Editorial June 10, 2016

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

Take a deep breath, or maybe not. Depending on which side of the argument you are on, HR 4775 is a reasonable approach to a problem or a danger to your health.

The bill appears fairly simplistic in its goals; ‘The bill would provide additional time for States and localities to implement new ozone standards, and address other practical challenges under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) program.’

The bill was brought forth because the EPA, in 2008, reduced allowable amounts of ozone in the air we breathe from 84 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb. The measurement brings forth the requirement to meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and states are required to meet or attain those requirements. While the new requirements were brought out in 2008, EPA only recently in 2015 required states to file their plans to meet those new standards by October 1, 2016, and EPA plans to designate areas as being in nonattainment by October of next year. 241 counties with ozone monitors in thirty-three States would violate the new standard, says EPA.

Notified of the new schedule, some states have complained that the new standards may not be technologically or economically feasible so, the two year extension for compliance. It is there that the bill’s intent is clear but the results of the bill are not considered.

The importance of the air we breathe is indisputable; we can go weeks without food and days without water but only minutes without air. So the stuff is important. Going back to the creation of the EPA and the Clean Air Act it was also obvious then that this element essential to life, as plentiful as it is, affects our health if it contains elements dangerous to our health. What is insidious about air pollution’s effect on our health is that we are not necessarily aware there is something in the air we shouldn’t be breathing. Ozone is one of those somethings. It is dangerous to breath for those with asthma or other respiratory illnesses or if you are very young or very old. Reducing ozone then, is a no-brainer.

It goes in EPA’s favor that the agency allows for public comment and stakeholder input regarding such regulations and this bill is the result of that openness.

We do have significant issues with ozone that have not been addressed or completely resolved by the Clean Air Act. That is because when the original standards were created EPA set compliance goals by allowing initial ozone standards to be met in three years for `Marginal,’ six years for `Moderate,’ nine years for `Serious,’ fifteen years for `Severe,’ and twenty years for `Extreme. It seems to be working since 1980 ozone levels have declined by 33 percent. A good bit of that progress can also be attributed to cleaner running engines but the idea of monitoring and continuously improving the quality of the air we breathe was and still is the EPA’s mission under the Clean Air Act. You have to ask yourself if this undetectable pollutant that can affect your health significantly is okay to breathe. Since it is undetectable how would you know?

With the exception of naturally occurring ozone or what is called background ozone that can come from other countries or across state lines or from a natural disaster there is a ppb number under which the EPA cannot go to protect us. We haven’t hit that number yet so regulations will continue to require more stringent NAAQS.

Taking aim at EPA’s air quality standards is nothing new; going back about 20 years Congress passed a law allowing some areas in some states to dismantle or not install air quality monitors. Oddly one Congressman in Florida pitched the bill as guaranteeing the healthy quality of your air when, of course, all that was accomplished was that your air in those locations was no longer measured for quality and as those areas increased in population, auto traffic and businesses the air did get more polluted but it was not measured.

There is reason to believe that the sponsors and supporters of HR 4775 do not take air quality seriously. If they did this bill would be addressing state’s concerns about the technology and economic feasibility with helping them meet the attainment goals not to let the current level of ozone that EPA has determined is not healthy go on hold for two or more years.

At least supporters of the bill did not refer to the EPA 70ppb rule as a job killer. They should see that measurement as a life saver.

Hamilton on Congress

What It Takes to Be an Effective Citizen

By Lee H. Hamilton

It’s so easy in a presidential election year to forget that our system is not about a single person. This year especially, when the dynamics of the presidential contest have dominated news coverage so thoroughly that even the Senate and House races have largely disappeared from view, the crucial role that citizens play – apart from serving as voters in the presidential drama – isn’t even an afterthought.

Yet effective citizenship is the base on which our representative democracy rests. Our vitality as a country depends on the involvement of millions of people in their neighborhoods and communities, in interest groups and civic organizations, in groups agitating for change and groups defending the status quo.

So just what constitutes effective citizenship? I believe it’s made up of several elements.

First, a confident belief that change is possible – that the country can indeed make progress over time thanks to the efforts both of ordinary people and of political leaders. In his recent speech at Howard University, President Obama noted that by almost every measure, the country has moved forward over the last three decades. The poverty rate is down, as are the rates for crime and for teenage pregnancy. More Americans are getting college degrees, more women are working and earning more money, many cities are far healthier than they were in the 1980s.

Yes, we’ve got miles to go on many fronts, but on the whole, I’ll take where we stand today over where we stood in the 1980s. Our system is working better for more people than it did then.

The people who helped make this happen understood two things: that progress was possible, and that it required their efforts. This might seem too obvious even to say, but those who were most effective had an impact because they had the skills to make a difference.

I’m talking here about the fundamental ability we should all have as citizens to solve problems in a representative democracy that’s filled with people who have different beliefs, perspectives, and experiences. This means knowing how to work together with all kinds of people, being able to find common ground, being forthright about aims and methods, forging connections to key officials and other players who can help advance a cause, building consensus, and communicating ideas effectively.

I use the word “skills,” but in the end, good citizenship is as much about temperament as it is about ability. Mutual respect, tolerance, empathy, civility, humility, honesty, resolve – these are the simple virtues that our nation depends on in its citizens, not because they’re nice to see, but because in a vibrant and diverse democracy they’re crucial for making progress.

So is a willingness to step up to challenges. The people who make a difference in our system are the ones who not only identify a problem, but then plunge into fixing it.

I frequently hear from people who are exasperated by the obstacles they have to overcome in order to make a difference: fellow citizens who are ignorant of the system, politicians who are too obtuse or self-interested to see the light, incompetence in the bureaucracy, officials protecting turf…. But here’s the thing: those obstacles will always be there. You just have to keep plugging away at overcoming them, whether by casting an informed ballot, sitting down with – or protesting against – political leaders, or finding the myriad ways you can improve the quality of life for your neighbors and fellow Americans.

You may already have picked up on the final quality that makes for effective citizenship, and it’s a tough one. For the most part, we’re not going to solve our challenges in a single generation. So we have to educate our children and those who come after us in the same skill sets I’ve been talking about.

That’s because, as I said at the start, our representative democracy is not all about the presidency. We -you, me, and our fellow citizens – are responsible for the future of our neighborhoods and our nation. Unless we all shoulder the obligation to learn the skills we need to shepherd it into the future, and then teach those skills to others, our country and our system will struggle.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.


 

Quotes on the Issues

Poverty and the GOP Plan

“House Republicans’ so-called poverty agenda shows that they are continuing on the same policies that hurt the poor and do little to address the challenge of poverty in a serious way. Speaker Ryan and his colleagues have chosen to repackage the same failed policy proposals…” House Minority Whip’s Office

ZIKA

“With public health officials warning of a fast-spreading emergency, House and Senate negotiators will work to reconcile legislation aimed at providing up to $1.1 billion to combat the Zika virus and the mosquitoes that carry it, Senator Mitch McConnell said…” New York Times

Modi and Congress

“Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, denied a visa to enter the United States for nearly a decade, on Wednesday addressed a joint meeting of Congress, declaring that India and the United States are “natural allies” and urging the two nations to establish even closer ties.” Washington Post.


Foreign Affairs

IRAQ

“After securing the southern edge of militant-held Fallujah, seven battalions of Iraqi special forces units have been unable to advance for two days — a delay that commanders say isn’t due to counterattacks or difficult terrain, but rather to disagreements about battlefield strategy among the disparate Iraqi forces fighting the Islamic State group.” Reuters

SYRIA

“Syrian President Bashar al-Assad signaled Tuesday that his government intends to escalate military efforts to crush the five-year-old uprising against his rule, saying the bloodshed will not end until he has regained control over all areas of Syria lost to the rebellion.” Washington Post.

ISIS

“Sadr City in eastern Baghdad has been one of the main areas targeted by the Islamic State (IS) in the Iraqi capital. It is home to a Shiite majority loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has been… seeking to provoke Shiite infighting in a bid to delay the liberation of the remaining areas under its control.” Al Monitor


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