They held their ground against a continued barrage of attacks by lawmakers—who did their best to denigrate the agency and render it toothless. They weathered a surprise walk back by the President on the smog initiative, which had to make them question if they had ample support to get their agenda accomplished. (It should be noted that the EPA is slated to receive about 1 percent of the 2012 Federal discretionary budget, a reduction of 12.6 percent.)
Working to back proposals for a clean environment were Representatives Jan Schakowsky, Donna Edwards, Henry Waxman and Senators Barbara Boxer and Thomas Carper. Advocates on the ground included Hollywood luminary Robert Redford, weighing in on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and “regular mothers,” who took their cue from Moms Clean Air Force, rolled up their sleeves, and made sure their voices were heard.
On December 21, I live Tweeted the press conference held by Jackson, to announce the long awaited standards that would definitively limit emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from the coal- and oil-burning powered plants situated around the country.
It hasn’t been easy. Despite testimony from a slew of health officials and organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Lung Association, pushback has continued based on the premise that regulations are an economy killer, or that the supply of electricity is at stake. During Lisa Jackson’s presentation, which was held at the Children’s National Medical Center, she once again drove home that the Mercury and Air Toxics standards (MATS) would avert “up to 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks” per year. In addition, it will prevent “130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 6,300 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children” annually, while cutting down on the need for emergency room visits.
The primary goal of the twenty-year fight was to impact mercury emissions. Being flanked by physicians created terrific optics as Jackson spoke emphatically about mercury as a neurotoxin that negatively impacts the developing neurological systems of fetuses and young toddlers. She pointed out that one in six children are subject to neurological issues.
Professor Teresa Clemmer, who spoke to me at length prior about the release of the new rulings, had this response to the long awaited announcement:
My reaction to the news is that this is a day to celebrate because EPA has finally taken a much needed action to regulate toxic emissions from the sources that emit the lion’s share of them. Considering the direct health benefits of this rule from controlling toxics, as well as the co-benefits from controlling particulates, this rule could prove to be one of the most important legacies of the Obama administration.
Jackson, who is the mother of a son with asthma, pronounced the rulings as a “great victory for public health, especially the health of our children.”
Needless to say, in 2012, the fight will continue.
Photo Courtesy of Rick Reinhard/Children’s National Medical Center