Posts tagged: The Right to Breathe

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The Right to Breathe


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Everyone has The Right To Breathe clean air. Watch a video featuring Earthjustice Attorney Jim Pew and two Pennsylvanians—Marti Blake and Martin Garrigan—who know firsthand what it means to live in the shadow of a coal plant's smokestack, breathing in daily lungfuls of toxic air for more than two decades.

Coal Ash Contaminates Our Lives. Coal ash is the hazardous waste that remains after coal is burned. Dumped into unlined ponds or mines, the toxins readily leach into drinking water supplies. Watch the video above and take action to support federally enforceable safeguards for coal ash disposal.

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders.

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View Sam Edmondson's blog posts
30 November 2011, 2:56 PM
A strong call for coal plants in Chicago, and everywhere, to clean up
Ian Viteri, a community organizer with LVEJO, at the 50 States United for Healthy Air event.

What's it like to live in the shadow of a smokestack?

Ask Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) and a resident of Chicago's Little Village neighborhood—a culturally vibrant area on the city's west side that many, including Wasserman, refer to as the "Mexican capital of the Midwest."

Wasserman and her family live less than one mile from the Crawford coal-fired power plant, which is owned by Midwest Generation. The same company owns another plant in Chicago, the Fisk, which is in the Pilsen neighborhood in the northeast part of the city. Pollution from these two plants has galvanized strong calls from grassroots groups—LVEJO, PERRO and others—for the plants to clean up their dirty ways. Wasserman makes the call beautifully in an op-ed published today in the Chicago Tribune.

It begins:

I'm Peter's mom. He's that 6-year-old on those ads on the "L" trains or on billboards around town. You know, the one with the inhaler, the one he's been using since he was 3. That makes him luckier than his older brother Anthony, who developed his asthma at 3 months. When Anthony had his first asthma attack, I didn't know much about it. When he was struggling to breathe you could see his little rib cage. I learned that that was a telltale sign.

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View Sam Edmondson's blog posts
30 November 2011, 11:23 AM
EPA will issue final toxic air standards for power plants

Mark your calendars. Dec. 16 is going to be a big deal—particularly for families with children across the country. I know that Alvin, Simon and Theodore are getting Chipwrecked that day, but that's not what I'm thinking about. There's something even bigger coming down: the Environmental Protection Agency is going to release final standards to clean up mercury and other health-damaging toxic air pollutants from power plants.

Mercury is a serious threat to fetuses and young children—it can cause brain damage and other kinds of developmental problems. Power plants are far and away the biggest industrial sources of it. Collectively, in 2010, they emitted more than 33 tons of mercury. The EPA's draft standard, issued last March, would cut mercury emissions from power plants by 90 percent. Power plant pollution also causes serious respiratory problems—aggravated asthma attacks, for example—and even premature death. The EPA's draft rule would prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths every year.

To draw attention to the upcoming announcement, the American Lung Association is running a hard-hitting commercial that highlights the impact of power plant air pollution on kids' health.

View Sam Edmondson's blog posts
17 November 2011, 3:38 PM
EPA's clean-up of toxic air pollution remains unfulfilled
Not only will clean air standards have a tremendous impact on the health of the American public, they will also create thousands of new utility jobs.
(Chris Jordan / Earthjustice)

In 1990, Congress gave the Environmental Protection Agency a very important homework assignment: protect the American public from mercury, lead, benzene, dioxins and other invisible toxic air pollutants, because what we can't see can hurt us.

Twenty-one years later, these dangerous pollutants are still pouring forth in large quantities from smokestacks across the country. Some of the nation's biggest polluters—cement kilns, industrial boilers and coal-fired power plants—are going to have to cut down on their toxic pollution as the Clean Air Act requires, have yet to do so.

In many cases, the reason is that the EPA has time and again failed to turn in its homework—critical clean air standards that require industries to install pollution controls that are readily available and affordable. Pressure and opposition from industry has routinely been a roadblock. In this way, polluting industries and their allies in Congress have played the part of the dog, scarfing the standards that would cause dirty industries to clean up their facilities. But even when the EPA has turned in clean air standards to clean up polluters, more often than not they are covered in industry's slobber—watered down and full of loopholes that benefit polluters.

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View Raviya Ismail's blog posts
17 November 2011, 1:25 PM
NY Times article shows heavy industry hand in decision
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson

A few months ago when the Obama Administration abruptly scrapped a stronger ozone standard, we were blindsided.
Turns out, we weren’t the only ones.

This New York Times article gives an illuminating look at the political wrangling behind the scenes of the decision, and indicates that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson herself was blindsided. So much so that she even contemplated resigning.

Administrator Jackson thought the rule was in the bag; instead, just before Labor Day weekend President Obama indicated that it was a no-go. In a statement from the White House at the time, President Obama mentioned the importance of “reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover” and that he himself requested Administrator Jackson to withdraw the rule.

View Sam Edmondson's blog posts
15 November 2011, 5:10 PM
Nearly 36,000 deaths could be prevented every year by tighter soot standards

Sometimes, little things cause big problems. The tiny particles in soot pollution are 1/30th the width of a strand of your hair, and yet those tiny particles may be responsible for the premature deaths of tens of thousands of Americans every year.

Earthjustice, Clean Air Task Force and the American Lung Association released a report today—titled Sick of Soot—that shows nearly 36,000 premature deaths could be prevented in the U.S. every year if the Environmental Protection Agency strengthens the health standards for soot pollution.

In 2009, following an Earthjustice lawsuit, a federal court found that the EPA's current standards are inadequate to protect public health and ordered the agency to update them. Nearly three years later, the EPA hasn't budged. So today, in addition to co-releasing Sick of Soot, Earthjustice went back to the same federal court—on behalf of the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense Fund and National Parks Conservation Association—and asked it to set a deadline for the EPA to issue stronger soot standards.

"The EPA needs to start moving in a different direction," said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. "Sick of Soot points the way."

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View Raviya Ismail's blog posts
10 November 2011, 12:33 PM
Regulators dismiss residents' concerns about cement plant in Kansas

As part of the Poisoned Places: Toxic Air, Neglected Communities series, NPR investigated the toxic air pollution being pumped out of the Ash Grove cement plant in Chanute, Kansas, a town of roughly 9,000 people.

The Ash Grove facility, which emits some 500 pounds of mercury a year when operating full blast, is not violating any air pollution standard. In fact, it essentially has permission to pollute the air with four times the allowed amount of certain toxic pollutants. The reason: loopholes in the form of permits that allow cement plants to burn hazardous waste as fuel. The problem:  these kilns can pump out several times the amount of lead, cadmium and mercury that is allowed by actual hazardous waste incinerators, according to NPR.

“The problem with cement plants that burn hazardous waste is that they are not designed to burn hazardous waste,” Earthjustice's Jim Pew was quoted in the segment saying. “In my view it’s a loophole for the cement industry.”

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View Sam Edmondson's blog posts
01 November 2011, 1:24 PM
The economy needs regulation to get going
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA)

Today, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA)—that's "Ice-uh" for those unfamiliar with the congressman—ran a hearing in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about pollution from coal-fired power plants. The hearing unfolded roughly as expected, with one side—repped by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli—arguing that clean air standards are job-killers, and the other side—repped by Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Administrator Robert Perciasepe—countering that the tremendous health benefits of reducing toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants vastly outweigh the costs.

Now, enter Dr. Josh Bivens, the third witness at the hearing, who laid out an economic argument worth mentioning here, as it provided some refreshing clarity. Dr. Bivens, who works at the Economic Policy Institute, argued that now is precisely the time that we should be regulating big toxic polluters like the coal-fired power industry.

Because of the Great Recession, rather than spending their cash reserves on job-creating investments, big industries are just sitting on them. This is called a liquidity trap. Bivens argued that government regulations—e.g. clean air standards—are a great way to get these companies to start spending those reserves. In other words, the money that industry spends to comply with clean air standards will actually be highly beneficial for the economy. Factor in the substantial health benefits that accrue to the public when dirty coal plants install pollution control technology to control their toxic air emissions, and these clean air standards look even more like a no-brainer.

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View Stephanie Maddin's blog posts
20 October 2011, 10:02 AM
Sick citizens and ravaged environment equal healthy economy?
Rep. Eric Cantor (VA-7)

This week, President Obama has conducted a bus tour through my home state of Virginia and North Carolina. The tour focused on job creation and the state of our economy.

Unfortunately, Republican leadership in Congress thinks weakening our clean air and water protections is the foundation of economic renewal.

Since returning from August recess, the House of Representatives has passed some of the most anti-environmental and anti-public health legislation in its history. These bills—which indefinitely delay air pollution standards for power plants, industrial boilers/incinerators and cement plants—passed as key provisions in Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s “Jobs Agenda.”

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View Sam Edmondson's blog posts
14 October 2011, 2:45 PM
House of Reps steers country toward the rocks

Somewhere along the road from their home districts to their offices in Washington, D.C., our Congressional representatives got their wires crossed. The American public sent them forth with a mandate to run the country, but instead, they're ruining it.

Toward the end of September, the House passed the first piece of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's (R-VA) Toxic Agenda: H.R. 2401, the so-called TRAIN Act—an absolute wreck of public policy. It ties to the tracks and threatens to run over two clean air standards that would prevent up to 51,000 premature deaths every year and generate $420 billion in annual economic benefits by cleaning up dirty coal plants.

Does America support Cantor's agenda? Do we want to board a crazy train bound for a future of dirty air, more disease and shorter lives? The answer, not surprisingly, is No. NO.

Recent polling shows that 75 percent of voters—including 62 percent of Cantor's party—think that the Environmental Protection Agency, not Congress, should make decisions about clean air standards. Large majorities are also against delaying (67 percent) or blocking (76 percent) the clean air standards that Cantor's TRAIN wreck is colliding with.

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View Sam Edmondson's blog posts
12 October 2011, 1:45 PM
Breathing turns out to be a bipartisan business

The title of this post isn't a revelation. If it's surprising at all, it's only because there is one highly visible place where it just isn't true: Congress.

The Republican leadership is working hard to make the legislative branch of our government a kind of Bermuda triangle where clean air standards disappear mysteriously down a smokestack never to be seen again. For example, the House of Representatives last week voted 262 to 161 to outright exempt cement kilns—one of the largest sources of mercury pollution in the nation—from the Clean Air Act.

If the bill in question (H.R. 2681) were to become law, it would ensure that between 900 and 2,500 people die preventable deaths due to air pollution every year. Thousands more would suffer from asthma and heart attacks, cases of bronchitis and other respiratory distress. Despite these unconscionable impacts to the public's health, only two Republicans in the entire House opposed the bill—less than 1 percent of all House Republicans.

OK. So supposing that members of Congress are actually the direct representatives of the people, do you think that less than 1 percent of registered Republican voters in the U.S. support clean air protections? Absolutely not!