This week Mitt Romney dove quite publicly into the choppy waters of environmental policy for the first time as the presumed GOP presidential nominee. He flailed and sank to a new low.
On the eve of a Senate vote on whether to repeal life-saving mercury and toxic air pollution standards for power plants, Mr. Romney issued a statement saying he opposed the safeguards—putting him squarely on the side of the polluters.
Luckily the majority of Senators didn’t listen to Mr. Romney, and the dirty measure failed to pass — with five Republicans among those voting down the repeal. But Mr. Romney’s decision to enter this debate shows just how captive he is to corporate polluters and extreme Tea Party special interests. When it comes to environmental policy, Mr. Romney has yet to move a millimeter toward the middle, whatever his apologists may be predicting.
His position on these standards certainly won’t help ordinary Americans. The safeguards he opposed will protect children and the unborn against mercury and lead pollution that permanently damages their developing brains and nervous systems. They will also reduce more than 80 other toxic air pollutants from power plants including arsenic, cancer-causing dioxins, acid gases and heavy metals. Cutting down on these pollutants will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, nearly 5,000 non-fatal heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks every year by reducing dangerous air pollution emitted by power plants that burn coal and oil.
By suddenly speaking out against these safeguards, Mr. Romney flip-flopped from positions he had taken as Massachusetts Governor. Back then, he spoke in unequivocal terms about the destructive impact of mercury pollution and supported sharp reductions in the amount of mercury pollution power plants can spew.
But this week, Mr. Romney did more than reverse course and turn his back on the facts he had previously embraced. He defended his new position with deceptive half truths. The first misleading statement he made was that the new standards will cost more than $1,500 for every one dollar reduction in mercury pollution.
In reality, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards deliver up to $90 billion in annual benefit to the American people. For every $1 spent by industry to comply, the standards will deliver up to $9 in economic and health benefits to Americans.
How did Mr. Romney manage to concoct a different number? By focusing only on one pollutant: mercury. Romney was ignoring the nearly 80 other hazardous air pollutants that the health standards will reduce, including arsenic, lead, dioxins, heavy metals, acid gases and deadly soot pollution. Installing the pollution control equipment required to reduce all of these toxic air pollutants from power plants, as the Clean Air Act and courts require, will necessarily reduce significant amounts of many forms of dangerous air pollution that causes asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, and even premature deaths. Those pollution reductions are where the standards’ enormous health and economic benefits come from. It is those benefits that the Romney statement dishonestly chose to ignore.
Mr. Romney’s argument did not even pass a basic logic test. His cost-benefit criticism was the equivalent of saying a car costs $15,000 for every $10 spark plug you receive. But in reality you get the whole car for your money — just as Americans receive the overwhelming health benefits from reducing all toxic air pollution, not just mercury pollution, from power plants. And with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards delivering benefits to the public that outweigh industry compliance costs by a factor of nearly 10 to 1, it’s like the American people are getting a $15,000 car for only $1,500. And that includes the spark plug.
Second, Mr. Romney claimed that EPA “admits” that it is trying to block the construction of any new coal plants. This is patently false, and indeed, the new standards can be attained using equipment that coal plants are able to deploy and are using today. I hope reporters will challenge Mr. Romney to back up this claim with evidence, because the truth is EPA has never claimed what Mr. Romney charged.
This just raises the valid question why Mr. Romney feels the need to resort to falsehoods. If he has the courage of his political convictions to condemn important health safeguards like these, then he should be able to defend his position with uncomfortable truths rather than convenient untruths.
And finally there is the question of Mr. Romney condemning health standards that will protect children and the unborn.
Mr. Romney is a pro-life politician. One of Mr. Romney’s fellow pro-life Republicans in Congress, Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, also strongly opposes the mercury and air toxics standards. He has voted to abolish the standards. Concerned by this stance, some pro-life evangelical Christian groups criticized Mr. Shimkus and pointed out that part of being pro-life should mean protecting the unborn from the brain and nerve damage caused by neurotoxic mercury pollution. Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) retorted that “[t]he life in pro-life denotes not quality of life but life itself.”
Does Mr. Romney believe this too? Does he not care whether children enjoy a “quality of life” free from permanent brain and neurological damage that contribute to learning disabilities?
Mr. Romney hasn’t addressed the sweeping consequences of blocking safeguards against mercury and toxic air pollution—what it would do to pregnant women worrying about their babies, children struggling in school, grandparents suffering from cardiac disease, or the other millions of Americans breathing in this dangerous pollution. But the White House and most Senator recognize what’s at stake here, and they stood up for these vital safeguards.
The fact that Romney took a stand for corporate polluters instead reveals what kind of president he would be. He would not represent the interests of ordinary Americans who expect the law to protect their health. He would cave to the conservative extremists in his own party, the Tea Party, and corporate polluters.