As the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled sweeping new rules on carbon dioxide emissions Monday, Democratic lawmakers spent as much time talking about childhood asthma as they did about global warming.
"The destructive effect of unrestrained carbon pollution is felt not only in rising temperatures and increased, more powerful natural disasters, but also in higher asthma rates in our children," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
"We already restrict mercury and arsenic pollution – it’s time we did the same for toxic carbon pollution."
It was a striking rhetorical move at a time when views among the two parties on global warming are far apart, with many Republicans skeptical about the science behind it.
Some Democrats mentioned the environment in their reactions to the proposed rules but still found a way to work in references to health.
"As a mother, I’m concerned about the detrimental effects of pollution on our children’s health," the Florida congresswoman said. "Already, carbon pollution has contributed to increased asthma attacks among Americans, particularly among the African American and Hispanic communities."
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, said administration's plan would prevent as many as 6,600 premature deaths, 150,000 asthma attacks in children and 490,000 missed school and work days in 2030.
And Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the public health and climate benefits of reducing smog and soot air pollution, as promised by the EPA proposal, would be worth up to $93 billion per year in 2030.
"We know inaction on climate change only costs us money in the long run," he said. "The Government Accountability Office has already listed climate change as one of the biggest fiscal risks facing our country."
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., also touted the plan's proposed health benefits, saying that the world is looking to the United States "to take the lead against the dangerous effects of climate change."
"Climate change is being measured not only in meteorologists’ hard data but in the daily lives of average Americans, who are experiencing higher rates of asthma, rising food and energy costs, extreme weather events and economic uncertainty caused by the potential for global conflicts over dwindling natural resources," Hoyer said.
"Climate change is real, and we must come together as a nation to meet this important challenge, not ignore it."
Other Democrats preferred to argue that the rules will help boost the economy, countering Republicans who said that they will pose a heavy financial burden on energy companies.
"With the Clean Power Plan, we kill two birds with one stone – we curb the amount of carbon being released into our atmosphere and encourage more investment and job creation in the clean and renewable energy sectors, such as wind and solar," said Rep. Rául Grijalva, D-Ariz., a member of the House Natural Resources Committee.
But Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, whose state is heavily reliant on the coal industry, was predictably less enthusiastic about the president's initiative. While not denying existence of climate change, he said the plan "appears to be more about desirability rather than reliability or feasibility" with little regard for how it would impact the U.S. economy.
“Fossil fuel energy is vital to our nation’s economy and security," the conservative Democrat said. "Government needs to work as an ally, not as an adversary, when it comes to developing our nation’s energy policies."
"I stand ready to work with this administration and the [Environmental Protection Agency] to develop commonsense solutions that strike a balance between a prosperous economy and a cleaner environment."