We Can Breathe Easier Thanks to Bush 41 George H.W. Bush Muscled through Landmark Legislation to Protect the Environment

By Medina, Monica | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), December 4, 2018 | Go to article overview

We Can Breathe Easier Thanks to Bush 41 George H.W. Bush Muscled through Landmark Legislation to Protect the Environment


Medina, Monica, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


In August 1988, during a tough presidential election campaign, one candidate said in a speech, "Those who think we're powerless to do anything about the greenhouse effect are forgetting about the White House effect." Some might be surprised to learn that the speaker wasn't the Democratic candidate, it was then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. As the nation mourns the former president's death, his legacy as a Republican environmentalist who put in place fundamental protections against air pollution and climate change should be at the top of the list of his accomplishments.

It is difficult to understate the importance to the nation's health and welfare of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, and Mr. Bush played a pivotal role in their passage. The legislation was hopelessly mired in Congress until Mr. Bush used presidential muscle to break a logjam and get it passed.

The updating of the 1970 law remains the most sweeping and comprehensive environmental statute on the books. It created the first "cap and trade" program, which ultimately ended the industrial air pollution causing "acid rain" that had blighted large parts of the country. The program's use of market mechanisms provides a blueprint for controlling all air pollution that contributes to global warming.

The law also paved the way for the requirement for cleaner-running cars and clean fuels that have radically reduced pollution from smog in the United States. And it provided the government with the ability to control 189 toxic substances that had poisoned the air and to require permits from individual sources of pollution. Citizens were empowered to bring lawsuits seeking penalties against violators to ensure the law's enforcement.

In the decades since Mr. Bush championed the law's passage, its impacts on the nation's health and productivity have been profound. According to a 2011 Environmental Protection Agency study, in its first 20 years, the law had the effect of reducing premature deaths by 160,000, heart attacks by 130,000 and hospital admissions by 86,000. In the process, it resulted in 13 million fewer lost workdays. Children were healthier, too: The reduction of respiratory illnesses and other diseases related to air pollution meant 3.2 million school days were not lost. …

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