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Citizen Army Lobbies Congress for Clean Air

A few days ago, a fierce army invaded Washington, D.C. to ask our representatives for something very simple: restore our right to breathe clean air.

A few days ago, a fierce army invaded Washington, D.C. to ask our representatives for something very simple: restore our right to breathe clean air.

This modest proposal came from more than 100 “clean air ambassadors” who know the cost of dirty air all too well. Take Hilton Kelley from Port Arthur, Texas, which is home to more than five large refineries, six chemical plants and an incinerator. In his community, one out of every five households has a child suffering from asthma and other contaminated-air-related illnesses. One day, after having moved away from his home town years ago, he looked in the mirror and asked himself, “If I’m not going to do anything about the conditions in Port Arthur, how can I expect anyone else to?”

Another clean air ambassador, Kathy Little from Louisville, Kentucky, lives within 100 yards from an old and filthy power plant and can often taste, smell and see fly ash from the plant blowing in the air. For her, it’s difficult to get off of the furniture, and she often wonders what these heavy metal particles lodged in her daughter’s lungs are doing to her child’s body. As an employee for a pro-coal company, Kathy’s view on cleaning up coal isn’t always popular, but she finds strengths in remembering Dr. Martin Luther King’s words, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Hilton Kelly, of Texas, stands in front of the U.S. Capitol in between congressional meetings.

These nurses, physicians, clergy, labor and tribal leaders, and social justice advocates—who together represent all 50 states and Puerto Rico—come from all walks of life, but they had one thing in common. They were tired of our bodies and our environment being used as the dumping grounds for dirty industry.

In 1970, our legislators came together in a bi-partisan fashion to pass important amendments to the Clean Air Act that would allow our regulators to protect the public from deadly air pollution. Over the past 40 years, the Act has allowed us to make great strides in cleaning up our air, but stories like Hilton’s and Kathy’s remind us that we must do more to ensure that our air is safe to breathe by fulfilling the promises of the Clean Air Act. To start, we must:

  • Finalize a carbon emissions rule for existing coal-fired power plants and move forward on a standard to reduce emissions from existing power plants.
  • Finalize a federally enforceable coal ash rule. It’s been 5 years since the massive coal ash spill in Tennessee and yet we still don’t have any federal regulations for the disposal for toxic coal ash.
  • Strengthen the current standard for ozone pollution, or smog.
  • Finalize the pending cleaner gasoline and tailpipe standards.

Ambassadors laugh during a training on how to effectively lobby Congress.

Our clean air ambassadors, who are living (and breathing) the consequences of inaction on air pollution issues, have already done their part and will continue to do more by taking their message back to their home states. Now, it’s time to do ours. Let’s amplify their message by telling our senators why clean air is important to us.

There’s no doubt that we are up against powerful industry interests that demand that our representatives put profits above people. But together, our voices can drown out the cacophony of corporate lobbyists. Together, we are 50 States United for Healthy Air.