Among the big questions November's presidential election will address are how Americans feel about the environment and whether they are comfortable with the role of its guardian, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Judging by their actions, Republicans in Congress have made up their mind.
Like their party's presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, they are convinced that the EPA is a prime villain in a regulatory overload that they say is crushing the economy. They have launched dozens of bills and amendments that seek to gut the EPA's regulatory powers.
Voters should remember the calculation that places unfettered commerce above public health when the discussion turns to soot. Forced by a federal court to abide by the Clean Air Act, the EPA has updated its air-quality standards for fine-particle pollution, including soot. The new standard would lower the amount of soot permitted from diesel trucks, buses, and power plants.
Microscopic particles of pollutants can penetrate deep into the lungs. They are linked to serious health issues: premature death, heart attacks, strokes, acute bronchitis, and asthma in children.
By contrast, a healthier population means lower health-care costs. The EPA says 99 percent of U.S. counties are projected to meet the proposed soot standard without further action.
Americans will hear a lot about "red tape" between now and November. They also should think about red corpuscles, and take a deep breath. Is that air good enough to fill their lungs?