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First Health Protections Against Coal Plants' Toxic Air Unveiled

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16 March 2011, 10:52 AM
Protections will save 17,000 lives every year, protect children's health
Administrator Lisa Jackson and students this morning. Photo:

Two decades ago, Congress promised the American public major reductions of the most dangerous air pollutants—toxics such as mercury, arsenic and lead that cause major health problems and can lead even to premature death. Today, after a long struggle in which Earthjustice proudly participated, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took historic action to clean up the worst of all toxic air offenders: coal-fired power plants.

These unrivaled sources of toxic air pollution—which damage our lungs and hearts, threaten the health and well-being of children across the U.S., and contribute to the toxic burden shouldered by low-income and communities of color—have never been required to limit their emissions of toxic air. Until now.

At a press conference this morning, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced her agency’s new health protections against these dangerous pollution sources and signed the proposal flanked by kids from a local elementary school in S.W. Washington, D.C. Cleaning up coal-fired power plants will create a better, cleaner future for these and other kids across the country. One particularly notable example: when the health protections take effect in 2016, the EPA estimates that as many as 17,000 lives will be saved… every year.

Administrator Jackson was joined at the podium by Charles D. Connor, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, O. Marion Burton, M.D., president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Jonathan Truwit, M.D., a critical care and pulmonary medicine specialist at the University of Virginia Medical Center. These public health professionals each made compelling cases that reducing coal plants’ toxic pollution will save lives and improve our health.

As the mother of a child with asthma, Jackson understands firsthand the impact air pollution can have on people, particularly vulnerable populations like kids, the elderly and individuals with pre-existing respiratory problems. Jackson noted that these health protections will prevent up to 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms every year.

Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew has been integrally involved in ensuring these long-awaited health protections are delivered to the public. He represented other groups in successful litigation that overturned a weak health standard adopted during the Bush administration. These efforts ultimately led to the establishment of a deadline (today) for proposing this critical toxic air pollution standard.

Upon the EPA’s announcement today, Jim commented:

For decades, our nation’s dirtiest polluters have been able to pollute with impunity… This pollution leads to lung and heart disease, cancer, learning disorders and even death.

Today’s proposal to regulate these toxic air pollutants illustrates a commitment by the EPA to follow the law and protect public health. Every year, thousands of American die as a result of dirty and unregulated pollution, and for years this tragedy has been ignored. The EPA must move forward with the strongest toxic air pollution limits for power plants, and ensure protections for our health, our communities and our children.

The fight for the right to breathe is not yet won, however. When the EPA takes public comment on its proposal, you can be certain that the polluters that will be forced to clean up under these standards will push back hard. We cannot allow them to weaken, delay or block these protections.

Your individual voice will be instrumental in this process. Consider attending a public hearing on the proposal, tentatively scheduled for Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia. Sign the Right to Breathe Declaration and we will keep you informed of how to contact the EPA and make your voice heard.

After reading this it has come to my attention of the fact that we are only concerned about "our" health effects, and/or related scenarios due to the mining and other destructive measures used to generate energy.

Would it be inconsiderate of me to inform all of us here as to what is really going on ? The total System we all call Earth, is being mistreated due to our committed misuse of the very resource we all were given, Life.

When any substantiate species, (us) begins to see our way into introducing ourselves as the deciding factor, without generating any beneficial service towards the very substance that grants us the experience, only goes to show of our inept behavior to the very source with which gives us all our opportunity to Live.

Maybe we could see it in our hearts to look at what we are doing to the "whole" system, not just at us.

I guess the lives of the 85,000 people who will die in the next 5 years while we are waiting for the polluters to clean up there act can go to their graves in peace knowing that someday there will be breathable air.

Great effort! but I don't believe we have 5 more years to wait for anymore doublespeak/action from the EPA. Mother Earth is taking herself back with a vengeance! ><

Thank God; for a while there I thought we were just going to have to hold our breath all during peak electrical usage. Now it's just ten minutes every hour.

Oh my -It must be late. Recognizing my typographical errors I have to resubmit. The earlier message should read, By this time....currently being affected by the coal ash will continue to suffer through another election. Thanks for allowing the correction. jtmjournal

Please, can you help?

Thank you so much Earthjustice for campaigning against these coal power plants!

I celebrate with Earth Justice the courage of the beleagured EPA in promising to take significant action to make coal-fired plants clean up their pollution. I hope it will get enough public support to be able to exert influence toward having no more coal-fired plants built. We must reduce and as quickly as possible eliminate our reliance on this energy source that is killing our miners, destroying the health of thousands of children, and raising allergy rates nationwide. Coal is not and can never be clean energy. All of us should make every effort to reduce our consumption of this killer fuel.

Why do they have five more years to do their dirty work? Why did the EPA not have them fix their mess in two years? Or less?

This is indeed historic, but probably won't make it on the evening news! Thank you, Earthjustice, for keeping the pressure on! I am proud to be a sustaining supporter.

Thanks Earth Justice! Why do we have to wait another five years. By this time another President will be elected and this decision will be overturned and the quiet and poor individuals that are currently be affected by the coal ash will continue for another election. What an injustice!

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