This piece is written by guest blogger Nancy Spencer, a lawyer and consultant to the Environmental Defense Fund.
My mother is a master pie baker. When I was a girl in the late 60s, the highlight of the summer was our annual trip from the Chicago suburbs over to Southwest Michigan to pick the pie fruit to freeze for the next winter. It was a long drive, down the expressway, around the southern tip of Lake Michigan, and on the Skyway past Gary and East Chicago, Indiana. We didn’t know highway names or numbers then. Like dogs, we charted our progress by smell — the unmistakable acrid smell of the corn refiner and the sharp chemical smells around the refineries were our landmarks. All the factories billowed great clouds of what we were not sure, but even as children, we knew it was not good.
The landmark Clean Air Act of 1970 became law about that time. Spectacularly visible pollution like I remember ebbed after that, and many people began to think that the battle for clean air was behind us, safely won, a part of history. Thanks to thorough research through the years, we know far more about the health effects of pollution now than the framers of the Clean Air Act knew in 1970. But their visionary statute created a framework for updating clean air standards to protect public health by keeping up with evolving science. Time and again in the last 40 years, EPA has updated its standards to reflect new science, moving us toward a cleaner and healthier America and saving millions of lives along the way. Study after study has shown that the cost that industry has paid to comply with these standards is far less than the benefits we have gained in good health.
But now, after 40 years of progress, Congress is considering reversing course and rolling back clean air protections. Just last week, legislation was introduced to extend for years the deadlines for the dirtiest coal-fired power plants to reduce their pollution levels. Some of these plants are the very same ones “grandfathered” from compliance with original clean air standards in 1970, and the corporations that want to roll back our public health protections are making the very same arguments now that they did when I was my kids’ age!
So now we know that the battle for clean healthy air is not history. If we want our children to breathe easy, we have to fight for that right. And if we let our guard down, someone will take that right away from us. For Mother’s Day, I promise my children that I will be as tireless as the polluters, and that I will never give up fighting to give them a cleaner healthier world. And if they are good, (as they usually are) I will also bake them a pie.