Posts in 'Air Pollution'

A Polluter TRAIN Headed Right For Our Children

Imagine this scene: Some maniacs have tied your children to a train track–then hopped on the train, released the brakes, and sent a mighty engine roaring down the track. Right for your children.

That’s what’s going on in Washington DC right now.

The train is, literally, the TRAIN Act of 2011, and next week, the House will vote on a bill (HR 1705) that was designed to cripple Clean Air Act regulations and intimidate the Environmental Protection Agency. The TRAIN Act requires a committee of cabinet secretaries to re-analyze the costs of public health protections. That’s right: RE-analyze. For a third time. Because when a bill is introduced, its costs are analyzed during the comment period, and again by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The TRAIN Act is a delaying tactic created to protect polluters’ right to pollute. We must take action now to stop this shameful bill.

The TRAIN ACT is busy work for politicians whose stated goal is to block any and all environmental protections–no matter what the cost to our children’s healthMercury, lead, arsenic, acid gases–these are the poisons spewing from coal plants that EPA, in any administration, is required by law, under the Clean Air Act, to regulate. These are regulations that save hundreds of thousands of lives, and cut health care costs by trillions of dollars.

On top of it all, polluters and politicians want you to believe that regulations kill jobs and cripple the economy. This is absolutely untrue.

We do not have to choose between jobs and clean air. We can have both.

Tell your representatives to do their jobs. Not create busy work–and blow smoke. Their job is to protect people.

Air pollution isn’t just dirty. It is poisonous. As a mom, I’m furious–and you should be too. Politicians can play politics with each other all they want. But they cannot play politics with my children.

Parents have a chance to make a difference, this week and next. Mothers’ voices will make a difference. Let Washington know that you are paying attention. Let Washington know that you want pollution to be controlled. Let Washington know that clean air saves lives.

Write to your representatives and let them know that they must stop that TRAIN speeding towards our children. Tell them to stop playing politics with our children.

PLEASE JOIN MOMS CLEAN AIR FORCE and tell your local representatives to vote NO on the TRAIN Act.

Obama, Ozone, and Political Horse-Trading

President Obama has just announced a controversial decision(because we’re all paying close attention over the Labor Day weekend, of course) not to raise the ozone standards for air pollution–in spite of pressure from environmentalists and his own head of EPA, Lisa Jackson. He is responding, instead, to requests from House Speaker John Boehner, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; opposition to the regulation was focused on the expense  to businesses of meeting it, which they claimed was somewhere in the range of $20 to $90 billion annually.

I’m not going to jump into an Obama Bash here. Maybe it’s the sunny skies, but I’m remaining deliberately optimistic. Perhaps the president is getting ready to do some political horse-trading. By being responsive to business concerns about what opponents claim would have been the most expensive regulation to come out of E.P.A. by far, he can’t be called a Democrat who supports any and all regulations. The thinking might go: You can have those ozone regulations–which are set to be revisited in 2013, anyway–but I want those new mercury regulations for coal-fired power plants. We can afford those.

The flip side of my optimistic argument is that the White House is buying into the “regulations cost jobs” trope; many politicians now link “job-killing” to every use of the word “regulation”, regardless of the inaccuracy. So far, there hasn’t been any proof that the implementation of ozone standards would have cost jobs. In fact, it may well have added employment, and driven engineering innovation. Any way you look at it, this is a huge win for polluters.

Horse-trading or caving: we’ll see a clear trend over the next few months, as other pollution regulations come up for discussion. The ozone decision bodes ill for those who are opposing the upcoming Keystone pipeline, despite an impassioned letter from the governor of Nebraska. If the president is accepting the “jobs versus environmental protection” framework, he will be forced to choose jobs, and get that pipeline built. That jobs v. environment framework is not, and has never been, accurate. It is a spin imposed by corporate polluters and their lobbyists, one that is all too easily understood and accepted by voters–and it is gaining traction. Enviros have not done a good enough job explaining why and how regulations actually create jobs.

One thing is clear, regardless of the smog. Now, more than at any other time since President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act into law, we have to keep the pressure up on Washington to remind everyone that clean air is a priority. Like they say in Texas, Ya gotta dance with the one that brung ya. We have to support the president in doing the right thing–and pressure him relentlessly when we think he’s doing the wrong thing.

Join Moms Clean Air Force to send a strong message: Air pollution isn’t just dirty. It’s toxic. Let Washington know that we want regulations that protect the health of our children.






Will mothers unite to protect the health of our children?

Is it possible to be green without being political?

It is puzzling that the protective maternal instinct doesn’t extend to the public world, where politicians and corporations make decisions that have huge impact on our children’s health.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, while working on the launch of a new campaign called Moms Clean Air Force. Our goal is to use the power of blogs and other online communications to reach out to, and energize, mothers and mothers-to-be — the people who have the most at stake in protecting the strength of the Clean Air Act.

The Clean Air Act is one of the jewels in the crown of our democratic process. Since 1970, when it was signed into law by President Richard Nixon, the Clean Air Act has made it possible to make enormous progress in cleaning up air and water pollution. It is one of the best, most effective environmental regulations ever passed.

Last month, the EPA released new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which have been in the planning for twenty years. These standards will ensure that all coal-fired power plants cut down their emissions of poisons like mercury, lead, arsenic, and other toxicants. These plants are responsible for most of the toxic emissions fouling our air. The technology to clean the emissions exists — and it is cost effective.

But some powerful polluters and politicians in Congress are trying to gut funding for the EPA and weaken the Clean Air Act, including the new standards. “They are trying to unravel the legal fabric that has protected the health and safety of our families and our neighborhoods from dangerous air pollution for over forty years,” warns Vickie Patton, EDF’s chief legal counsel. “We face an unprecedented assault on vital, time-tested clean air protections for our children.”

Supporters and opponents of the standards can comment on the proposed regulations. During this comment period, we must send a simple message to polluters, the politicians they work with — and to those who oppose them and need our support: We share the air. Keep it clean.

Dominique with her son, nephews & niece.

Over the past twenty years, scientists have learned more and more about the poisonous effects of air pollution. And it is most poisonous of all to the most helpless among us. Fetuses — whose brain architecture is still developing — and infants and toddlers are terribly vulnerable to the neurotoxins being spewed into our air.

The political threat to the Clean Air Act, combined with our growing understanding of the health dangers associated with pollution, make this what Patton calls “a defining moment” for our country. “Moms and dads, grandparents, uncles and aunts,” Patton says, “all of us must reaffirm our commitment to healthy children, and clean air in America.”

Everyone knows how vigilant moms can be in protecting their babies. There’s endless activity online, in blogs, tweets, and Facebook postings, to prove it. Whether moms are looking for the right baby bottles, or having a sleeping schedule crisis, or confused about bed-sharing, help is a click away.

So it is puzzling that the same protective maternal instinct doesn’t extend to the public world, where politicians and corporations often make decisions that have the greatest impact — for better and for worse — on our children’s health.

There is actually very little in the blogosphere that directly addresses the political issues that should be of great concern to families — truly enormous challenges like toxic chemical reform, global warming, food safety, air and water pollution.

Moms Clean Air Force is dedicated to doing something about the pollution. We want to bring the power of moms — their numbers, their passion, their determination to keep their children safe — to bear on polluters and the politicians who endanger the health of our children.

When I began to talk to mom bloggers in the green community about our efforts, I was surprised by some of the responses. “Oh, we’re not into advocacy.” “We can’t do anything that would upset our sponsors.” “Advertising dollars are too important to jeopardize.”

Surprised? I was stunned. It was like the old days in the magazine industry, the days when we argued about whether or not to carry cigarette advertising, and if we did carry it, we argued about whether or not to run a story that made the advertiser so angry they would pull their expensive pages.

I began to wonder why people have become so wary of being viewed as “political”? What are we afraid of? What kind of sponsors would be upset by association with mothers who are fighting for clean air and water? In fact, why wouldn’t they be using their political clout — and joining in? Surely the rapidly growing number of corporations that have publicly committed themselves to sustainability would understand the benefits of sound environmental regulations.

I also began to wonder what good does it do for any of us to buy “green” diapers, and BPA free bottles, and CFL bulbs, if we don’t also attack our problems on a much larger scale?

All our individual choices won’t make a dent in addressing toxic chemicals, or climate change, or air and water pollution, if we don’t safeguard the regulations — and the government’s power to enforce them — that make our world a better place. The only way to do this is to become politically active. That’s at the heart of what it means to be a citizen in a democratic society.

At Moms Clean Air Force we’ve identified a wonderful, independent group of mom bloggers, and a dad, too, from all over the country. More bloggers join in everyday. Now we need more moms to make this movement powerful. We need to fight for clean air, by blogging, phoning, letter-writing, tweeting, and posting on Facebook pages — and marching if we must.

“We’re just moms. We can’t change the world,” someone told me.

But we can. We’re the ones who care fiercely about keeping our children safe. And when we’re up against the billions of dollars being spent by the polluters, our determined hearts are our best weapons. They’re pretty powerful. Now let’s use them.

Personal Nature

What You Can Do

Join the Moms Clean Air Force in the fight for our kid’s health.

Fast-growing India Confronts Pollution

Landing in Delhi after fifteen hours on a plane, I was eager for fresh air. But as I walked out of the airport terminal, I was enveloped in a cool, yellow-tinged mist that made me cough and my eyes water.

Doctors are noting a rise in strokes among teenagers.

“What is that smell?” I asked our tour guide.
“Oh, just the fog,” he said.
“But it smells like something is burning.”
“No, no. Just winter air. Always the same.”

Not wishing to seem rude, I fell silent. The smell was vaguely familiar. Then it hit me: Air pollution. I had entered a time machine. Memories crowded in, of the air trapped in New York City’s high-rise canyons and the blanket of smog suspended over Los Angeles. It had been years since I had breathed such noxious stuff.

No western traveler to India can help but be struck by its pollution. India is ranked as the seventh most environmentally hazardous country in the world. Lakes and rivers are clogged with garbage, plastic bags and bottles, metal junk, animal waste and raw sewage. India relies heavily on coal for its energy; everywhere in the surrounding countryside of Rajasthan, thick black soot pours out of the towering smokestacks attached to power plants, along with cement plants and brick kilns.

Delhi, where almost 1,000 new cars are added daily to the four million already on the streets, is choking in traffic and exhaust fumes. Vehicle emissions are responsible for 70% of the country’s air pollution. At times, the fog of pollution around Delhi is so thick as to be blinding; plane and train schedules are disrupted. Sunlight cannot penetrate to reach winter crops.

On my return to the United States, I talked to Richie Ahuja, EDF’s India program director. Ahuja was born in Agra, home to the Taj Majal. The pristine white marble of that splendid monument was turning yellow, due to air pollution, until in the late 1990s the Indian Supreme Court ordered more than 200 factories in the area to stop using coke/coal fuel under threat of being shut down.

When I told Ahuja that India’s pollution was overwhelming, he surprised me by his optimism. “I’m actually feeling very heartened these days,” he said. “People used to say, ‘Oh, the pollution, you get used to it.’ But now, there are many rumblings in the press, and in city streets, about how serious a problem it is. Even in tiny, isolated villages, people, especially women, are beginning to understand how pollution is connected to their children’s health.”

Ahuja believes that India can restore its environment and fight global warming by empowering rural populations, and specifically women. Indian local elected community leaders (Panchayats) — at least one-third of who by law are women — are demanding cheap, local solutions to global warming and deforestation. In January, EDF and our partners helped organize a meeting of 100 community leaders from remote villages who gathered to discuss the impact of climate change.

Change, in India, will come from the bottom up. The needs are many. EDF and partners are helping expand a program to install biogas converters in rural homes in Southern India in a project it hopes will become common. The converters transform animal waste into natural gas for heat, light and cooking. Using less wood reduces the deforestation that plagues India. The goal for this year is to install 30,000 converters.

Ahuja described a recent visit to some of the villages around Bagepalli, near Bangalore. “Before the biogas, the house would become so smoky before mealtime that the children had to go outside,” Ahuja said. “Now, the family sits together while the mother cooks, because the gas burns cleanly. The number of hospital visits is dropping. The women don’t have to go into the forests in the morning to collect firewood — which can be dangerous. They have time to make their children breakfast, and get them to school on time.”

India is changing fast. It is the only country where the working population will continue to increase in the next 25 years, as will its wealth. Already, educated young people are bettering their standard of living. Doctors in Delhi — who have documented a rising incidence of strokes among youngsters due to environmental pollution — are beginning to press the government for better controls.

How disheartening, then, to witness the continuing assaults on the environment at home. As I was leaving for India, some leaders in the U.S. Congress — with the support of industrial polluters — were ramping up a charge to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency. They want to undo the Clean Air Act by weakening EPA’s power to regulate dangerous emissions like the mercury, lead and acid gases from coal plants.

I have a fantasy of sending every pro-pollution congressman, lobbyist and executive on a bus to tour a country that has never enjoyed the benefit of strong anti-pollution regulation. As they hack black soot into their handkerchiefs, they will see for themselves how lucky all of us are that, since 1970, we’ve had the EPA to look after our air and water.

Our air still isn’t clean enough, as any mother with an asthma-stricken child will tell you. But it is so much better than it was. Congress’s reckless attacks on the EPA should spur every American to action.

As developing nations begin to tackle pollution, they look to the United States for what can be achieved. They know the price of filthy air — its exorbitant cost to health and economic growth. Have we already forgotten?

What You Can Do

Help protect your right clean, healthy air. Support EDF’s fight against polluters »

Great Address, Too Bad About the Pollution

Just the other day, while out for a walk on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, I noticed thick black smoke hanging over Columbus Avenue, while particles of soot rained down on the sidewalk. The wind carried the smoke eastward, over a nearby schoolyard and into Central Park, where it began to dissipate.

New York’s new rule requires buildings to switch to 90% less polluting heating fuels

It took me a few minutes to find the source – the chimney of a large, nearby apartment building. I snapped photos of the oily stuff as it poured into the sky, and wondered if it was even legal to pollute in such a blatant way. The smoke came from burning dirty heating oil – and, yes, it’s legal. But that will soon be changing, thanks in part to EDF, which has led the fight to regulate heating oil and is helping the city promote an “early adopter” campaign to encourage building owners to convert to cleaner fuel.

Mary Barber, EDF’s Campaign Director for the New York region, is coordinating a campaign to rid the city of dirty heating oil. In her office, she showed me jars containing Nos. 6, 4, and 2 oil. The No. 2 oil was a light, golden liquid tinged with red. By contrast, No. 6 was a viscous, unrefined black sludge.

In New York, some 10,000 buildings — many in the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods — burn No. 6 and No.4 heating oil, the dirtiest and cheapest available. This oil causes more soot pollution than all of the city’s cars and trucks combined. And particulate pollution — made of tiny particles — is toxic. Particles lodge deep in the lungs and cause respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and increase the risk of cancer. For example, in New York City, asthma hospitalization rates among children under 14 are double the national average. EDF exposed this hazard in a groundbreaking report, The Bottom of the Barrel: How the Dirtiest Heating Oil Pollutes Our Air and Harms Our Health.

“It is an outrage that so much dirty fuel is burned in the heart of our most crowded neighborhoods – we simply cannot move fast enough to get rid of it,” said EDF’s New York region director Andy Darrell, a member of New York Mayor Bloomberg’s Sustainability Advisory Board.

On January 28, 2011 the Bloomberg administration took a stand on this issue by proposing a game-changing rule requiring the phase-out of the dirtiest grade of heating oil by 2015, and for all buildings to convert to cleaner fuel when they replace their boiler or burner. The rule also mandates that all buildings convert to cleaner fuels by 2030.

The new rule, coupled with other legislation, is expected to reduce heating oil soot pollution by 40% by 2015 and by 65% by 2030.

EDF and a broad coalition of allies successfully pushed for the new rule all year and convinced regulators to advance the phaseout deadline from 2040 to 2015. “This is a huge step to rid the city of the plumes of smoke that choke our children’s lungs,” said Darrell, “By switching to cleaner fuels, New York City will prove that a mega-city can grow and clean the air at the same time.”

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas prices are predicted to stay lower than oil prices for the next 25 years. For that reason, EDF is urging buildings to make the change even faster than the rule requires. “Buildings can take advantage of low natural gas prices and improved energy efficiency to cut their operating costs far into the future,” explains EDF attorney Isabelle Silverman. “Why keep wasting money and fouling the air?”

The impact of the phase-out on illnesses from asthma to heart disease could be “second only to our achievements in reducing the city’s smoking rates,” predicts Thomas Farley, the city’s health commissioner.

“For those at risk of acute asthma and heart disease, this new rule is a new lease on life,” adds Jason Schwartz of the Institute for Policy Integrity.

The city’s goal is to have every heating system converted by 2030. That means a generation of children will still grow up breathing too much soot. Why the wait? Barber explains that the switch from No. 6 and 4 oil is more complicated than it seems. “Everyone wants to do it — at first,” she says. “Then they start to learn about what’s involved.”

Each building must hire an engineer to assess the system in place, and come up with solutions that can range from replacing old oil tanks to running gas lines from the street to the building or installing a dual fuel burner (so that clean natural gas can be alternated with high grade oil.) Masonry chimneys may need a liner. In other words, converting a building’s heating system could cost up to $300,000 or more. If you consider how long it takes the average coop board to agree on a color scheme for the lobby, you can understand why such changes will take time.

Still, some of Manhattan’s wealthiest neighborhoods and most famous buildings burn the dirtiest oil, so change can’t wait. An interactive EDF map shows where the worst offenders are. Among its revelations: The majestic Dakota on Central Park West, where John Lennon lived, burns No. 6 oil. Is it possible that Yoko Ono and her fellow tenants are among the city’s worst polluters?

The new rule will be open for public comments with a public hearing on February 28 — and look to powerful interests to weigh in. The EDF team will be in the thick of the negotiations, working to ensure the best possible outcome.

For far too long, soot has been the most ubiquitous sign of a New York City winter. You open the window of your overheated apartment and the sill is soon dusted with soot. A white blanket of new-fallen snow is quickly covered in black speckles. Black smudges appear on your handkerchief when you blow your nose.

All those delights come to us from the burning of dirty No. 4 and No. 6 heating oil. It’s time for that to change. To paraphrase the Dakota’s most famous resident: All we are saying is give clean a chance.

Personal Nature

What You Can Do

New Yorkers united to get cleaner air and you can too. Join EDF’s Clear the Air campaign to get involved and protect our right to clean air.

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