On September 23, 1994, at approximately 3:02 a.m., 17-year-old J. Brandon Young III died. His young life slipped away after it took more than an hour for an ambulance to come to his aid. The ambulance station was just six miles away.
If the Clinton Administration gets its way, there may soon be a lot more of these preventable tragedies.
Late last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans for new, more stringent standards for particulate matter (soot) and ground level ozone (smog), arguing that stringent air pollution standards could prevent some 250,000 cases of serious respiratory problems in children, some of them life-threatening. But instead of protecting children, the new standards could put children at greater risk. The new standards would not only fail to produce the results advertised but would drain state, county and local government resources, forcing them to choose between compliance with the new standards and such vital emergency services as ambulance, fire and police services. At the same time, the new standards would send thousands of childrens' parents to unemployment lines, reducing family incomes and endangering access to health care.
The EPA has estimated that the annual cost of the new tightened air pollution regulations would run from $6.5 - $8.5 billion per year. Other estimates put those costs much higher. Alicia Munnell, a member of the President's Council ofEconomic Advisors estimates that the costs would be more in the $11.6 to $60 billion per year range while the Reason Public Policy Institute estimates that the true cost would range between $90 and $150 billion.
Regardless of which estimate is accurate, local governments would pay some of these costs in one form or another, placing greater demands on already limited resources. Because spending money in one way means it can't be spent in another, using these resources to comply with new air pollution standards could mean sacrificing the additional training, oversight, personnel or ambulance needed to save a young person like Brandon Young.
The economic consequences of EPA's new standards would place children at greater risk.
The EPA claims that by improving air quality its proposed standards would prevent 250,000 serious respiratory problems in children and prevent 15,000 premature deaths among the general population per year. But there is little evidence to support these conclusions and every reason to believe that the economic impact of the new regulatory burden would have the perverse effect of endangering public health.
According to study of asthma death rates in Philadelphia conducted by David M. Lang and Marcia Palansky and summarized in the New England Journal of Medicine, the link between air pollution and serious respiratory illnesses is nonexistent. The study, which examined the city's asthma death rates between 1969 and 1991, found that asthma deaths rose from 1.68 per 100,000 population in 1969 to 2.41 per 100,000 in 1991. But the rise in asthma deaths occurred at the very time concentrations of major air pollutants were in decline in the city. The study further found that death from asthma was more common in census tracts in which greater proportions of residents were black, Hispanic, female or poor.
"The hospitalization rate for asthma among African-American children is twice that of white, but socioeconomic status is a more significant risk factor," explains Floyd Malveau, Dean of the Howard University Medical School. "...Poor environmental conditions in urban communites, along with other factors such as inadequate access to health care, are what tip the asthma incidence statistics..."
A child's socio-economic status is certainly influenced by whether or not his or her parent remains employed. According to the Reason Foundation Institute for Public Policy, the EPA's new, more stringent clean air standards would destroy 200,000 jobs, reduce the average personal disposable income for every American by $250 to $450 per year and cost between 11,000 and 27,000 Americans their lives each year.
The arguments that the EPA's new clean air standards pose a health threat to children and the public at-large are so compelling that even the Clinton Administration's staunchest supporters are balking, including Mayor Daley's Chicago.
In comments sent to the EPA by Chicago's Department of Environment Commissioner Henry L. Henderson, the City of Chicago maintains that, "True protection of public health can only be achieved if a proposal to improve air quality is based on comprehensive public health criteria. In addition to the clinical and epidemiological effects of exposure, protection of public health also includes good nutrition, access to effective health care including prenatal care, viable housing, personal security, as well as freedom from poverty and inequality. Policies or programs that strip individuals of any of these basic elements serve only to jeopardize or diminish public health. The City has serious and well-founded concerns that adoption of EPA's proposals may do just that..."
Unfortunately, President Clinton has thus far been unmoved by Chicago's plea. He has similarly been unmoved by the pleas of 86 House Democrats who have signed letters opposing the new standards and by the evidence that the new regulations will cost many Americans their jobs.
Perhaps most surprising, however, is that President Clinton has been unmoved by the mounting evidence that the new standards will place at risk the very people they were ostensibly designed to protect -- America's children.
Mr. President, won't you please think of the children?
-David Ridenour is Vice President of The National Center for Public Policy Research and directs its Environmental Policy Task Force.