with the question of whether the federal government should prohibit the states from enacting controls themselves suitable to local conditions.

This is the second major Congressional battle over clean air — the first occurred in the early Seventies when the original Clean Air Act was passed. That law has run out of steam and has been overtaken by new scientific observations regarding the Greenhouse or warming trend on Earth, the ozone hole, acid rain and the effect of air pollution on drinking water safety and plant life.

You would never know that nearly twenty years of growing environmental urgency connected to human disease and damaged natural resources have ensued by reading the present arguments of the industries against stronger laws. The same tired, shifty, blustering and phony salvos are being hurled at Senators and in public advertisements by pollution front groups, such as the Clean Air Working Group.

Compare, for example, the environmental policy positions of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce with the reactionary stands of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

The Canadian Chamber says “good environmental behavior makes good economic sense. A health environment is vital for a healthy society and a healthy economy.” The U.S. Chamber says “environmental control is expensive, and a healthy economy is needed to afford a health environment.” Notice the reversal of priorities.

The Canadian Chamber urges recycling, waste reduction, reuse and recovery “so that landfilling will be minimized.” The U.S. Chamber demands that public officials find “new disposal sites” and “new landfills or waste to energy facilities.” The latter, of course, means incinerators and more air pollution.

But it is the area of jobs that shows the stark contrast between the Canadian Chamber and its U.S. counterpart. The Canadians are excited about all the jobs for businesses, to wit: “The environmental industry sector, which provides research, measurement, monitoring, planning, design, construction and management services, is growing rapidly across Canada. It includes an estimated 3,000 private firms employing as many as 150,000 people directly and another 50,000 indirectly… in the United States, where Canadians are selling some of their environmental products, the market is worth $100 billion a year.”

What does the U.S. Chamber say? It cites wholly concocted figures for job losses in the mines and in manufacturing as a result of enactment even of the weak Bush clean air legislation. It bemoans the “crippling” effect on “the ability of U.S. products to compete in international markets.”

Just the opposite foresight is presented by the Canadian Chamber: “If Canadian industries and government can agree on environmental protection as a business sector to develop, we not only can clean up our own environment but can export technology and techniques to other nations.”

Spoiled for so long by the Reagan-Bush de-regulation, subsidies, tax breaks, bailouts, corporate management in America seems to know no other way of doing business. Perhaps they should send some of their so-called leaders up to Canada to get a little can-do enlightenment.

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