Coal Tattoo

We’ve written before on this blog about West Virginia Republican Rep. David McKinley. He’s not a big fan of environmental regulations, especially those that might improve the handling and disposal of toxic coal ash, and definitely doesn’t like federal regulators.

During a House committee hearing on Friday, there was a fascinating exchange when Rep. McKinley got his chance to question Dr. William N. Rom, who had testified that air pollution protections are important, and told committee members:

The adverse health effects of air pollution are well known and fully documented in the scientific literature. Equally well established are the health and economic benefits associated with reductions in air pollution. For these reasons, the American Thoracic Society strongly urges Congress to reject any legislation that limits, weakens or delays the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to implement the science based standards of the Clean Air Act.

At issue in the hearing was discussion draft legislation from Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., that is billed as “requiring increased transparency regarding the economic impacts of EPA regulations.” Whitefield explains his bill this way:

… The “Energy Consumers Relief Act” would require that, prior to finalizing a rule estimated to cost at least a billion dollars; EPA must first submit a concise cost analysis to Congress. This analysis will provide the public with greater transparency by requiring the inclusion of such things as the impact of the rule on gasoline or electricity prices, as well as any potential job losses.

Rena Steinzor, a University of Maryland law professor, said that the bill:

… Would only reinforce and amplify the problem of under-regulation at the EPA, preventing the agency from addressing many of the environmental and public health risks noted above. This result would no doubt elate corporate interests by helping them protect their already healthy bottom lines. But, the toll it would take on the general public would be unconscionable.

But here’s the part I wanted to get to … Dr. Rom testified about a patient he briefly treated — a man with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — who had the misfortune to end up standing near a tailpipe for about five minutes while waiting for a bus. The man developed acute shortness of breath, and ended up hospitalized, in intensive care, intubated for nine days. “He couldn’t get air in or out of his lungs,” Dr. Rom said. “Air pollution nearly killed him.”

When it came Rep. McKinley’s turn to ask questions, here’s what he asked Dr. Rom:

Did you have any children who ever went outside without a coat on and they got sick for being outside?

I’m just curious, did this person have a level of personal accountability? If he had a pulmonary problem and stood there in front of an exhaust pipe for five minutes that you referred to, didn’t he just step back? Did you ever tell him that? Or did you say let’s blame the government or let’s blame that bus for running there?

Dr. Rom responded:

Well, he was intubated at that point, so I couldn’t raise the question.