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Imperium Watch: A Breath of Fresh Air

The EPA and FDA resume their roles as guardians of public health.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

While the nation remains fixated on Obama's health care policy, two federal agencies have addressed perennial health issues: the effects of air pollution and of dosing livestock with antibiotics.

The agencies' health-promoting measures have gotten lost in the health care shuffle. But beyond their immediate effects, the initiatives may restore some faith in the bureaucracies that protect our health. They have been a breath of fresh air after years of backpedaling by federal regulators.

This summer, 14 states received permission from the Environmental Protection Agency to set global warming pollution standards for cars. California had led the charge for the standards, but was denied the ability to implement them under President Bush. Now California has been granted a waiver by EPA under the Clean Air Act to regulate cars, beginning with new models. The standard has also been adopted by Washington, D.C. and 13 states beside California, including Massachusetts and Vermont. Advocates say drivers will pay less money at the pumps and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

More broadly, the way EPA addresses pollution control has taken a swing toward the more scientific. The Bush administration had marginalized the participation of scientists when issuing air quality standards, eliminating their input in parts of the regulatory process. In May, EPA announced that it will once again use analysis by scientific experts when making air quality decisions on ozone, particle pollution, lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide.

Finally, in a move that addresses the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture, an official from the Food and Drug Administration announced in July that the agency would set limits on the use of antibiotics on livestock. About 70 percent of antibiotic use in the U. S. is for prevention of disease in livestock and other nontherapeutic purposes, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Because the industry keeps animals penned in close quarters, the drugs are used to prevent the spread of infection and promote growth. Scientists believe overuse renders the drugs less effective at fighting infections in humans, since diseases evolve and become antibiotic-resistant.

The health care debate has produced enough evidence of corporate greed and government ineffectiveness to sicken all of us. These new efforts provide a ray of hope that we may be headed in a healthier direction.

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