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Stand firm against pressure to weaken the Clean Air Act

MORRIS - As a student in the great state of Minnesota, I care deeply about preserving the future of our environment. Minnesota is known for its lakes, forests, and wildlife--it would be a shame to let corporate polluters get away with irresponsible and destructive practices. A few weeks ago, our Senator Amy Klobuchar voted against a dirty initiative put forward by Rand Paul attacking the Clean Air Act. While this was a crucial vote for Minnesota, I am urging Senator Klobuchar to stand firm against future industry pressure to weaken environment and public health standards.

After more than 40 years the Clean Air Act has been pivotal in preventing more than 200,000 premature deaths, avoiding more than 700,000 cases of chronic bronchitis, and decreasing total emissions of the six principle air pollutants by 41 percent. While this cornerstone public policy has been pivotal in protecting public health and the environment, the U.S. gross domestic product has tripled. This demonstrates the economic growth the country can experience without compromising public health and environmental standards.

More recently, other attempts to weaken the Clean Air Act have been discussed, including delaying a rule to reduce mercury emissions from power plants. Mercury is a neurotoxin and, according to data from the EPA, 130,000 pounds of toxic mercury was emitted from coal plants just in the year 2009. Mercury can cause damage to the brain and nervous system and according to the EPA Center for Disease Control and Prevention at least 1 in 12 women have toxic levels of mercury in their bodies that could put their children at risk. We know, from a poll conducted for the American Lung Association, that 79 percent of voters support stronger protections on mercury.

Additionally, mercury ends up in our freshwater, builds up in the fish population, and fish consumption is the most common way humans are exposed to this toxic substance. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources estimates that fishing adds more than $4 billion to the Minnesota economy and that recreational fishing supports more than 43,000 jobs. In a state that prides itself on its lakes, rivers, and streams with an angling culture, this issue directly impacts real Minnesotans and real Minnesota communities.

Common sense limits of toxic air pollutants should not be compromised at the behest of the big polluters and their agenda. The public not only supports, but expects its elected officials to represent their interests when it comes to basic health and environmental standards. Students across Minnesota are urging Sen. Klobuchar to stand up for the health of Minnesota's public and the environment by opposing any ill-conceived attempt to weaken the Clean Air Act.

Joe Hartman is the co-chair of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) chapter at the University of Minnesota, Morris.