Surprises Arise at Clean Air Public Forum
"This morning's testimony was so moving, I wish I'd had tissues with me," said one speaker. "It never occurred to me that I would need them at an EPA public hearing."
And yet, I saw more than a few tear-stained cheeks when Lydia Rojas recounted the heartbreaking story of how her 15-year-old daughter lost her life because of a severe asthma attack. Fighting back her own tears, Rojas asked the Environmental Protection Agency officials present to do everything in their power to ensure that strong limits are placed on the amount of fine particle pollution—a.k.a. soot—that's in our air.
The room was packed when I arrived at the public hearing in downtown Sacramento—the second of only two such events across the country focused on EPA's recent proposal to further limit emissions of deadly air pollution. The first hearing happened on Tuesday in Philadelphia.
Over the course of the day, dozens of parents, kids, doctors, community members and health advocates spoke in favor of strong limits on soot. Jose Hernandez, a high-school football player and runner from Fresno, told the EPA panel how the winter-air gets thick with pollution, making practice difficult. In addition to his own shortness of breath, he notices difficulties related to dirty air in members of the youth soccer team that he coaches. "I want to make sure that when I have kids, they have every opportunity for a healthy future," he said. "We need to clean up the air so my child can live up to his or her fullest potential." (See a photo slideshow of the public hearing.)
Earthjustice attorney Paul Cort: "The thing that sticks with you most about the hearing today are the stories from people who are describing how air pollution affects them personally." (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)
The top five most polluted U.S. cities for both daily and annual soot pollution are all in California. Recent research predicts that a strong soot standard could prevent more than 8,000 early deaths in California, and nearly 36,000 nationwide, every year.
Paul Cort is the Earthjustice attorney whose litigation on behalf of the American Lung Association and National Parks Conservation Association spurred the EPA to action with its recent proposal. He testified at the hearing and called for final limits that go beyond what the agency proposed.
"The thing that sticks with you most about the hearing today are the stories from people who are describing how air pollution affects them personally," said Cort. "There was one woman who testified today who told the story of her 15-year-old daughter who died of an asthma attack. That is powerful stuff, and it's important for EPA to hear. It brings it home. It reminds them of why these decisions matter."
Hear more from Cort in this week's edition of EJ90, Earthjustice's environmental news podcast:
The EPA officials present seemed to agree. They repeatedly thanked members of the public who made the trip—quite long in some cases—to provide personal stories of how air pollution has impacted them. These personal stories were a striking contrast to the testimony of the few representatives of polluting industries who showed up, whose comments were largely technical.
Members of the public still have an opportunity to provide comments to the EPA. I strongly encourage everyone to take action and join our call for strong limits on soot pollution. During the hearing and a lunchtime media event in the park across the street, young kids ran around sporting "Don't Trash Our Lungs" t-shirts and "I Love Clean Air" stickers. Their presence was an important reminder that dirty air really does have an impact on people's lives, particularly the youngest among us.
The personal stories from members of the public were a striking contrast to the testimony of the few representatives of polluting industries who showed up, whose comments were largely technical.
(Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)