Americans made their voices heard this week, turning out in huge crowds at three public hearings to demand Environmental Protection Agency safeguards from coal pollution.
In Philadelphia and Chicago on Tuesday, and Atlanta on Thursday, hundreds of people from all backgrounds showed up to speak at EPA’s public hearings on its proposed mercury and air toxics safeguards. Mercury — which comes mostly from coal-fired power plants — can cause serious neurological and developmental problems in children, babies, and developing fetuses.
In all three cities, EPA saw and heard from moms pushing strollers, doctors, nurses, people of faith, anglers, and more. Busloads of people from neighboring cities and states came to support EPA’s proposed safeguards, asking the agency to help protect public health with strong standards.
“As a mother, I am worried about the constant threat my children face from the pollution that coal-fired power plants put in our air and water,” said Gretchen Alfonso, a Philadelphia mother two who testified on Tuesday.
“It makes me angry that, despite my best efforts at living a healthy lifestyle, my body and my children’s growing bodies are being invaded by toxins from all angles.”
In Pennsylvania, coal-fired power plants emit more than 15,500 pounds of toxic mercury every year. Even industry officials showed up to support the safeguards:
Bruce Alexander, environmental regulatory strategy director with Exelon Corp…called the proposed rule…”balanced, reasonable and long overdue.”
“Some claim that the power industry is monolithic and that we all that that EPA has run amok,” he said. “That is simply not true.”
At the Chicago hearing over hours and hours of testimony from hundreds of people, EPA only heard two objections to the safeguards. Sierra Club organizer Becki Clayborn said the hearing room was packed all day thanks to the coalition making sure residents knew about the hearing, showed up, and got a chance to speak.
“People really enjoyed our baby buggy brigade — it was a march on a nearby corner for moms and kids supporting EPA’s actions,” said Clayborn.
The scene in Atlanta Thursday was very similar. Residents from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida and Kentucky traveled to Atlanta to demonstrate that there was clear public consensus for a strong safeguard against toxic air pollution. Of the more than 100 people who testified throughout the 11-hour day, the overwhelming majority asked the EPA to protect their health, and the health of future generations from pollution emitted by coal-fired power plants.
“It was inspiring to see people come from so far away,” said Lev Guter, an organizer with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Arkansas.
“The damage pollution like toxic mercury does to our health is without a doubt a major concern for many Americans.”
At noon, the crowd of activists marched down Forsyth Street to Vintage Barber Shop, where the Sierra Club and Environment Georgia hosted a press conference and mercury hair testing event. While Sierra Club President Robin Mann, Environment Georgia’s Jennette Geyer and Atlanta pediatrician Dr. Yolanda Whyte spoke about the dangers of mercury, the nearly 100 local residents and visiting EPA witnesses got small snippets of hair taken so the hair could be tested for mercury content.
“I think that the impressive turnout at this hearing and at the hearings around the country sends a clear message to the EPA, as well as the coal industry,” said Erin Glynn, a Beyond Coal organizer working in Georgia. “We don’t want to subsidize coal company executive’s bonuses by sacrificing our health. In order to protect public health, EPA must finalize the mercury standard it has proposed.”
Photo courtesy of Sierra Club
NOTE: This is a guest post from Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign