Attacks on EPA are attacks on health, safety

For me, clean air isn’t an abstract concept. I grew up in a polluted town and struggled with childhood asthma. I know what it means to be forced to breathe dirty air.

That’s why it’s so important to me that the Environmental Protection Agency is able to do its job and protect Americans from air pollution—including carbon from power plants.

Coal-fired power plants pump out toxic pollution, with serious health consequences: An estimated 12,000 emergency room visits for asthma, 20,000 heart attacks, and 13,000 premature deaths are linked to America’s dirty, outdated coal plants. They don’t just cost lives, they cost dollars: our country loses nearly $100 billion a year to these preventable health problems.

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And some of us are at greater risk. Seventy-eight percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. That might help explain why one in six black kids suffers from asthma, compared with one in ten nationwide.

But that’s not all. Carbon pollution is the leading contributor to climate change, which hits low-income Americans and communities of color first and worst. And coal plants are the largest single source. For Americans living on the edge, pollution from coal plants delivers a one-two punch. And right now, the EPA is the only force we have to stop it.

The agency is preparing to finalize its first-ever protections against carbon—and big polluters are fighting them at every step.

A bill floated by Reps. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) would throw up a new roadblock, requiring Congress to sign off on the carbon protections—a death sentence, given the gridlock we’ve witnessed in the Capitol in recent months. Meanwhile, congressional leaders are wasting precious time and resources by calling EPA officials to the Hill again and again to defend themselves for doing their job.  

These attacks on the EPA’s authority are attacks on all of us. They signal, without a doubt, that lawmakers prize polluters’ profits over the health and safety of American families.

As we call on lawmakers to protect our health and safety and limit carbon pollution, we need to remember that the wellbeing of coal miners and other fossil fuel workers are part of the equation too.  We must work to ensure that no one—especially mineworkers who daily sacrifice their health to keep our lights on—be forced to choose between clean air or a job that puts food on the table.  Everyone deserves both.

Carbon pollution has created a crisis that threatens our kids. By moving to limit it, the EPA is performing the job we expect and need it to do. You wouldn’t stand in the way of a surgeon on his way to operate on a life-threatening tumor. But that’s exactly what big polluters and their allies in Congress are doing.

And vulnerable Americans—low-income families and people of color—will be the first to suffer if polluters succeed. We need these limits on dangerous carbon pollution—now. And we need our leaders in Congress to step out of the way and let the EPA do its job.

Ellis-Lamkins is chief executive officer for Green For All, a national organization working to build an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.