The hearing room on the 4th floor of the Dirksen Senate Office building was packed—so packed that some onlookers stood in the back of the room to see the action unfold. All had gathered earlier today for "Air Quality and Children's Health," a hearing before members of two subcommittees of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Before a panel of senators sat five witnesses—two of them with the shameful purpose of arguing against air quality standards that protect children's health.
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Environmental Protection Agency hearings today in Philadelphia and Chicago drew crowds of clean air advocates—including a man who described the "smell of death" from a coal-fired power plant in his town.
Jamestown, VA is a fixture of American history. Founded more than 400 years ago, it was the first permanent English settlement in what became the United States. Today, not far from there, The Old Dominion Electric Cooperative is looking to make history of a different kind. It wants to build what would be the largest coal-fired power plant in all of Virginia. But if built, something new will settle in the region: a large cloud of harmful air pollution.
Nobody gets through a day without breathing. Not executives in the coal-fired power and cement industries, which are polluting our air daily. Not the legion of lobbyists they hire to patrol the halls of Congress in defense of dirty air. And not the members of Congress who, hand-in-hand with these special interests, are marching the Clean Air Act off a cliff.
At the very same time that these women and men draw breath, they are working to derail and delay clean air protections with a vigor that suggests there isn't a set of functioning lungs between them.
Shame on the Environmental Protection Agency. Yesterday afternoon, the agency decided that it would postpone indefinitely a new health standard finalized a few months ago that would reduce toxic air pollution from industrial boilers. These small power plants are used at larger industrial facilities like oil refineries and chemical plants—more than 13,000 of them are in operation across the country.
Alex Allred and her family are surrounded by cement. Not concrete, which is made from cement, but the big industrial facilities that crush and heat limestone to make cement. She lives in Midlothian, TX, an area known locally as “The Cement Capital of Texas,” a distinction that Alex and her family cannot appreciate. Her son eight-year-old son, Tommy, has asthma. His visits to the hospital emergency room are too numerous to remember. His asthma attacks hit him like a tank, unexpected and relentless.
The Clean Air Ambassadors who arrived yesterday in Washington, D.C. have some amazing stories to tell, and I spent the better part of yesterday hearing them. Alexandra Allred from Midlothian, TX described a day she spent outside with her son Tommy—a day when he didn’t suffer his usual respiratory issues and could play carefree, like a kid again. “I had my son back,” she told me.
Today, another indication comes that some members of Congress don't breathe the same air as their constituents. Politico is reporting (subs. req'd) that House Republicans will soon introduce legislation to delay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to reduce the amount of cancer-causing, asthma-inducing, premature death-dealing pollutants in the air we all breathe—some congresspersons excepted, apparently.
Clean air isn't a partisan issue, although that's admittedly easy to forget if you're following the ongoing congressional clash over clean air protections (which sometimes seems as wide as the gap between the Grand Canyon's north and south rims). The American public certainly isn't so divided. A large majority—which includes citizens who identify as Republican, Democrat and independent voters—wants clean air health protections.