EPA Receives 2.1 Million Comments on Carbon Regulations

Last week, the Sierra Club presented the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with more than two million comments supporting proposed carbon regulations. The comments, gathered from 2.1 million public supporters and 60 community groups, set a record for the number of public comments that the Sierra Club has collected on one issue. The environmental group also hosted public hearings in Chicago and Washington DC, which attracted more than 600 attendees, including scientific experts and civilian activists. 

This historic and unprecedented outpouring of support shows that the public strongly supports cleaner air through carbon regulations and will not rest until tough laws are enforced that will clean up the air. The EPA recently put forth a new proposal to limit the concentration of fine particulate matter, such as soot, that occurs in the air.

The Sierra Club says, “Soot is a hidden danger: a microscopic mixture of smoke, liquid droplets and solid metal particles released by sources such as fossil fuel-burning power plants, petroleum refineries and vehicle exhaust. Because of its miniscule size, this pollutant can penetrate deep into our lungs and even bloodstreams causing premature death, heart attacks, and a wide range of other serious health problems.”

EPA Office of Air and Radiation assistant administrator Gina McCarthy received the comments at the EPA office last week. “Administrator McCarthy has been a champion for clean air and protecting public health so it was exciting to have her, and her energy, on hand for the delivery,” the Sierra Club said.

The EPA has acknowledged that fine particle pollution causes cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases such as asthma and bronchitis, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, developmental illnesses, and premature deaths. The federal agency will renew and revise national health policies under the Clean Air Act regarding pollution and air quality, and it is mandated by the Clean Air Act to safeguard public health and abide by scientific research and advice.

According to scientific findings – including a panel of EPA scientists, an EPA report that assessed the efficacy of current air quality standards, and several health and environmental organizations – the new standards should limit fine particle pollution to 11 milligrams per cubic meter per year. This, scientists say, is the toughest limit available and is the best and strongest way to protect public health. A report issued by the EPA, the American Lung Association, Clean Air Task Force and Earthjustice, and verified by a third-party advisory body, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), has confirmed that current particle pollution standards aren’t strict enough to protect public health.

If adopted, these strong standards will alleviate respiratory illnesses for millions of Americans each year, as well as prevent 35,700 premature deaths annually – equivalent to the number of people at a sold-out baseball game.

Major polluters are lobbying the EPA to weaken these protections. These corporations and organizations, such as the American Petroleum Institute, have a financial stake in continuing to pollute our air at the expense of the American people. The polluters have powerful and wealthy lobbyists on their side, but the majority of the population – those who don’t want to endanger their health and that of their families – can stand up against them and prove that there is more strength in numbers than in dollars.

To stop these big companies from further harming public health and safety, grassroots citizens must take a stand. The Sierra Club’s 2.1 million comments on pollution standards have given this movement more momentum than ever; now, it’s time to continue the effort. The EPA is still accepting public comments on this issue; support the Clean Air Act and submit yours here, then encourage your friends and family to do the same.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/horiavarlan/4553311945

Congress Keep The Coal Coming

It has happened again; yet another coal related environmental disaster.  Yesterday, in Wisconsin, thousands of tons of coal ash, mud, and industrial equipment suddenly spilled into Lake Michigan when a bluff collapsed.  This event follows a Republican-controlled House of Representatives bill passed two weeks ago that prevents the EPA from protecting Americans from coal ash pollution; this bill was heavily funded by industry lobbyists. 

Reaction from yesterday’s event evokes memories of past coal related disasters; most recently, we saw the danger of coal mining, when a mine collapse in West Virginia killed 29 workers.  It was the worst mining disaster in the United States in four decades.  In 2008 we saw the environmental damage coal can do when a disaster similar to yesterday’s occurred.  A dike broke at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Kingston Fossil Coal Plant in Tennessee, releasing 5.4 million cubic yards of wet coal ash into local rivers and streams.  The spill was the worst environmental disaster of its kind in United States history.  Several weeks later, another smaller spill occurred in Alabama at a different TVA operated coal plant.  But, with so much coal ash spilling into waterways, where is it all coming from?

During the combustion stage at a coal plant, electrostatic precipitators collect fine particles that rise in the flues; these particles are known as fly ash.  After combustion is complete, bottom ash from the furnace is collected and combined with the fly ash to create coal ash.  Coal ash is stored at the power plant in wet settlement basins, put into landfills, or recycled via input into other products such as Portland cement; though the former only comprises 43% of coal ash disposal. 

Environmental concerns over coal ash stem from the high concentration of heavy metals which are harmful to all members of the ecological community.  Some of the most harmful contaminants include mercury, lead, arsenic, and cadmium.  These contaminants can enter ecosystems in a variety of ways, most commonly, dry coal ash is distributed onto land and water by wind currents.  Dry ash distributed on land can seep through soil and contaminate ground water sources.  In more catastrophic cases, settlement basin infrastructure can fail and lead to the release of large quantities of pollutants directly into local water sources.  Indeed, no water source is safe from coal ash.

Scientific studies have shown an increasingly strong correlation between coal plant proximity to water, both surface and ground sources, and coal ash contamination.  Shockingly, politicians seem to be okay with this reality.

The House of Representative’s decision a fortnight ago proves that policy makers are content to let coal companies take advantage of Americans and our environment.  When will Americans become fed up with coal?  The events in Wisconsin should remind Americans that no coal plant or mine is impervious to disaster and neither is any natural resource.  Yesterday’s disaster could have happened anywhere, but it happened in Lake Michigan, a water source already on the brink of collapse from the effects of industrial pollution, invasive species, and expanding anoxic zone.  In all of this doom and gloom, there is some good news; as Americans we have the tools to end this abuse.  In addition to having the ability to call or write our congress members, we have the resources at hand to make informed decisions about who we’re voting into office and keep tabs on elected official’s voting records.  Don’t let the injustices continue, on November 8th, go out and vote, and get coal out of our air and water.

Photo Credit: blog.nwf.org/wildlifepromise/files/2010/10/toxic-coal-ash-spills-photo-007.jpg