By Christine Todd Whitman
September 24, 2013

House Republicans this week sought to bargain for the debt ceiling increase President Obama is requesting with a laundry list of policy prescriptions, including a broad rollback of air and water quality regulations. Making the reversal of environmental regulations a bargaining chip is unwise and short-sighted.

Because of environmental regulation of a variety of areas, including automobiles and industry, the air is cleaner in America. Compared to 1970, we have three times more cars on the road, and yet we have a fraction of the pollution. Air is not the only beneficiary of regulatory action – waterways have been cleaned, providing recreational and drinking water around the country. In 1970 Lake Erie was written off completely; it now supports a multi-million dollar fishing industry.

It is this kind of long-term thinking – particularly in the midst of a debate over our nation’s debt, a truly long-term notion – that our Congress needs to foster. Yes, environmental protection costs money. But let us not forget that the Environmental Protection Agency was founded in 1970 because people were being hospitalized in record numbers during bad air days and rivers were spontaneously combusting due to contaminants.

We are far from free of the environmental challenges facing our country and we are learning about new ones every day. Asthma is currently at epidemic levels in this country – it is the single largest cause of missed school days. We know asthma is, at the very least, exacerbated by particulate matter in the air. We don’t need to be undoing air quality regulations; we need to be strengthening them – quite literally for the sake of our children’s health.

Pundits and politicians tend to present economic development and environmental regulation as opponents in a zero-sum game. Such a view is foolish; we need to take a longer-term view of the affects that our actions towards our surroundings have on our health and our safety – two resources that once lost cannot simply be repurchased.