Amer­i­can Lung As­so­ci­a­tion a backer of cli­mate change agenda

Data ma­nip­u­la­tion helps Obama push

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

It’s not your par­ents’ Amer­i­can Lung As­so­ci­a­tion any­more.

The iconic or­ga­ni­za­tion — for­merly best known for its highly suc­cess­ful an­ti­smok­ing ini­tia­tives — in re­cent years has un­der­gone a dra­matic trans­for­ma­tion and now lends its re­spected voice and iden­ti­fi­able brand to Pres­i­dent Obama’s cli­mate change agenda, of­ten act­ing in lock­step with en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists and lib­er­als on Capi­tol Hill.

ALA of­fi­cials ad­mit their broader strat­egy has mor­phed dur­ing Mr. Obama’s time in the White House, say­ing they rec­og­nize sig­nif­i­cant “pol­icy op­por­tu­ni­ties” that come with a pres­i­dent who has vowed to make cli­mate change a cen­ter­piece of his fi­nal years in of­fice.

But crit­ics say the ALA has strayed so far from its roots that it now has be­come lit­tle more than a po­lit­i­cal arm of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion — a de­vel­op­ment some de­trac­tors see as deeply of­fen­sive given that many Amer­i­cans sim­ply aren’t fa­mil­iar with the group’s ide­o­log­i­cal stances and may be more will­ing to heed its warn­ings about the dan­gers of cli­mate change, es­pe­cially the health risks it poses to chil­dren.

“It’s ab­hor­rent to me that they seem to be ex­ploit­ing chil­dren to ad­vance this agenda. … They have ba­si­cally be­come the PR firm for the EPA,” said Thomas Pyle, pres­i­dent of the con­ser­va­tive In­sti­tute for En­ergy Re­search. “It’s frus­trat­ing be­cause the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s mis­sion, its stated mis­sion, is pure. But I think they’ve cer­tainly lost their way. I think they’ve gone be­yond that.”

In ad­di­tion to its broader en­vi­ron­men­tal agenda, the or­ga­ni­za­tion also has come un­der fire from state reg­u­la­tors who charge the group has ma­nip­u­lated clean-air data in an ef­fort to scare Amer­i­cans into sup­port­ing even harsher pol­lu­tion con­trols.

Aside from spe­cific ques­tions about ALA’s pre­sen­ta­tion of air-qual­ity in­for­ma­tion across the na­tion, there’s lit­tle doubt the group has be­come po­lit­i­cally di­vi­sive. While also be­com­ing a pub­lic face for Mr. Obama’s ef­forts to re­strict car­bon pol­lu­tion from power plants, tighten the fed­eral ozone stan­dard and take other high-pro­file steps, the ALA has gone be­yond words and has al­lied it­self with the White House and en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists in the le­gal realm.

Last week the ALA said it would “for­mally in­ter­vene to le­gally de­fend the Clean Power Plan,” an EPA pro­posal de­signed to limit car­bon pol­lu­tion from power plants and shrink U.S. coal use. A coali­tion of states, along with ma­jor en­ergy com­pa­nies, has chal­lenged the reg­u­la­tions in fed­eral court.

The ALA has been a full-throated sup­porter of the plan through­out the EPA’s lengthy rule-mak­ing process, which led up to the pro­posal’s for­mal re­lease ear­lier this year. The ALA also has run ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns in sup­port of spe­cific as­pects of Mr. Obama’s en­vi­ron­men­tal push, in­clud­ing the harsher ozone stan­dards.

Some of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s lead­ers say those moves are just the lat­est ex­am­ples of ALA rec­og­niz­ing that Mr. Obama’s ten­ure rep­re­sents the best chance to im­ple­ment strong cli­mate change poli­cies and, in the process, they ar­gue, re­duce asthma cases and other health threats.

“The body of re­search has grown sig­nif­i­cantly over the last few years, show­ing some of the res­pi­ra­tory im­pacts of cli­mate change. … So over the last six or seven years, we’ve be­come more en­gaged in th­ese top­ics and re­ally in­creased our en­gage­ment as the pol­icy op­por­tu­ni­ties” have arisen, said Paul Billings, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of ad­vo­cacy and ed­u­ca­tion with the ALA.

He went on to deny claims that the group has be­come a par­ti­san weapon, a charge in­creas­ingly lev­eled at the ALA by top law­mak­ers on Capi­tol Hill and other op­po­nents of Mr. Obama’s cli­mate strat­egy.

“The [Amer­i­can] Lung As­so­ci­a­tion has a 50-year his­tory of work­ing on air pol­lu­tion is­sues … we’re strictly non­par­ti­san. We’ve worked with Democrats and Repub­li­cans in Congress.”

In­deed, the ALA worked closely with law­mak­ers in both par­ties to en­act key changes in pol­icy, in­clud­ing the land­mark 1990 amend­ments to the fed­eral Clean Air Act.

In re­cent years, how­ever, the ALA has ac­tively at­tacked Repub­li­cans who op­pose Mr. Obama’s en­vi­ron­men­tal plans. In Fe­bru­ary 2012, for ex­am­ple, the group specif­i­cally blasted Sen. James M. In­hofe, Ok­la­homa Repub­li­can and chair­man of the Sen­ate Com­mit­tee on En­vi­ron­ment and Pub­lic Works, for push­ing leg­is­la­tion to block the EPA’s mercury and air toxic stan­dards.

Those stan­dards were tossed by the Supreme Court ear­lier this year.

The ALA’s evolv­ing mis­sion also has co­in­cided with a drop in its fundrais­ing, ac­cord­ing to IRS records.

In 2009, for ex­am­ple, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s financial forms show $18 mil­lion in “gifts, grants, con­tri­bu­tions and mem­ber­ship fees.” In 2013 that fig­ure shrunk to $6 mil­lion, records show.

Amid that drop, the ALA’s bat­tles with Mr. In­hofe and other top law­mak­ers on Capi­tol Hill have in­ten­si­fied.

Mr. In­hofe ar­gues the ALA has joined the ranks of the Sierra Club, the Nat­u­ral Resources De­fense Coun­cil and other groups that have en­joyed un­prece­dented ac­cess to, and wield sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ence over, ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy, in­clud­ing those at the high­est lev­els of the EPA.

“Close co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the EPA and ALA is noth­ing new … ALA has worked hand-in-hand with EPA to is­sue some of the most far-reach­ing reg­u­la­tions,” Mr. In­hofe said in a state­ment. “De­spite prom­ises of an open and pub­lic reg­u­la­tory process, the Obama-EPA has ush­ered in an era of out­sized ac­cess to en­vi­ron­men­tal al­lies like the ALA.”

Mr. Billings de­nied that the ALA has more ac­cess to the ad­min­is­tra­tion than any other group, in­clud­ing oil-and-gas industry or­ga­ni­za­tions.

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