A coalition of over 100 “clean air ambassadors” — including nurses, physicians, clergy members, labor leaders, tribal leaders, and social justice activists — descended on Capitol Hill Wednesday to call on Congress to protect children, the elderly, the poor, and other vulnerable Americans from the health threats of air pollution, smog, and rising carbon emissions.
They represented a range of groups from all fifty states, as well as Puerto Rico, all organized under the “50 States United For Healthy Air” campaign. They spoke this week with elected officials to call for several needed changes:
1) Finalize new carbon limits for new power plants, and establish limits for existing power plants. The regulations for new plants are in the works, driven by a Supreme Court ruling that the executive branch has the power and legal obligation to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act. The Obama Administration hasn’t decided yet what to do about emissions from already existing plants, but the National Resources Defense Council recently came up with an impressive proposal. And this can all be done without the need for legislative approval from Congress.
As the “50 States United For Healthy Air” campaign notes, the rising temperatures driven by climate change intensify the damaging health effects of smog and other pollutants. On top of that, climate change can alter the spread of diseases and increase deaths due to heat waves, and all these effects fall harder on poorer and more vulnerable populations.
2) Finalize federally enforceable coal ash rules. Coal ash is created whenever coal is burned, and generators often then dump the toxic residue in landfills — which have given way on more than one occasion, leading to spills that are hazardous to both the environment and human health. Meanwhile, the EPA’s regulations of coal ash have been stuck in limbo for years.
3) Strengthen standards limiting air pollution and smog. Along with carbon dioxide, the burning of fossil fuels emits all sorts of other pollution into the air we breath, driving up rates of asthma, heart and lung disease, hospital visits and premature deaths. Again, these harms fall hardest on children, the old, the poor, and minorities.
Estimates of new EPA rules to crack down on these pollutants suggest the limits could prevent 21,600 premature deaths, 12,540 hospitalizations, 199,000 asthma cases each year. The rules include standards for power plants and industrial emitters, as well as the still-being -developed “Tier 3” standards for motor vehicles. But again, the rules are still awaiting finalization.
“50 States United For Healthy Air” includes representatives from the American Nurses Association, Earthjustice, the Hip Hop Caucus, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Council of Churches, the National Latino Coalition on Climate Change, and Physicians for Social Responsibility.