Clean air is a fundamental right — our lives depend on it. But air pollution threatens that right, and with it all of the little moments that make life special: blowing out candles on a birthday cake, spending a day outside with friends, or playing with our kids in the front yard.
Recently, after more than a decade of delay, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed health protections that will ensure coal-fired power plants, some of the worst air polluters in the country, have to limit mercury and other toxic pollution that damages our health.
Every year, Americans young and old get sick because of air pollution. Thousands die. It’s the job of the EPA to help keep that from happening. During EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s recent appearance on “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart put that issue front and center. He trained his quick wit on the polluter mantra that industry simply can’t afford to comply with clean air protections when he inquired “Can we not die but also they live?”
The simple answer to this somewhat convoluted question is that we can live and industry can continue to function with these protections in place. Choosing between pollution controls that save lives and a strong economy is a false choice. In fact, pollution controls can lead to a strong economy. American workers are needed to build, install and maintain those controls, and once those controls are installed, people across the country will no longer pay for pollution with their health. Controlling air pollution reduces our health care costs and leads to a more productive society.
The EPA projects that these health protections will prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths every year. They will also prevent 11,000 heart attacks and 120,000 cases of aggravated asthma. And a recent study from UMASS-Amherst found that reducing air pollution from coal-fired power plants could create 290,000 jobs on average in each of the next five years.
Power plants are far and away the worst emitters of mercury, which destroys the brains of young and unborn children — as Administrator Jackson noted. Power plants also emit large amounts of fine particle pollution, which can cause respiratory and heart problems, as well as premature death.
During the interview, Lisa Jackson said “Environmentalism isn’t a spectator sport. You actually have to stand up and demand that we be vigilant in protecting our air and water.” The audience applauded and Stewart responded “people enjoy air and water, apparently.”
Yes, they do — when it’s clean. Millions of Americans have been living with this toxic burden for far too long. It’s time for coal plants to clean up, but they won’t unless we demand it. Send a message to the EPA and demand that they finalize the strongest possible protections against toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants.
Photo courtesy of EarthJustice
NOTE: This is a guest post from Sam Edmondson, Campaign Manager at Earthjustice.