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Honorable Mark Sanford

Representing the 1st District of South Carolina

Vote Notes: H.R. 806, the Ozone Standards Implementation Act

Aug 7, 2017
Blog Post

The air we breathe. The water we drink. Our surroundings. Each of these things are part and parcel to not only life itself but the quality of our lives.

I say this because if one reads about smog days in Los Angeles or Beijing and the ways in which people are encouraged to stay inside and not go out, it makes you think about how important things are that we take for granted.

In this light, last month, the House voted on H.R. 806, the Ozone Standards Implementation Act, a bill that would keep an ozone air quality standard from going into effect for another eight years. Last Congress, I voted against this bill with a handful of Republicans, and this time, I joined ten of my Republican colleagues in doing the same again.

The same reasoning applied this time around, and accordingly, I would ask you to take a look at my post from last year….

June 9, 2016

Yesterday afternoon, the House voted on HR 4755, the Ozone Standards Implementation Act, a bill that would delay a new ozone air quality standard from coming into effect for eight years, from 2017 to 2025. The bill passed 234 to 177, and I voted no with just a handful of Republicans. I wanted to explain why I voted as I did.

The free market system is built on a mix of costs and revenues and to be successful needs to keep revenue higher than costs so that one makes a profit. Government has a role in making sure none of us simply offloads our costs to society. Dumping chemicals in Campbell Creek near where I grew up may have enhanced the chemical business’s profits - but it hurt the rest of us downstream. There is always a balance in the extent to which gains can be privatized and costs shifted to society at large, and in this vein, I thought this bill went too far in retarding the national ambient air quality standards.

The EPA’s estimate on this bill was that doing nothing would cost between $2.9 and $5.9 billion, and I think air quality is one of those things we need to continue to be vigilant about, given its implications for asthma and a host of other air quality related health complications.

In fact, air pollution is one of those issues that highlights the tension that exists between the rights of the public at large and those of the particular, the way in which air pollution doesn’t necessarily stay inside property lines. If, for example, your neighbor burns tires and there’s a breeze, the smell and toxins from that activity can easily travel onto your land. The question then becomes, should you have to breathe these fumes? In many ways, air quality continues to be a national problem, as we’ve seen the number of Americans diagnosed with asthma go from 20 million to 25 million over only seven years. That’s nearly 2,000 additional people people a day.

Conservative philosophy would say that one person’s rights only extend to the point where they begin to infringe on another person’s. In this case, it strikes me as reasonable to draw the line in a place that respects an individual’s right to breathe relatively clean air. Determining to a fairly specific degree where that line exists is indeed the legitimate role of courts and the Congress.

Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1973 in hopes of getting under control what was becoming a national problem. One of the pollutants that was included in the plain text of the law was ozone, which is a toxic gas that forms most commonly when smog from smokestacks or car exhaust makes contact with sunlight. There are a number of studies from the EPA and universities that suggest that ozone damages people’s lungs, shortens people’s life expectancy, and hurts agriculture. Given that the bill delayed regulations intended to reduce this toxic air pollutant by eight years, and the EPA’s authority to regulate is specifically laid out in law, I thought it was reasonable to vote no.