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Scott Manley, the mouthpiece for the state's big business lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, is continuing his crusade against the Environmental Protection Agency and its plan to reduce the amount of global warming carbon dioxide that coal-powered power plants are spewing into the atmosphere.

Manley's been writing guest columns for newspapers around the state, claiming that the cost of the EPA air quality standards "is staggering," citing estimates from the Scott Walker-appointed Public Service Commission that the costs could tally between $3.4 and $13.4 billion for electricity users in the state.

And if that isn't alarmist enough, he says the EPA's new ozone rules designed to reduce smog-producing gases would cost the U.S. $140 million each year. Plus, he claims, there will be 23,000 Wisconsin jobs lost.

In other words, in WMC's world, the EPA is on a crusade to tank the U.S. economy, make American companies less competitive and force utility ratepayers to give up feeding their kids.

Never mentioned, of course, is that utilities and manufacturers have many years to meet these new standards. Neither do these groups give any consideration to the reasons behind the new air quality standards — the health of American citizens, especially those prone to or suffering from lung diseases, and the dangers that continued global warming could mean to the planet and its inhabitants.

WMC and other entrenched special interests would rather fight at every turn a reduction in ground-level ozone particles from 75 parts per billion to 70 than cooperate on improving air quality by gradually turning to alternative energy sources that not only could help reduce costs but create thousands of new jobs. Who says that by 2030 enlightened power companies and manufacturers won't find ways to painlessly help improve the quality of the air we breathe?

Dr. Claire Gervais, a family practice physician with UW Health, for instance, doesn't buy Manley's put-down of the EPA.

"The Clean Power Plan will protect thousands of lives lost to premature death by cutting dangerous soot and smog that makes people sick and keeps children with asthma out of school. For every dollar spent cutting carbon pollution, $7 will be saved through health benefits," she has said.

But, alarmingly, today's corporate business lobbies don't appear interested in helping improve the quality of Americans' health.

While Manley and some of his dues-paying manufacturing-sector members are opposing tougher air emission rules here in Wisconsin, the national Chamber of Commerce is spending tens of millions to — would you believe? — fight efforts to curb the use of tobacco.

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The New York Times reported recently that under the direction of the Chamber's chief executive, Thomas J. Donohue, the U.S. Chamber has lobbied not only the U.S. government, but is now concentrating on foreign countries that buy U.S. tobacco products, to try to prevent health warnings on cigarette packages and anti-smoking rules in public places.

The U.S. Chamber strongly opposed the U.S. Justice Department's suits against American tobacco companies several years back, but after losing that battle has now concentrated on restrictions in other countries. The Times reported that the Chamber has opposed an excise tax on tobacco in the Philippines, cigarette advertising bans in Uruguay and restrictions on smoking in public places in Moldova. It tried to get Ireland to back off of that country's requirement that cigarette packages contain pictures of cancerous lungs and other health problems, but the Irish refused.

The tobacco companies, of course, pay a lot of dues to the national Chamber and, according to the Times, Donohue has been masterful at improving its revenues during his time at the helm.

Admittedly, it's understandable that special interest organizations need to fight for their members. But shouldn't there be some responsibility to a greater good in the end?  

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel

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