Consider for a moment that 175 million Americans, more than ever before, will officially be living in areas with unhealthy air next year. That’s no hoax. The number comes from President Bush’s 2005 budget request. That staggering toll is unacceptable in the most technologically advanced nation on earth. Outdoor air that does not meet national health-based standards exposes all of us to increased risks of asthma, lung and heart disease and reduced life expectancy. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that approximately 20,000 people are dying prematurely every year due to the fine particulate matter that is emitted from poorly controlled, coal-fired power plants. Nearly all of this type of pollution is coming from inefficient fossil fuel combustion. Certainly we have made great strides in reducing emissions since the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970. Most major sources of pollution, with the exception of approximately 200 old, dirty power plants, have been required by the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments to take significant steps to reduce toxic and harmful emissions. However, those reductions have not necessarily restored national air quality to a healthy level. As a report from the National Academy of Sciences (“Air Quality Management in the United States”) recently indicated, we still must do far more to reduce dangerous emissions. We simply cannot afford to delay. In 1997, the Clinton administration, after careful review of the science and medical data on the human-health effects of exposure to ozone and fine particulate matter, decided to set more stringent national air quality standards. Industry lawyers fought those all the way to the Supreme Court and lost decisively. But the legal challenge delayed the implementation of those critical standards by at least seven years. That delay resulted in more air pollution and more harm to the economy, the environment and public health. According to independent estimates by EPA-sanctioned researchers Abt Associates, the annual national economic and public-health losses due to failure to meet the ozone standard nationally would include more than 387,400 asthma attacks, almost 4,900 hospitalizations due to respiratory distress and more than 573,300 missed school days. In Texas alone, it would amount to 18,500 asthma attacks, more than 200 hospitalizations, 28,000 lost school days, 57,800 acute respiratory cases and 29 emergency-room visits for every year of delay. That is a huge toll in human productivity and suffering. Now the Republican leadership, under pressure from the Bush administration, has put forward a scaled-back energy bill that would once again delay action on clean air. S. 2095, as introduced by Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), includes a provision authored by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) that was inserted into the earlier failed energy-bill conference report. This provision, which never saw the light of day in the Senate or the House, has not even been subject to hearings or debate and is not supported by any public-health organization. The Barton provision would destroy the current approach set forth in the Clean Air Act to attain the ozone standard, thereby creating uncertainty and obstructing efforts to ensure cleaner and clearer air. This section would force EPA to allow non-attainment areas to avoid reducing air pollution and meet the national health-based air quality standards. The provision extends the deadline by many years for communities to meet the ozone standard, until the area with the worst air quality is finally cleaned up. It would require the EPA to reclassify areas as less polluted than monitoring data show them to be. Therefore, the public would be unknowingly exposed to dangerous air-pollution emissions for more time than under existing law. The change is blatantly unfair to states that have already achieved compliance with the Clean Air Act’s national standards. A national energy policy that requires gutting the Clean Air Act is a monumental mistake and a tremendous step backward. Instead of undermining our environmental and health standards, we should be seeking sources of energy that can meet those standards and the challenge of global climate change. The federal government should be investing heavily in cleaner, more efficient and renewable generation and strongly rewarding conservation whenever possible. The technology is here for major leaps in the use of renewable and less-carbon-intensive electricity production. American innovation and leadership can develop the energy technologies necessary to build a cleaner, greener economy. I will actively oppose S. 2095, particularly the Barton provision. We cannot afford any more delay on clean air. Public health should not be traded for corporate profit. Jeffords is ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.