Taking Our Clean Air Message to the EPA

BY ON May 21, 2012

Moms Clean Air Force wagon filled with letters

Yesterday I pulled a red wagon through the streets of Washington, DC, my hometown. Inside the wagon were more than 8,000 comments from Moms Clean Air Force members supporting a proposed rule from the Environmental Protection Agency that will limit carbon dioxide emissions from newly constructed power plants. I brought those messages from people like YOU to EPA officials to let them know how much we want that rule to be finalized. I also testified at a public hearing before EPA staff on the proposed rule.

I have a public health degree, and I studied epidemiology, but I spoke yesterday as a mom.

Air pollution gets personal.

I’ve been working in the field of environmental health for several years, but the issue of air pollution became personal for me in a new way last year. I developed wheezing and respiratory symptoms. I started using an inhaler and other medications. My doctor told me to pay attention to the air quality. And I noticed that my symptoms were worse on poor air quality days. I was wheezing more, I was short of breath, I was coughing.

I had heard that air pollution is bad for our lungs, I had even studied it in public health school. But suddenly I could actually feel it, in my own body.

If this is happening to me, I thought, what is that same air doing to my children’s lungs? This is the kind of thing that keeps moms up at night. It kept me up at night. I got pretty upset about it.

The burden of asthma.

More than 7 million children have asthma in this country. Behind each of those children is a mom (or dad) taking care of their child, making sure she takes her medicine, vigilantly watching for symptoms. Asthma makes kids sick, and keeps them home from school. There are more than 14 million days of school lost each year to asthma. Behind each one of those lost school days is a mom (or dad) who is probably missing work, taking that child to the doctor, and all too often going to the emergency room. Indeed, asthma is responsible for over 600,000 emergency room visits in children each year. This is a terrible burden for families, and we know that air pollution makes it worse.

It would be one thing if we were dealing with a health problem that we didn’t understand. But scientists and doctors know what’s going on. They know how to ease this problem. They know what to do, and we have the technology to do it.

How does carbon pollution relate to asthma?

Reducing carbon pollution is a critical step in this process. Power plants are our nation’s largest source of carbon pollution. Carbon pollution is causing global warming, and hotter weather means more ozone. More ozone in turn causes more lung damage – for children’s lungs in particular.

Asthma is just the tip of the iceberg.

Molly Rauch with a wagon filled with MCAF letters to CongressI’ve been talking about asthma, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Global warming is hurting children on so many fronts. We as moms know that reducing carbon pollution is quite literally an investment in our children’s future. We have a responsibility to leave them a decent world, in decent shape, where they can thrive and hope for a healthy future for their children. Global warming is a children’s health emergency, and we need to address it now, before it’s too late.

Last summer there were many days when air quality was predicted to be so bad that I kept my children inside for the day. If we don’t reduce carbon pollution, and stop global warming, there will likely be many more days like that in the future. It is wrong for our air to be too polluted for children to play outdoors. It is wrong for power plants to make kids sick.

Here is the testimony I delivered to the EPA yesterday:

Good afternoon, I’m Molly Rauch. I live in Washington, DC. I am speaking today as a representative of Moms Clean Air Force, as a public health professional, and as a mom. My daughter turned 9 just yesterday, and I have two boys, ages 4 and 6.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak with you today in support of EPA’s proposed carbon rules.

Moms Clean Air Force is a community of moms united by concern over the effects of air pollution on our children. We read the health research on air pollution, and we have learned a lot about the health effects of breathing dirty air. We know that in its many forms, air pollution has been linked to the major health problems of our time. We see that asthma attacks, heart attacks, heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, premature death, emergency room visits, hospital admissions– all of these health problems have been linked to air pollution.

Many of these problems harm our children in particular. We at Moms Clean Air Force think that’s unacceptable.

I have with me and wish to submit the comments of more than 8,000 members of Moms Clean Air Force in support of the proposed carbon pollution standard. These moms, dads, and grandparents know that protecting our children means preventing pollution.

Carbon pollution is disrupting our planet’s climate, causing temperatures to rise. These rising temperatures increase formation of ground-level ozone, or smog, which triggers asthma. This is just one of the many health impacts that people will endure in a warming world. After reviewing a massive volume of research by leading climate scientists on smog formation and other climate impacts, EPA found that carbon pollution is a health threat to Americans.  I am here to assert that carbon pollution is a health threat especially for our children.

Just last year, I was personally affected by air pollution. I developed wheezing and respiratory symptoms, and started using an inhaler and other medications. I noticed that my symptoms are worse on days when the air quality around Washington, DC, is poor. Doctors and scientists know that the high smog and particle pollution levels we have here in DC and around much of the country can harm our lungs and trigger asthma attacks. Because of my wheezing, I exercise less. I spend less time outside with my children; and, of course, I am concerned about what pollution is doing to my children’s lungs, and whether they will develop asthma symptoms too. And I have it easy — very, very easy.

Take Rachael Lemire Murphy. She has two children with asthma. She lives in Massachusetts, where wind currents carry pollutants from power plants – many of which are in other states – into her community, forming smog. Her daughter Mia has such severe asthma that last year blood vessels in her eyes burst from the coughing. Mia regularly has to take 5-day courses of steroids for her asthma, which cause nightmares, outbursts, and uncontrollable tears. Rachael says, and I quote: “cleaning up air pollution from coal fired power plants would have a tremendous impact on my children’s health.”

Or, take Chandra Baldwin-Woods, whose son, Jovante, had a severe asthma attack almost two years ago at home in Ohio and died at age 16. He was one of the more than 3,000 people who die of asthma every year. Jovante was an athlete who had suffered from asthma since he was a baby. His sudden attack, which led to his death, is a horror to contemplate. Chandra says, and I quote, “air pollution causes asthma attacks and cuts short the lives of those we love most.”

Our blog is full of stories from Chandra, Rachael, and so many others. We need to do everything we can to prevent children like Jovante from dying; to prevent Mia’s next severe asthma attack; to prevent the damage smog causes inside my children’s lungs. Reducing carbon pollution is a critical step toward protecting their health.

Our electric utilities claim that they’ve given us cheap electricity. But for Jovante’s mom, it could not have been more expensive.

Moms have a lot of experience cleaning up messes. We know that most children won’t clean up their messes on their own. Neither will our power plants. Our children deserve a well-regulated electric power industry that produces electricity from clean sources, without destabilizing the climate, increasing smog levels and associated respiratory health problems, and causing other grave health effects of global warming. It’s EPA’s job to set the rules that will give us the clean and safe power industry all Americans – and especially our children – deserve.

Please finalize the Carbon Pollution Standard, for the sake of our children.


TOPICS: Activism, Asthma, Motherhood, Politics, Pollution, Science

  • Faith Salter

    Thank You! I live in Massachusetts and my son has also been diagnosed with asthma which gets worse on poor air quality days. On days when I know he is going to struggle with his breathing I have to give him the inhaler which affects his ability to focus in class. When I am treating his asthma, I get comments from the teachers about his classwork and his behavior. His grades suffer. If I don’t give him the inhaler he can’t breathe.

    I appreciate your efforts to get this message to the people who could easily make a change for cleaner air and spare my son these struggles. I know the United States can do better than this! Thank you!

    • Molly Rauch

      I am sorry to hear about your son’s asthma. We as a nation should be doing everything we can to eliminate avoidable asthma triggers and keep your son healthy. I agree, we can do better than this.

  • Thanks, Molly, for speaking for all of us.

  • bevis longstreth

    Terrific testimony and accompanying report. Your “tip of the iceberg” reference got me thinking that, unless something radical is done, now, to halt global warming, our grandkids won’t understand that metaphor, which like polar bears and eventually even many humans, will have ceased to exist. Bevis Longstreth

  • Great that MCAF had a real presence at the hearing. Now Sen. Inhofe and others need to get the message!

  • Clara Longstreth

    This is a wonderful report and statement at the hearing. Just personal enough, and with real emotional impact. Keep up the great work!

  • Greetings My name is Gary Hogan I am Interum President of The North Central Texas Communities Alliance NCTCA http://www.nctca.net. We are a non profit coallition of concerned citizens in the North Texas region which has been highly inidated with gas drilling since 2002. Invading the densely populated communities and Fort Worth Texas. There is an 11 county area that was non conforment to Federal air quality standards since the late 90’s. This same region is now dealing with over 15,000 gas wells and sites that are each allowed to dispense 25 tons of annual emissions into the air. Gas facilities and well sites as SOP release unkown qauntities of methane and byproducts gases from these sites. Childhood asthma in children from the most prominent children’s hospital Cook’s Childrens Hospital in Fort WOrth reported in January 2010 had increased from 2006 to 2010 from 5% to nearly 24% , the same period of increased activity in dense population. Coincidense ? We do not think so. The highly poerful Oil & Gas political looby powers in Texas have been fighting against any regulation of these releases. They have even attacked our regional director of EPA Dr Al Armendariz who was fighting on our side for more federal regulation of this industry and power plants in Texas. They where able to force his resignation just a few months ago. This acquisition of so called cleaner burning natural gas has many problems that are off set during the drilling and the processes associated with acquiring this fossil fuel source. Making the added carbon footprint equal or worse than to burning coal. Raw Methane releases are 25 times more problematic for creating ozone. THis activity is now gone Nation wide and affecting many rural and urban environments.
    NCTCA and I am sure a coallition of other environmental groups in Texas I am sure would be willing to join our voice and help in anyway possible with our joint causes and mission to make our air safe to breathe.

  • Erin O

    We’ve heard about the air quality down in Texas and we are hoping to grow in your state for this very reason. I went down to Texas for Earth Day Dallas in late April and found lots of educated citizens who want to channel their frustration and energy into making the air cleaner. I’m working now to establish some partners and build a kit for our Super Moms (and dads) who want to get active in their communities. I’d love to chat with you about what NCTCA is up to and how we could collaborate. Please feel free to shoot me an email or give me a call. Hope to hear from you soon!

    Erin O’Sullivan
    Campaign Field Manager
    (202) 572-3264