By Peter EdidinEnvironmental Defense Fund; Solutions; Summer 2011
Clean air is too important to be a bargaining chip for industry lobbyists and politicians. EDF is part of a powerful new movement standing up to those willing to sacrifice public health for profit. Our impact is already being felt.
Sometimes, to reverse the old feminist slogan, the political is personal. Take the current struggle to cut the amount of mercury America’s coal-burning power plants spew into the air.
One drop of mercury can make every fish in a 20-acre lake unfit to eat, and power plants release 35 tons of this poison into our air every year, even though cost-effective technologies exist to cut those emissions by more than 90%.
Mercury is particularly harmful to children. Once in the bloodstream, it can damage a child’s developing nervous system, brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and immune system.
So a fight over regulating this poison should be a very personal matter to anyone with kids, grandkids or simply a belief that children deserve a chance to grow up healthy.
In fact, that fight is happening right now, and the nation’s bedrock environmental protections hang in the balance.
In March, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a set of rules, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which will dramatically cut mercury, heavy metals, acid gas and other emissions from power plants. The standards, which took 26 years to hammer out, are finally expected to go into force in November. They will prevent 17,000 premature deaths a year, once the plants install the needed equipment. But some in Congress, at the behest of polluters, are trying to stop these rules from ever being enforced.
It really comes down to protecting our kids and trying to give them clean air, clean water and a healthy place to grow up in.—Katy Farber, blogger at non-toxickids.net
Many utilities, anticipating these standards, have already taken steps to comply. Others are spending millions to fight the regulation.
Clean air is too important to be negotiated between politicians and industry lobbyists without public involvement. That’s why EDF is supporting a group of committed, influential bloggers who call themselves the Moms Clean Air Force. The aim is to create a new movement, which will encourage and enable America’s mothers (and dads) to take direct action to protect the health and well-being of their families.
"Our goal is to energize mothers and mothers-to-be," says Dominique Browning, who writes the Personal Nature column on EDF’s website and is the lead blogger for the Moms Clean Air Force. "They are the ones with the biggest stake in protecting the Clean Air Act.
Young children are particularly vulnerable to mercury pollution.
The mercury standards are only part of a larger environmental battle being fought out in Congress and in state legislatures across the country. Some in the House of Representatives have made it a top priority to hamstring EPA and gut the Clean Air Act. “Let the EPA go the way of the dinosaurs that became fossil fuels,” is how Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) put it.
The 1970 Clean Air Act is almost universally considered one of the best, most effective environmental regulations ever passed—providing $30 in economic benefits for every $1 invested in pollution controls. And yet politicians in the House tried to prevent EPA from enforcing limits on air pollution and tried to cut $3 billion from the agency’s budget.
AN EARLY WINWorking with the Senate in April, EDF and its allies were able to eliminate the most draconian cuts in the House budget, but big polluters and their political allies are using new legislative ploys and court challenges around the country to undermine EPA’s authority.
PEOPLE POWERThe Moms Clean Air Force is dedicated to one thing: protecting our kids from industries and politicians that are trying to gut the Clean Air Act and shackle the Environmental Protection Agency.
The grassroots campaign, starting with a group of committed bloggers, will help America’s moms (and dads) keep the air clean and healthy for the next generation.
“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 40 years,” warns Vickie Patton, EDF’s chief legal counsel.
The Moms Clean Air Force will use its web site, as well as Facebook, Twitter and email, to alert parents and others when important votes come up in Congress or a state legislator introduces legislation favoring a dirty utility. The group will also help its growing army of bloggers and members organize for and against specific bills, politicians and companies.
“I feel like it really comes down to protecting our kids and trying to give them clean air, clean water and a healthy place to grow up in,” says Katy Farber, a blogger who is a Vermont schoolteacher with two kids. “These are things that know no political boundaries, and I see the power of real parents getting together through blogging and social media to fight back.”
People power works. For example, when lobbyists for American Electric Power (AEP), the nation’s biggest polluter, drafted a Congressional bill to delay mercury regulation this spring, the Moms and others jumped into action—prompting more than 42,000 angry emails to AEP. Elected officials soon began to back away from the bill.
The reason for the Moms campaign, says Karen Francis, a Moms Clean Air Force blogger who is a military spouse, is to “make noise and phone calls to our Congress people ’til they listen. You just gotta keep kicking people in the butt and make it hurt if that’s what is necessary.”
That’s making the political personal.