As the comment period for the proposed EPA methane rule closed on January 31, Moms Clean Air Force and partner organizations met with EPA officials outside agency headquarters this week to deliver more than 450,000 comments in support of the strongest possible methane protections. Methane pollution is responsible for 25% of the global warming we experience today, and families living near oil and gas operations are exposed to harmful levels of toxic air pollutants. Our health and future depend on the EPA finalizing strong, comprehensive methane rules that cover all oil and gas operations.
Later that day, we breathed a sigh of relief when the EPA issued its proposal to restore the legal basis for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). As Moms Clean Air Force Director and Co-Founder Dominique Browning wrote: “EPA’s proposal to reinstate the legal foundation of the standards that limit mercury and other toxic, carcinogenic pollution from coal-fired power plants is a public health necessity. It will shore up standards that have helped slash mercury pollution by more than 80%.” But our work on mercury isn’t done: “Parents can’t rest easy just yet. Not when coal plants continue to emit dangerous quantities of hazardous air pollution, including 33,000 pounds of mercury each year.” Now it’s time for the EPA to strengthen MATS so that the “serious health harms [caused by mercury and air toxics] are no longer a threat to our families’ health and well-being.”
FORMER MARINE URGES POLICYMAKERS: “LEAVE NO ONE BEHIND” IN FIGHT FOR CLEAN AIR
In an op-ed for Newsweek, our Florida organizer, Yaritza Perez, writes that, after 12 years in the Marine Corps and the sacrifices her family has made to serve this country, she “was astonished to see how policymakers were failing to protect our people and land from climate change.”
Yaritza explains the importance of strong methane rules that require frequent inspections of smaller wells and eliminate the routine practice of “flaring,” which is when companies burn gas that cannot be easily captured. Neither of these provisions were included under the EPA’s proposed methane rule, but they are necessary—especially for families like hers: “As a Latina, this issue is close to my heart. There are close to 2 million Latinos living within a half mile of oil and gas facilities. We are three times more likely to be negatively affected by air pollution because of where we live and work. Our kids are more likely to die of asthma and miss 112,000 days of school per year because of air pollution.”
Yaritza says: “In the Marines, I lived by the credo ‘leave no one behind.’ Now that I am in civilian life, I am urging our policymakers not to leave any of us behind.”
THE BURDEN OF POLLUTION FOR OLDER ADULTS
Our new Arizona organizer, Hazel Chandler (pictured above), marked her first week with Moms Clean Air Force with a photo and feature in the New York Times about the burden of pollution on older adults. A new study of more than 65 million people shows that breathing low levels of pollution significantly increases the risk of death for older Americans. The study focuses on the effects of particulate pollution, or PM 2.5, which results from burning fossil fuels and harms the heart, lungs, and brain.
Hazel is no stranger to the effects of air pollution. She says: “Sometimes we have several pollution days in a row, and I don’t need to look at the air quality alerts anymore… I can tell by the pressure in my lungs and in my chest, the amount of coughing, I have a chronic cough from it.” Hazel explains: “I can tell if I wake up with a really bad cough, its [sic] probably a high pollution day.”
Karin Stein, our Iowa organizer, was also featured in the article. She says that her family is affected by air pollution, even in rural Iowa: “It’s idyllic. But you have the Western wildfires, or it’s harvest time. We assume that there are no air quality issues. But that’s simply false.”
RAISING KIDS NEAR TOXIC COAL ASH
Moms Clean Air Force member Piper Vargas lives with her family a few miles from a coal ash landfill in Orlando. She discusses her concerns about the resulting air pollution with Inside Climate News: “Vargas fears dust particles carried by the wind from the landfill six miles to the tidy blue lakeside home she shares with her husband Oscar and two sons Max, 8, and Diego, 5. She worries about what inhaling toxic particles might do to her family, especially her sons, and how it might affect groundwater, a vital freshwater resource in the area.” Piper also speaks with National Public Radio: “My mind starts to go to those places like, ‘Why do we still live here?,’ …They’re not cleaning that up. Or they’re still burning [coal] right now. They still have years left of burning it.”
Coal ash contains toxic substances like mercury, arsenic, and lead, which can lead to cancer, neurological damage, and birth defects. Many people are unaware of how dangerous coal ash is. As Piper says on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered: “What happens to the waste from after when they burn it?… Most people don’t think about or know about what they do with that toxic waste.”
BUILDING SUPPORT FOR BUILDING BACK BETTER
Florida field organizers Yaritza Perez and Gabriella Da Silva attended a virtual press conference on environmental justice issues in Florida, where US Representative Kathy Castor (D-Tampa) spoke in support of the Build Back Better Act. Yaritza’s perspective was covered by National Public Radio’s Central Florida News and WUSF Public Media. Yaritza highlights how important the Build Back Better Act is to the Latino community: “We are three times more likely to be negatively affected by air pollution because of where we live. And we live in counties that are currently violating these ground ozone standards. We need to ensure that these plans are put into action to preserve our lands for future generations.”
Gabriella focuses on the need for cleaner energy, referring to a recent request by Tampa Electric to pass on about “$165 million in additional costs to customers because of higher-than-expected natural gas prices.” We need to be able to “put the pressure on utilities such as Tampa Electric to dim down on … increasing their prices for their consumers, and trying to find ways in how they can save money for consumers and provide cleaner energy that’s more sustainable.”
ANDREW WHEELER AND ENVIRONMENTAL INJUSTICE
Moms Clean Air Force’s resource, “10 Ways the EPA Is Making Life Worse for Black and Brown Americans,” written when Trump was president, was cited in a Richmond Times-Dispatch op-ed about Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s choice of former EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to be the state’s secretary of natural resources. The fact sheet, created in October 2020, outlines the many ways that Andrew Wheeler’s EPA put Black and brown communities at risk by rolling back important protections and ignoring scientific evidence.
- DeSmog featured one of Moms Clean Air Force’s photos in an article about a new study that found living near oil and gas operations increases the risk of pregnancy complications.