Our children face the greatest risk from polluted air. Toxins in soot can cause premature death and are linked to heart and lung disease, chronic bronchitis, decreased lung function and asthma. The American Lung Association reported last year that there were more than 4.9 million cases of children’s asthma caused by year-round exposure to the pollutants the EPA is trying to control. Even at very low levels, smog can cause asthma, airway irritation and damage, increased respiratory infections, permanent lung damage, chest pain, wheezing, coughing.
And it’s not only children who are at risk. Theresa Landrum still lives on the same block where she was born in southwest Detroit, surrounded by an industrial hub of polluting industries, with smokestacks and chemical tanks just a chain-link fence away from backyards and parks. Teresa stopped working full-time in the early 1990s to help her mother when she was diagnosed with multiple cancers. "First she had cancer of the throat, then the face. In 1986 she was diagnosed with lung cancer but survived. Then she developed cancer of the other lung and died in 1996."
"When we found out Marathon Oil Corporation was bringing in nasty tar sands from Canada, my first reaction was 'Lord have mercy. Where can we go?'" Many Americans are asking the same questions as their air becomes more polluted by the dirty industries that are allowed to pollute without limits.
When the 112th Congress convened in January some of the first bills out of the box were specifically targeted at EPA and some of the specific clean air safeguards that the agency is scheduled to announce later this year – commonsense reductions of carbon pollution, mercury and other toxic air pollution. This week, Chairman Upton introduced a bill to undercut the EPA’s ability to do its job, after slashing the EPA’s budget last week – all the while keeping billions of dollars in tax breaks and loopholes for the biggest oil companies.
Both Upton and Oversight Chairman Issa have pledged to haul EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson up to the Hill before their committees for questioning so frequently that Upton joked he would reserve a parking space for Jackson on Capitol Hill. The opportunity to keep safeguards against toxic pollution is dwindling each day as out-of-touch politicians vie to be the member of Congress who hates the EPA the most.
But the facts are clear. Safeguards against pollution saved the lives of more than 1.8 million people across America. If the proposed new standards and protections are put in place, in 2020 that number is projected to increase to nearly 3 million lives saved.
The EPA must be allowed to continue to protect our children from life-threatening, toxic pollution. Americans’ support for practical protections from corporate polluters was made clear during the EPA’s listening sessions across the country and recent polling shows overwhelming public support for EPA standards against pollution. If Rep. Upton and other politicians continue to undercut our public health and safety, the only place in which America will be able to compete will be in the race to the bottom. No one wants to see what that finish line looks like.
Melinda Pierce is the Sierra Club deputy director of national campaigns.