This is a guest post written by Rebecca Cheatham, Clean Air Carolina:
First, the good news. On Friday, December 14th, the Environmental Protection Agency strengthened the annual air quality standard for fine particulate matter to 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air (12 µg/m3). This was the result of much pressure on the administration to revise standards that had been set in 1997 at 15 µg/m3. This fine particulate pollution, what we know as “soot,” comes primarily from power plants, vehicles, and industrial facilities. Since the body’s normal defense systems (nose, lungs, skin) cannot block these minute particles, they lodge themselves in the deepest corners of our respiratory tract, our cardiovascular system, and our brains. Long-term exposure to fine particulate matter is suspect in a number of diseases, including cancer. But frighteningly, even short periods of exposure can cause premature death from heart attacks, stroke and asthma attacks.
Naturally, there are already complaints from pro-business groups who claim the new standards will deter business development and negatively impact jobs. But I’m having a hard time finding this claim real or relevant. Most states are near meeting, already meet, or exceed the new standards. In fact, the EPA expects just seven counties in California will not meet the standard by the 2020 attainment date. North Carolina is already in attainment. And while the EPA estimates the new measures will cost industry as much as $350 million a year, the projected annual health benefits are as much as $9.1 billion. So if industry is already meeting these requirements, will continuing to do so be a job-killing hardship?
And as to relevance—at the end of the day, what benefits the most Americans; clean, healthy air for the nation, or a handful of jobs benefiting a constituency or two? As a democracy, we need to remember that the needs of the Many outweigh the needs of the Few.
One of those Many is my daughter, Luna. Since moving to Charlotte exactly one year ago, she’s had five visits to the ER, and has been tethered to her home nebulizer dozens of times. She has no known allergies, we have no history of asthma in our family, we’re non-smokers. So what is the cause? No one knows for certain, but I have to wonder about Charlotte’s bad air. After Luna continued to be ill, I dove into research and discovered that Charlotte consistently ranks among the top asthma cities in the US. Nothing about that on any “Welcome to Charlotte” websites. She is three years old, and even in this seemingly idyllic state of blue skies and rich forests, she struggles to breathe.
So I have to ask: is this new soot standard enough? Sitting in traffic behind a diesel-spewing truck, walking past idling construction equipment belching out black plumes of soot, living in an area surrounded by three coal-fired power plants—that is real and tangible air pollution, and the new regulations likely will not impact these sources. And I worry about the rest of the state, with the coast threatened by the opening of the Titan Cement plant, and the Piedmont region threatened with hydraulic fracturing, both serious threats to the environment and health.
So while the EPA’s ruling is progress, I continue to work for even stricter environmental regulations, for better public transportation, for cleaner construction practices and smarter emissions policies. I’m hoping Luna’s grandchildren will thank me.
Thank you, Rebecca!