(Pictured here L-R: Glen Besa, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter Director; Misti Wright Furr, Councilwoman, Dendron Town Council; Amy Paulson, Director, Consortium for Infant and Child Health; and Dr. Kristen Welker-Hood, Physicians for Social Responsibility)
Norfolk, VA: As part of a National Clean Air Day, groups held a press conference today at Children’s Harbor to highlight positive steps the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking to protect public health. The event, one of dozens being held nationwide, brought together Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), Consortium for Infant and Child Health (CINCH), and the Sierra Club in support of efforts by the EPA to strengthen safeguards against smog under the Clean Air Act.
“For years under the Bush administration the EPA’s hands were tied and the agency was unable to perform its job of enforcing ground-level ozone standards scientifically shown to protect the public health,” said Dr. Welker-Hood. “We are heartened that the current administration is no longer ignoring the facts, and hope that politics will not get in the way of this progress.”
Dr. Kristen Welker-Hood, Environment and Health Program Director at Physicians for Social Responsibility, a national medical and public health voice for policies to slow, stop and reverse global warming, joined Amy Paulson, Director of the local Consortium for Infant and Child Health (CINCH), and a faculty member at Eastern Virginia Medical School to discuss how excessive smog has affected Virginia communities. Under the new safer standards, much of the Hampton Roads area will be reclassified to non-attainment for ozone air pollution or smog, along with the Richmond and Fredericksburg areas. This classification reflects the unsafe air that residents of these areas are already breathing each summer when smog is a problem. Northern Virginia is presently in non-attainment because it fails to meet the current more lax standards.
“The new smog limits will help us all breathe a little easier. It’s time to start cleaning up and moving away from dirty energy sources, like the proposed coal plant in Surry county by Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC). Our utilities need to be transitioning to cleaner energy options with investments in efficiency and renewables like offshore wind power,” said Glen Besa, Director of the Sierra Club’s Virginia Chapter.
Today’s events in other parts of the country included everything from rallies to scavenger hunts to identify the smoggiest places, thank-you gifts for metro riders to Clean Air Olympics with black smoke bubble contests. With participation from the American Lung Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Black and Hispanic Youth Caucuses, students, even the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, just to name a few, the events show the widespread support for clean air.
“Lack of clean air is a serious health issue that affects everyone. While the average person on the street wants to be able to participate in outdoor activities and breathe worry free, others suffer more serious health consequences. We already are seeing the health impacts of years of poor air quality in Hampton Roads; especially among our school children where asthma is the primary reason for missed school days,” said Paulson. “And, it’ll only get worse from here if we don’t act now.”
New smog standards were recommended by a scientific panel convened – and then ignored – by the Bush Administration. Now, President Obama is finally acting to implement these new standards, which will not only reduce the number of asthma attacks and other health problems triggered by smog, but will also, for the first time, set standards designed to protect forests, the Chesapeake Bay and the environment.
This welcome and overdue action is another indicator that the proposed coal plant in nearby Surry County will do more damage to the region than good. With the US EPA recognition of poor air quality in Hampton Roads, the proposed Surry Coal Plant could limit economic development in Hampton Roads in addition to adversely impacting public health.
“Coal-fired power plants never bring the prosperity companies like Dominion and ODEC promise,” said Jane Branham, a registered nurse born and raised in Wise County. “There are two coal-fired power plants near where I live, one that’s over 50 years old and one that’s still under construction, and I’m still waiting for the happy days that were promised. It comes as no surprise that my people in Southwest Virginia and the folks living in the town of Dendron near Hampton Roads have something in common: we are poor and in desperate need of jobs. Utility companies know that, and that’s why they target us, and that’s the only reason coal-fired power plants could ever get built here.”
EPA’s proposal calls for the primary limit for ozone, or smog, to be lowered to between 60 and 70 parts per billion—within the range that doctors and scientists say is protective of human health. The agency is also proposing to lower the secondary limit, which helps to lessen environmental problems like haze.
The Sierra Club would like to see the standards set at the more protective limits for both the primary and secondary standards. These lower levels will do the most to protect public health and help ensure that our natural places, and the economies that rely on them are protected.
The agency is taking public comment on the proposed rule until March 22nd.
For more on the proposed rule and today’s events visit: www.sieraclub.org/bigpicture