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Op-ed: Clean Air Act key to a healthy future

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By Greg Lind, M.D. and Craig Mathews

Do you want to leave your children a Montana where the air is safe to breathe and the fish are safe to eat? Most of us would likely say ‘yes.’

Yet in today’s industrial age, we cannot take such things for granted.

Indeed, parts of our state suffer from bad air pollution. And over 50 bodies of water, including popular fisheries such as Flathead Lake and Fort Peck Reservoir, have warnings urging children and women of childbearing age to avoid eating too much fish due to mercury contamination.

Mercury, arsenic and other toxic pollutants emitted from power plants pose a risk for neurological damage, birth defects, cancer, and premature death. Other types of air pollutants pose a risk for asthma and cardiovascular diseases.

Fortunately, some or our leaders understand these risks and the need for protections that reduce dangerous pollution.

In 1990, Sen. Max Baucus led an overwhelmingly popular, bipartisan effort to modernize the Clean Air Act. The bill, signed into law by the first President Bush, required polluters to install technologies that capture toxics such as mercury and hydrochloric acid before they are released into our air.

But politics and industry pressure being what they are, implementation of this law has been delayed for more than 20 years.

Only now has the Environmental Protection Agency finally released rules for industry that will put them in line with this law. While we may grumble about the slow wheels of government, industry has had over two decades to prepare for these rules.

Back in 2001, Sen. Baucus cited the need for these long-delayed anti-pollution safeguards: “The American Lung Association, the American Public Health Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics all testified that we are facing a public health crisis due to air pollution.”

He added: “All the studies on the Clean Air Act generally have reached the conclusion by a huge factor that the benefits of the Clean Air Act outweigh the cost of the Clean Air Act.”

Thanks to Sen. Baucus, we will soon see the cleanup of toxic pollutants from Montana’s largest industrial sources as well as cleanup of asthma and respiratory-impairing pollutants from sources like Colstrip.

Each year across America, the newly adopted mercury and air toxics standard alone will help prevent 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks.

While these standards should have been implemented a long time ago, they will help make Montana’s air and water safer for present and future generations.

We thank Sen. Baucus for his past and continued support of the Clean Air Act. Thanks to his leadership, perhaps we will leave our children a Montana where air is safe to breathe and fish are safe to eat.

Greg Lind is a former Montana state senator from Missoula. Craig Mathews is owner of the Blue Ribbon Fly Shop in West Yellowstone.

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