Santorum: EPA 'Hates Blue-Collar Americans'

January 03, 2012 5:25 pm ET — Kate Conway

Rick Santorum

With GOP presidential contender Rick Santorum wobbling somewhere among the top three candidates ahead of today's Iowa caucuses, he's found himself in an unexpected lead over the other "values voters" candidates — Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN). But it seems that Santorum is having a hard time balancing his commitment to faith-based positions with the virulent right-wing antagonism towards the Environmental Protection Agency that's virtually a requisite for today's conservative candidates. Yesterday, Santorum lit into the EPA over its newly released rule limiting emissions of mercury and other air toxins from coal-fired power plants. Via CNN:

Speaking to voters in Iowa Monday, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania ripped the Environmental Protection Agency's new rule placing first-ever limits on the amount of mercury that coal-fired power plants can emit into the air.

The GOP presidential contender claimed the new regulations would shut down 60 coal fired power plants in America, and he charged the EPA with basing its study on a philosophy of: "We hate carbon, we hate fossil fuels, we hate blue-collar Americans who work in those areas."

He specifically took issue with the agency's cost-benefit analysis, calling it "absolutely ridiculous" and "not based on any kind of science."

But the EPA's cost-benefit analysis cites peer-reviewed studies extensively in its 510-page "Regulatory Impact Analysis of the Final Mercury and Air Toxics Standards," which has been two decades in the making.

Santorum's dismissal of the EPA's mercury rule is at odds with scores of faith-based groups who support the rule for a variety of reasons, ranging from a belief that humans have a "biblical mandate to protect nature" to a commitment protecting fetal health, which is threatened by mercury emissions. Over 100 evangelical leaders have signed a letter calling for stricter mercury regulations, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has spoken out in favor of tougher emissions standards. Catholics United publicly welcomed the EPA's rule.

While the health threat mercury poses may have united faith communities against the GOP line, it's those same health risks that make Santorum's accusation that the EPA is driven by a hatred for blue-collar Americans so absurd. In fact, according to a detailed EPA analysis, cracking down on toxic emissions will help those blue-collar workers Santorum is so concerned about in a number of ways.

The EPA estimates that its rule on air toxins will prevent up to 17,000 premature deaths in 2016 alone, in addition to helping avert billions of dollars in costs associated with nonfatal illness. Although those benefits will apply to many Americans, the rule will most help those who live close to power plants — and according to the EPA, within three miles of coal-fired power plants the proportion of the population living below the poverty line is greater than the national average. The EPA notes that "some EGUs [coal- and oil-fired electric utility steam generating units] emit enough Ni [nickel] or Cr [chromium] to cause elevated lifetime cancer risks greater than 1 in a million in nearby communities."

Notably, low-income workers who become ill are more likely to lose their jobs if they miss work due to the many illnesses impacted by toxic emissions:

Exposure [to PM2.5, a type of particulate matter] can cause premature death and trigger heart attacks, asthma attacks in children and adults with asthma, chronic and acute bronchitis, and emergency room visits and hospitalizations, as well as milder illnesses that keep children home from school and adults home from work. Missing work due to illness or the illness of a child is a particular problem for people who work jobs that do not provide paid sick days. Many low-wage employees also risk losing their jobs if they are absent too often, even if it is due to their own illness or the illness of a child or other relative. Finally, many individuals in these communities also lack access to high quality health care to treat these types of illnesses. Due to all these factors, many minority and low-income communities are particularly susceptible to the health effects of PM2.5 and receive many benefits from reducing it.

It's hard to argue that a rule with such direct and measurable benefits for so many — particularly those who don't live in wealthier, healthier communities — is driven by "hate" for working Americans. But Santorum is willing to ignore science, shirk common sense, and reject the position of a number of Catholic and evangelical leaders merely to join in on the right-wing assault on the EPA.