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Clean Air

Southwest Detroit's Marathon Oil Refinery.

On April 27, 2013, thick, black smoke rose high above southwest Detroit from the flames at a nearby industrial facility. Three thousand residents were then ordered to leave their homes and evacuate the area. These residents are no stranger to poor air quality as their neighbors include a coal-fired power plant, a car factory, a water waste management plant, and the Marathon Ashland Petroleum oil refinery, one of 150 oil refineries in the country.

Chrisangel Nieto, 3, rides his tricycle in Hartman Park, the Manchester neighborhood of Houston, Texas.

The EPA held a second public hearing Tuesday in Houston, regarding its proposed rule on oil refinery emissions—and the testimony was dramatic from people living near the refineries who suffer from exposure to those emissions. Testimony ranged from bipartisan congressmen and industry representatives to environmental organizations and fenceline community members from Texas, Michigan, California, Pennsylvania and Louisiana.

Ana Corona (far left), with her family in California's Central Valley.

Ozone is considered the most widespread of air pollutants. As a result, it is increasingly linked to a host of awful symptoms like asthma attacks, coughing, wheezing, low birth weight in newborns, cardiovascular episodes, short-term memory loss, and increased visits to emergency rooms and hospitals as a result. It is our children, teenagers, seniors and those with lung diseases like asthma that are especially at risk.

A zero emissions truck at the Port of Long Beach, California.

For decades, environmental and community groups have pushed back against harmful pollution from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California. The neighborhoods near these ports contain some of the most toxic air in the region, with port emissions a primary culprit. Ports are also one of the leading producers of smog-forming pollution in the most ozone-polluted region in the nation. 

Jesse Marquez of the Coalition for a Safe Environment (third from left) shows EPA staffers and others a Wilmington oil refinery, shortly before the public hearing.

On a sunny Wednesday in Wilmington, California, this week, instead of spending the day at work or taking their kids to the beach, community members gathered to tell the Environmental Protection Agency what it is like living near large oil refineries. The stories kept pouring in; children who were too sick to be allowed outside, explosions that send neighbors scurrying to safety, a pre-school teacher explaining how she has to evacuate her kids when the odors get too strong, and parents who can’t afford the medicine their kids need.

Wind turbines in a Kansas wheat field.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has given Sunflower Electric the green light to build a massive, dirty coal fired power plant. Just last year, the Kansas Supreme Court found the permit for this plant to be illegal because it failed to meet the most basic protections for clean air. Despite that ruling, KDHE recently reissued the permit virtually unchanged, once again failing to protect the citizens of Kansas from harmful air pollution. 

During my morning commute from Oakland to San Francisco, I walk through streets of modestly sized houses with plum trees overhanging the sidewalks. My neighborhood is home to a changing mix of residents, from families who have been on the block for decades to young tech workers recently relocated from San Francisco. Cutting over to Telegraph Avenue, I pass new coffee shops, yoga studios and galleries that have sprouted up between the hardware stores and Korean restaurants lining the street.

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