activists demonstrate during EPA hearing in Philadelphia

Photo by Katie Feeney of Clean Air Council

Tuesday was a very big day in the fight against dirty, deadly coal.  While my friends and colleagues were hanging off of a smokestack in Chicago, my hometown, I was in Philadelphia telling the EPA that it’s time to set standards for the ridiculous amount of pollution that big coal pours into our environment every year.  

I was taking part in one of three EPA hearings across the country held to get feedback on the purposed mercury standard.  This standard will significantly reduce the amount of toxins and heavy metals, including mercury, arsenic, acid gases and other hazardous air pollutants, that the coal industry pours into our environment.  

I had the privilege of listening to person after person speak out in support of these regulations.  I saw faith leaders talk about the love God has for the environment that coal is destroying and physicians tell the stories of their patients who had lost children due to mercury poisoning.  

I heard eco-justice leaders speak about how coal pollution hurts minorities and the poor far more than others, while grandmothers held up pictures of their grandchildren living in the shadow of coal plants. I even watched as a woman gave her testimony in perfect and powerful verse.  She had driven 7 hours from Boston in order to read her poem directly to the EPA.  

All of these amazing and powerful testimonies rattled in my head as I walked up to the microphone to give my own testimony.

Growing up on the south side of Chicago I was always a healthy child, that is until I started rowing on the south branch of the Chicago River in high school.  Every day I rowed past the Fisk (the same plant that activists were painting until Wednesday morning) and Crawford coal plants.  Within 6 months of joining the team I developed severe athletically induced asthma.  It got so bad that I was collapsing after races.  

When I moved to Iowa for college and stopped practicing next to these dirty plants, the asthma disappeared and I was able to start running and rowing again.  I told the EPA my story and my fear that if we don’t reduce pollution now, air everywhere will get so bad that my asthma will come back.  

My exposure to this pollution was worst during my practices, but what about the millions of people that live with that exposure 24 hours a day?  I think about this every day as I bike to work.  I think about all the kids who can’t run and play because they can’t breathe.  I think about the cancer clusters that surround coal plants.  And this morning I thought about the testimony given by Greenpeace activist Jimmy Kelly.

“If there is a safer way to create energy, a way that doesn’t hurt people, why aren’t we doing it?”  It’s such a simple question.  If we can save lives, why aren’t we?

It’s time to make the change.  It’s time to stop hurting people for our electricity.  It’s time for industry to be responsible for it’s own pollution.  There is still time to tell the EPA how you feel, and make sure that they are able to turn this rule into law.  Click this link to email the EPA and tell them how you feel.  Then have your friends do it too.  Take a stand and speak up for healthy, breathable air.