Monday, August 10, 2015

March Toward Cleaner Air in PA

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service

PHOTO: The American Lung Association is among the many health groups that say tougher pollution standards are a big step toward cleaner air in the U.S., especially for low-income residents who live near dirty power plants. Photo courtesy Sierra Club.
PHOTO: The American Lung Association is among the many health groups that say tougher pollution standards are a big step toward cleaner air in the U.S., especially for low-income residents who live near dirty power plants. Photo courtesy Sierra Club.
PHILADELPHIA - Since the Clean Air Act of 1970, America's air has gotten cleaner, but the American Lung Association's 2015 State of the Air report finds that 44 percent of the nation still lives where pollution levels are too often dangerous to breath.

That's more than 138 million Americans.

Enter the Obama administration's new rules on carbon pollution designed to cut emissions by 32 percent nationwide over the next 15 years. The American Lung Association's Janice Nolen, assistant vice president of National Policy, says people who live closest to dirty power plants have the most to gain from the Clean Energy Plan.

She remembers when the Northeast was often referred to as the tailpipe of the nation.

"We've done a great job at helping to clean up some of that so that places, when you get further out, are not as polluted as they once were," Nolen says. "But a lot of the states, like Pennsylvania, are areas where the pollution levels are higher than they should be already because of the pollution from power plants."

The National Black Chamber of Commerce maintains tougher pollution standards will be "especially severe" on African Americans and Hispanics. A 153-page report issued by the organization in June says the new pollution-cutting rules will destroy millions of jobs and more than double the cost of power and natural gas.

Nolen disagrees, explaining the Clean Energy Plan directly addresses the criticisms of the National Black Chamber of Commerce and other opponents.

"Under the plan as it's in place now, the requirements would be that we make sure that we're not harming these people," says Nolen. "Which means for the first time, they may actually get more cleanup than they would otherwise."

Joe Minott, executive director of the Clean Air Council, says while the state has cut carbon dioxide emissions by 15 percent over the last decade, the EPA's plan will allow Pennsylvania to, as he puts it, "finally get serious about slowing climate change."

Minott says climate change threatens children, the elderly and low income communities the most.

"This plan takes environmental justice seriously," he says. "Which is important, since six of Pennsylvania's seven coal-fired power plants are in areas where 30 percent of the low-income population lives within a three-mile radius of a power plant."

According to Minott, 11 Pennsylvania counties had failing grades for ozone smog pollution last year, with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh each suffering more than 30 code orange days, which alert residents to their city's poor air quality.

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