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The Right to Breathe

Twenty seven million Californians—80 percent of the state’s population—are exposed to emissions from ocean-going vessels, resulting in serious health impacts such as cancer, respiratory illnesses like asthma, as well as increasing the risk of heart disease. California estimates that the ships’ direct particulate emissions cause 300 premature deaths across the state every single year, even after excluding cancer effects.

Last year, the EPA proposed an air rule that would finally limit the amount of cancer-causing chemicals residents in Mossville, Louisiana would have to breathe from the polyvinyl chloride plant nearby. So it came as a blow when the EPA released a final rule that imposes weaker limits at the CertainTeed plant in Mossville—a facility that emits 19 tons of poisonous air pollutants a year.

The historical significance of the Environmental Protection Agency's recently proposed new limits on fine particle pollution, colloquially called soot, wasn't lost on a number of editorial pages. Soot is a known killer—the science clearly indicates soot's connections to premature death, heart and lung damage, and potentially even cancer and developmental and reproductive harm.

There are some straight spines left in the U.S. Senate, which today voted down a resolution from Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) that would have effectively exempted coal-fired power plants—the nation's worst air polluters—from Clean Air Act controls that limit mercury and other toxic emissions. This is a critical victory in the decades-long effort to protect communities from the egregious amounts of health-damaging pollutants that coal plants put in our air.

Edgar Mouton lived much of his 76 years in Mossville, Louisiana, and for the past decade fought doggedly to obtain federal protections from the toxic pollution that pours into Mossville from the largest concentration of PVC and vinyl manufacturing facilities in the U.S. and a host of other hazardous industrial facilities. As a great-grandfather and leader of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN), Mr. Mouton worked to prevent the rising rates of cancer, respiratory disease and other illnesses suffered by residents of the historic African American community in southwest Louisiana.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is spearheading an egregious effort in the Senate to exempt the nation's worst air polluters from the Clean Air Act. He is floating a resolution that would block recently finalized limits on the amounts of mercury, arsenic and other health-damaging pollutants that coal- and oil-fired power plants can emit. It's up for a vote on Wednesday.

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