By: Melissa Nootz, Montana field organizer, Moms Clean Air Force
Date: August 31, 2020
About: Environmental Protection Agency Review of NAAQS for Ozone Docket ID No. EPA-HQOAR-2018-0279
To: Environmental Protection Agency
My name is Melissa Nootz, and I am a Montana field organizer for Moms Clean Air Force. Thanks for this opportunity to testify today.
I am speaking to you today from Livingston, Montana. I want to take a moment to acknowledge the Indigenous people whose traditional lands I call home—including the Blackfeet, Crow, Cheyenne, Sioux, and others.
As a mother, I support commonsense decisions that safeguard human health and the environment. As a former research biologist, I support evidence-based decisions. And as a current elected city commissioner, I support a democracy where the government listens to citizens and uses their feedback along with science to create protective policy.
I’m glad that as a country, we have the Environmental Protection Agency—an independent executive agency with the core mission to protect human health and the environment. Unfortunately, under the current administration, this agency doesn’t appear independent. We are seeing a consistent track record of the EPA doing the minimum—or less—when using both peer-reviewed science and citizen input to inform their decisions. And an agency choosing to protect polluter profits over human health and the environment.
I am testifying today because EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler refuses to strengthen the current National Ambient Air Quality Standards for dangerous smog pollution—even though scientific evidence shows the current standards are not adequately protecting us from asthma, respiratory infections, and increased risk of death from respiratory diseases.
According to the American Lung Association’s 2020 State of the Air Report, in all of Montana the worst grade for high ozone is in Powder River County.
It’s important to remember that Montana is one of the least densely populated states with fewer than seven people per square mile. Powder River County has only .6 people per square mile. So it’s shocking that Powder River County has an ozone grade of C.
This is an important reminder that rural communities also suffer from air pollution.
Two ingredients that make ozone include nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. These can come from cars, trucks, power plants, oil and gas operations, factories, and also wildfires—which are steeply on the rise across the West and around the world because of climate disruption. Climate disruption is one significant contributing factor, and another example of a topic this administration has done nothing to improve.
About 100 miles to the northwest of Powder River County is Colstrip, Montana—a town with just over 2,200 people known for coal mining and coal-fired power plants. To the south and into Wyoming lies the Powder River Basin—the largest source of coal mined in the United States. Oil and gas extraction is common throughout the West, including parts of Montana and across Wyoming.
In between these two predominant and large-scale resource extraction regions are rural communities, including the Crow Reservation and the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Let’s remember that the US Department of Health and Human Services has established Native American children are 60% more likely to have asthma than white children of European descent.
Our country has a long established history of racist policies including sacrifice zones—that is, our country has knowingly and willingly permanently destroyed land and people in the name of extractive resources. Also remember, our country has a long history of racist housing policies leading to extraordinary health and safety disparities between the communities where white people versus Black, brown, Indigenous, and people of color live, work, and play.
The ALA reports establish that ozone pollution is getting worse. It’s no surprise given our country’s history of oppression and discriminatory policies that elevated ozone levels are more dangerous to Black, brown, Indigenous, and other communities of color—where *these* communities are experiencing higher rates of premature death and other health problems from being exposed to this toxic pollution.
EPA, your mission, literally, is to protect human health and the environment. It shouldn’t matter if our environment is a densely populated big city, or a rural community out West. And it shouldn’t matter who our ancestors are. EPA protections are for all Americans—not just the white citizens.
I’m urging you to strengthen ozone standards in order to protect the health of all people. Thank you.