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A woman looked out her window in Harbin, China and said "I couldn't see anything outside the window and I thought it was snowing".  Then she realized it wasn't snow but instead it was dangerous, toxic smog.

The fact that the citizens of Harbin could only see about 10 yards in front of them is just part of the story.  Small particle pollution soared to a record 40 times higher than international standards.

China’s top leaders know that air pollution is a serious health problem, and the privileged officials protect their families by using air filtering devices in their homes and offices.

This situation developed because China is burning too much dirty coal.  It is the start of winter there, which coincided with the firing up of so many coal-fired power plants and resulted in a toxic emergency.

It may be easy to dismiss this terrible situation and think it could never happen in the U.S.  But without the foresight of our predecessors, we could be facing similar situations today.

Luckily Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress passed the modern Clean Air Act back in 1970, and strengthened it in 1990.  Before this law was passed, smog levels in many of our cities were dangerously high.

For example, there were years in Los Angeles when many days featured "smog alerts" – meaning people had to be very cautious when they ventured outside.

In 1976, there were 166 days when health advisories were issued in Southern California to urge people with asthma and other people with lung sensitivities to stay indoors.  In 35 years, the number of smog-related health advisories issued in Southern California dropped from 166 days in 1976 to zero days in 2010.  Since 1990, the U.S. has cut fine particulates emissions – the main culprit of China’s toxic smog – by 57 percent.  

When I look at pictures of Chinese citizens wearing masks and looking very worried I am so very grateful to those who made sure we took action to clean up our air.

Just this past week, we learned from the World Health Organization that outdoor air pollution is a cause of cancer.  That means that the American people must stand sentry and not allow anyone to weaken or repeal or undermine our landmark Clean Air Act.

I wish I could tell you we are safe from that -- but we are not.  Just look at the record number of environmental riders that have come at us from the extreme wing of the political spectrum. From 2011 through 2012, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives had 145 votes targeting the Environmental Protection Agency, 95 votes to dismantle the Clean Air Act, and 53 votes to block climate change action.

Here's a small sample of the attacks on the landmark Clean Air Act:
•    Stop the first-ever national mercury and air toxics standards;
•    Overturn the U.S. Supreme Court rulings allowing Environmental Protection Agency to control carbon pollution; and
•    Roll back landmark car and small truck tailpipe standards.

Democrats in the Senate saved the day and stopped every one of these riders, but it is critical for the public to weigh in.  Most of this sneak attack on our air quality goes unnoticed with a few exceptions.

I so appreciate the work of the American Lung Association and many other health and environmental organizations who keep their eye on this serious threat.  What has happened in China is a warning for us.  Let us appreciate and strengthen our landmark environmental laws, and the Environmental Protection Agency which enforces them.

We should not allow the special interests to obscure the fact that environmental safeguards are important when it comes to the health of the American people.  We cannot go backwards and expose our children and families to dangerous air pollution.

The battle is on.  The Obama administration is moving to clean up dangerous pollution from coal-fired plants and other sources.  Many in Congress will fight this.  Reducing conventional air pollutants and carbon pollution go hand in hand and we must stand with the President and support his leadership on these issues. And we must also note that the Keystone XL pipeline is not without problems.  It will carry the dirtiest oil known to man through our country.

Environmental safeguards are not only good for public health, but they are also good for the economy.  Over the last 40 years, air pollution has dropped 68 percent, while our national GDP has grown 212 percent.  And for every dollar we invest in complying with the Clean Air Act, we get more than $40 of benefits in return.

We must choose our path forward.  Let it be the path of clean energy along with the many good jobs that it will bring and let it be away from the kinds of hardships we see with our own eyes in China.

Senator Boxer is the Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Originally posted to SenatorBoxer on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 02:06 PM PDT.

Also republished by Los Angeles Kossacks, Climate Change SOS, California politics, Climate Hawks, and DK GreenRoots.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Great to See a Post from You, Senator Boxer (9+ / 0-)

    Thanks for your leadership and strong support for environmental and other critical issues facing the country.

    Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue - A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma

    by JekyllnHyde on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 02:14:58 PM PDT

  •  If the Republicans had their way, (7+ / 0-)

    most of America would be like Harbin, China.

    Join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news and views written from a black pov—everyone is welcome.

    by TomP on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 02:17:44 PM PDT

    •  in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JekyllnHyde, cotterperson, eeff

      there are lots of examples of killing fogs and smog from coal-burning and other industrial pollution back then. in one sense, we cleaned up our air by allowing the corporations to avoid regulation by offshoring. yet another reason why environmental regulations need to be international, to address the environmental consequences of the international economy.

  •  what is the best way that the public can weigh in (8+ / 0-)

    on these issues? We do a lot of blogathons at Daily Kos, and the goals vary for each one -- from take action items (like petition campaigns to campaigns for comments for regulations) to education to fundraisers. In fact. Rep. Barbara Lee posted today as special guest to our food justice blogathon. and we joined forces with many eco NGOS for a public comment campaign against the XL pipeline that generated over 1 million comments to oppose pipeline.

    so i am wondering what is the most effective or a selection of things that the public can do?

    •  Perhaps one answer. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      eeff, RustyBrown

      I might suggest targeting a "dirty dozen" reps who actively participated in the environmental riders against the Clean Air Act.  That's an easier issue to wrap the public mind around.  

      Take the matter straight to their constituents.  This is most emphatically not just a dem issue.  My long-time Republican father believes that one someone pollutes, it is stepping on HIS libertarian toes.  It's an encroachment of his liberty.  So, lot's of potential support.

      Romney's whole business was about maximizing debt, extracting cash, cutting head counts, skimping on capital spending, outsourcing production, and dressing up the deal for the earliest, highest-profit exit possible. -- David Stockman.

      by CupofTea on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 03:15:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you, Senator Boxer, for your commitment. nt (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cotterperson, eeff

    Dance lightly upon the Earth, Sing her songs with wild abandon, Smile upon all forms of Life ...and be well.

    by LinSea on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 02:29:25 PM PDT

  •  we need to help the chinese breathe (6+ / 0-)

    by preventing or discouraging the export of american coal to their country, whenever possible. ditto for the tar sands of alberta and the keystone XL pipeline.

    leave that stuff in the ground, so our children will have a world to inherit.

  •  So true and so hard to hear. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JekyllnHyde, eeff, DawnN, RustyBrown
    Most of this sneak attack on our air quality goes unnoticed with a few exceptions.
    There is alot to divert attention away from these extremely important issues -- clear air and clean water in particular.

    Even environmental groups can be disparate in their attempts to galvanize awareness, comprehension, starategy and concrete action.

    Posts such as yours do make a difference that reminds us to bring these issues front and center.

    Thank you and keep up the good work.  It IS appreciated.

    Romney's whole business was about maximizing debt, extracting cash, cutting head counts, skimping on capital spending, outsourcing production, and dressing up the deal for the earliest, highest-profit exit possible. -- David Stockman.

    by CupofTea on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 03:06:51 PM PDT

  •  The air in the LA area is so much cleaner (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    eeff, chantedor, RustyBrown

    than when I was a kid, and there's also a lot more people living there and a lot more economic activity.

    All those people who said SCAQMD would cripple the region's economic growth were not only wrong, they were 180 degrees wrong. I think there's an argument that the cleaner air directly contributed to the area's economic power and overall desirability.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 03:13:20 PM PDT

  •  Thanks (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    For coming here with your concerns on the Clean Air Act.

    Humans have one place to live, we must learn to take car of mother earth.

  •  I grew up in Buffalo NY in the early 1960s, and... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DawnN, RustyBrown

    younger people just have no idea how bad air and water pollution was in the U.S. prior to the Clean Air Act and the EPA.

    Any morning I could look west and see that grotesque grey-brown pollution haze blanketing the horizon. You could literally smell the awful stuff in the air. And Lake Erie was a dead-zone, a greasy inland see with an oily sheen on the surface and a handful of rotting dead fish the only sign of 'life'.

    After a fashion it's unfortunate that the big pollution issues of our time (mercury, hormone mimics/disruptors, arsenic, and of course carbon dioxide) are invisible to the naked eye; they're so much easier to ignore.

  •  Dear Senator Boxer (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Thanks for posting here at Daily Kos!

    You said:

    95 votes to dismantle the Clean Air Act, and 53 votes to block climate change action.
    It would be most helpful to have access to a link to a specific or detail list on those votes.   Does your staff have anything like that?    If so, I would love to get a copy at   but a link that everyone could see would be even better.    This compiled information is very useful for those of us who are defenders of the Federal Clean Air Act.

    While you are considering attacks against the Clean Air Act originating in the House, please also be aware of this particular attack on the Clean Air Act by two judges on the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals [don't know if those two are Federalists Society or not at this writing].    

    This decision in the case of Summit Petroleum Corporation vs. EPA, et a is the most serious threat to regulation of the oil and gas industry under the Clean Air Act at the present time.  

    The effect of this Summit Petroleum decision which is binding in the sixth circuit is to deregulate numerous oil and gas production facilities from requirements for Title V operating permits by disapproving of a longstanding EPA policy allowing aggregation production facilities with well-side process and emission units that are connected through pipes to central function gas processing plants in cluster configuration for purposes of Title V major source permit requirement applicability.

    Unfortunately, there is a present climate of mass public ignorance and disinformation presently underway involving the Gasland entertainment complex and the Gasland conflation/fabrication bubble that is presently impairing the ability of maintstream national environmental groups to properly defend the works of Senator Muskie at this present and crucial time.   I'd love to brief one of your staff members on this problem in a phone conference if you were interested.

    •  The Impairment problem is that groups that (0+ / 0-)

      embrace Gasland and its declaration that the oil and gas industry is exempt from the Clean Air Act have to admit that they've been spreading erroneous information about Gasland's claims about the Clean Air Act by their promotion of the Gasland as 'educational information' and are trapped in their own cognitive dissonance.

      However, in order to defend the Clean Air Act against the Summit Petroleum case rogue judges in the sixth circuit, one must embrace the reality that this case massively deregulated oil and gas facilities that were already subject to longstanding Clean Air Act regulation under Title V of the Clean Air Act that Gasland denies exists.

      What this means is that national, state and local environmental groups that embrace the Gasland conflation/fabrication bubble are using a piece of entertainment workproduct making specious claims about the Clean Air Act for dramatic effect in an entertainment video and allowing that delusion and scientific misconduct to actually influence their policy and public statements....and that really, really sucks.

      Doing something about Summit Petroleum is what environmental groups should be doing instead of trafficking in Josh Fox's baloney about the Clean Air Act.   And the BREATHE Act should be immediately be withdrawn .....more on that in a future diary.

  •  This is an important bit of information (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RosyFinch, JeffW
    And for every dollar we invest in complying with the Clean Air Act, we get more than $40 of benefits in return.  
    that deserves to be repeated often.  

    "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right." -- Sen Carl Schurz 1872

    by Calamity Jean on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 10:52:21 AM PDT

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