By: Shaina Oliver, Colorado 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
Thank you for providing this opportunity today. My name is Shaina Oliver, and I am a field organizer for Moms Clean Air Force, living in Colorado, representing our more than 43,000 members in the state. But most importantly, I am a mother of four children. My children and I are tribal affiliates of the Navajo Nation, descendants of the genocide known as The Indian Removal Act, known to the Dineh people as The Long Walk of The Navajo. I was born at Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo Reservation. I currently live in Denver, Colorado, with my children and husband. And today I am urging you to support our rights as Indigenous people to have access to clean air, water, and lands, by strengthening ozone and particulate pollutions levels to safer standards.
The Navajo Reservation has been a prime target for government exploitation and abuse inflicted on Indigenous people and communities throughout history. Treaties and bad deals forced on Indigenous people have been a detriment to our health, environment, and economic wealth. Our Indigenous tribal members still rely on centuries-old economic resilience through regenerative agriculture, ranching, and adapting to technology.
Because of systemic environmental violence and racism built into our treaties, laws, policies, and regulations, Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income workers are segregated and redlined into communities near polluting industries. On the Navajo Reservation, coal plants, oil and gas drilling, and uranium mines are neighbors. Like other children on the reservation, I was born prematurely, at low birth weight and with a birth defect that wasn’t detected until later in life. As an infant, I was diagnosed with asthma and struggled to breathe when the air quality was poor. Indigenous people have higher rates of asthma, diabetes, high-blood pressure, heart disease, cancers, mental illness, adverse birth outcomes, and premature deaths than the general population. My family had to move away from the reservation so my father could find a job, since the coal plant and oil and gas didn’t provide enough jobs for the community.
When Indigenous families leave the reservation, we are systemically segregated and redlined into communities that have been set aside for affordable housing areas. Often the only option is to live next to highly polluting industries that spew toxic chemicals in the air and contribute to ground-level ozone or smog. I live near the Suncor refinery in nearby Commerce City that has a long history of violations and is the second largest polluter of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the state, which can contribute to forming more ozone and affect health. Compounding the ozone air pollution problem is all the oil and gas development in the state.
In December of 2019, the EPA reclassified the Denver metro and the Front Range as serious nonattainment for ozone. Thus, it is not surprising that the Denver-Aurora area has earned an “F” ranking for most polluted ozone cities by the American Lung Association State of the Air report. This is a serious problem for people like me who have asthma, and I am deeply concerned about the quality of the air that my children are breathing. Here in Colorado we’ve had daily alerts to stay inside because of the unsafe levels of ground-level ozone.
Ground-level ozone, or smog, is a powerful lung irritant that triggers asthma attacks and contributes to heart and lung disease, including death. These health problems also make people more vulnerable to COVID-19, which is disproportionately impacting Black, Latino, and Indigenous people. CDC recently reported Native Americans are disproportionately impacted by COVID. This underscores the vital importance of pollution protections to protect human health both during and after the coronavirus crisis.
Parents in Colorado are expecting the EPA to do their job by protecting our children’s health from harmful ozone pollution. It is irresponsible that Administrator Wheeler is ignoring the science that can protect communities especially at a time when COVID-19, a respiratory virus, is disproportionately impacting Black, Latino, and Indigenous people.
EPA’s proposal to keep the current, inadequate ozone standard is unacceptable. The science clearly shows that a stronger limit is needed to protect public health. I call on the EPA to follow the science and set stronger National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone pollution.