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Oppose legislative license to make kids sick

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The Republican-led Senate’s recent inability to shore up enough votes to repeal a Bureau of Land Management rule restricting methane emissions from oil and gas operations represents a rare moment of sanity in an otherwise anti-science and anti-public health Congress bent on undermining science-based public health protections.

One of our senators — Jon Tester — voted in favor of protecting public health, reducing waste of natural resources, and addressing climate change. The other — Steve Daines — did not. Senator Tester deserves our thanks, as do other Democrat and Republican senators who took a considered and critical look and recognized that the BLM’s rule was a common-sense regulation that saves taxpayers’ money and protects the public’s health, especially that of our children and future generations.

But more health threats are looming as a “shot-gun” approach of industry-sponsored legislation aimed at impeding common-sense approaches to protecting public welfare is raining down. Bills with such misleading names as “HONEST” (H.R. 1430), “BEST” (S.578) and “REINS” (S.21/H.R. 26) all seek to limit input of best science and public feedback. All threaten public health by enabling extraction industries to move forward unchecked while the air we breathe, water we drink and soil we rely on are contaminated. All have passed at least initial stages of the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives.

The most significant of these may be the Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017, a sweeping attack on the ability of federal agencies to take action to protect health and promote public safety. Short-sighted attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency are fair game under an administration that favors business over public good.

The Regulatory Accountability Act is a license to make our kids sick — it’s a sneaky giveaway to industrial polluters, big tobacco and other powerful interests. In short, the bill would make it much harder for federal agencies to protect us by ignoring scientific input and increasing the number of hurdles to submitting health-protections. Current law already sets out an extensive and transparent process for the development of federal safeguards, which includes opportunities for all stakeholders — including regulated industries, experts and the public — to provide feedback.

If the Regulatory Accountability Act had been the law in the 1970s, EPA never would have banned lead in gas and big tobacco companies could still engage in false advertising. Undeniable evidence from clinical studies would be ignored, with significant loss of health and increased costs of medical care that would be most burdensome to children.

The American public has the most to lose here. The Regulatory Accountability Act will have severe, long-lasting consequences, eroding health and safety protections both now and in the future. Lawmakers who prioritize public health and safety will oppose this bill every step of the way.

Dr. Paul Smith is a pediatric pulmonologist in Missoula.


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