50 States United for Healthy Air: 2013 Event: Issues

Now is the time that we need strong federal standards limiting
coal ash, air pollution, and carbon pollution.
Federal officials, members of Congress and President Obama have a responsibility
to allow the U.S. EPA to establish science-based regulations that protect our health.
A cloud of toxic  coal ash  blows like a sandstorm, from the Reid Gardner Power Plant straight at the homes on the Moapa River Reservation near Las Vegas, NV.
A cloud of toxic coal ash blows like a sandstorm, from the Reid Gardner Power Plant straight at the homes on the Moapa River Reservation near Las Vegas, NV. (Moapa Band of Paiutes)
Smog chokes Pheonix, AZ.
 Air pollution , like ozone and soot, is linked to premature deaths, increased asthma attacks and breathing problems.
Smog chokes Pheonix, AZ. Ozone is linked to premature deaths, increased asthma attacks and breathing problems. (PDPhoto)
Power plants, like the Cheswick Generating Station in Springdale, PA, account for the biggest share of the  carbon pollution  emitted by the United States.
Power plants, like the Cheswick Generating Station in Springdale, PA, account for the biggest share of the carbon pollution emitted by the United States. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)
Coal Ash
Coal ash is the leftover waste from coal-fired power plants that is filled with toxic metals that poison air and water supplies all across America. It is the second largest industrial waste stream in America and is essentially unregulated.

Coal-fired power plants generate about 140 million tons of fly ash, scrubber sludge, and other combustion wastes each year—an amount that would fill a continuous line of train cars stretching from the North Pole to the South Pole.

These wastes contain some of the earth's most deadly pollutants and have the potential to injure all major organ systems. Yet, no federal standards exist to regulate how coal ash is disposed or recycled.

Dumped into unlined ponds or mines across the country, the toxins from coal ash readily leach into drinking water supplies. There have been more than 200 documented cases of coal ash pond failures and water contamination, and the EPA has determined that a catastrophic failure at more than 50 coal ash sites would result in the deaths of nearby residents.

In 2010, the EPA proposed a plan to set federally enforceable safeguards of coal ash pollution. Years later, a final rule is still nowhere in sight. But some members of Congress have been busy—not working to protect Americans, but rather to allow the power companies responsible for these poisons to continue polluting our waters and air.

Meanwhile, communities across the United States continue to bear the true impacts of toxic coal ash pollution.

Air Pollution
The health impacts of ozone (smog) and fine particulate matter (soot) pollution are well documented—children wheezing with asthma, days of school and work missed due to illness, serious diseases such as cancer, and even premature death.

Far too many Americans are breathing dirty air and suffering. Strong health protections from the EPA, covering power plants, industrial boilers, and particulate matter pollution have the potential to save lives and foster healthy communities and a stronger economy.

Ozone is a powerful irritant that leaves the lungs inflamed, as though they were sunburned. Ozone air pollution causes premature death, asthma attacks and other breathing problems. It can send people to emergency rooms and hospitals due to lung distress. These health impacts are disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable—children, the elderly, and persons already suffering from respiratory ailments.

The current limits on smog do little to protect public health and ignore scientific recommendations that would curb pollution and protect sensitive populations. The EPA's own science advisors have repeatedly and unanimously called for protective ozone standards, as have the nation's leading medical and health organizations, including the American Lung Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Heart Association, and American Medical Association.

Soot is a known killer—science clearly indicates soot's connections to premature death, heart and lung damage, and potentially even cancer and developmental and reproductive harm.

Soot comes from coal-fired power plants, factories, diesel vehicles and other sources. Composed of microscopic particles that can lodge deep within the lungs, soot often triggers respiratory harm and even premature death. Prevailing winds can carry soot across state and county lines

In the United States, asthma is a public health epidemic: 17 million adults and 7 million children suffer from the disease. Every year, our society pays in excess of $53 billion to treat it. Millions of asthmatics, including hundreds of thousands of kids, make visits to the emergency room for medical attention. And in thousands of severe cases, people die.

Carbon Pollution
Carbon pollution is a major driver of climate change, which threatens our health, livelihood and security from extreme weather, rising sea levels and other dangerous impacts.
Power plants, like the Cheswick Generating Station in Springdale, PA, account for the biggest share of the carbon pollution emitted by the United States. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)
The coal-fired Cheswick Generating Station in Springdale, PA.  (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

Rising levels of carbon contribute to rising temperatures. Warmer temperature intensify smog pollution and its health impacts. Children and seniors are particularly vulnerable to increased smog pollution as it can lead to asthma attacks.

The EPA is on a path toward putting protections in place to help stave off these and other public health threats through industrial carbon pollution standards.

In 2010, the EPA and the Department of Transportation announced the "Clean Cars Rule," the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from cars and light trucks. And two years later, the EPA proposed precedent-setting standards to limit industrial carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants built in the future, a strong step that will protect our health and welfare and climate change. If finalized, these standards will spur innovation and reduce the effects of climate change that worsen smog and triggers asthma attacks and other health consequences.

Yet, polluters and their allies in Congress are attempting to block safeguards against industrial carbon pollution. The coal industry has long protested such standards, refusing to modernize and resisting newer technologies.

The need for protections from industrial carbon pollution is supported by hundreds of studies and the world's leading climate scientists. Climate change is occurring now and poses very real threats to life, health and welfare.