By Dr. Dolores Leonard and Deitra Covington-Porter
Imagine growing up near a coal-burning power plant with its giant smokestack towering over your neighborhood. Meanwhile, the plant’s excessive air pollution chokes out the skyline and clogs your lungs with a mix of deadly pollutants.
Imagine an asthmatic child having to watch her friends play outside while she can’t. Or the mom who can’t afford to pay for her son’s medication. Or the factory worker who can’t make it into work because of the bronchitis, the asthma attacks, or the heart condition that threatens his livelihood.
Sadly, this is our reality right here in River Rouge where DTE Energy has terrorized the lives of countless families, including ours, by sending toxic pollution into the air. Though generations apart, both of us grew up thinking gray plumes near our schools, heaps of dirty coal and tightened lungs were normal realities. Where we live, in Michigan’s Wayne County — home to the River Rouge Power and Trenton Channel Plants — there are the highest number of pediatric asthma cases in the state, combined with the highest state population of those living in poverty. As a result, the NAACP has named DTE one of the worst environmental justice offenders in the country.
While we can’t always see the pollution in the air with our eyes, we can certainly see its damage in the severe cases of lung and heart disease attributed to this pollution. According to the Clean Air Task Force, coal pollution in the United States costs us more than $100 billion annually in health costs and results in more than 12,000 emergency room visits per year. Additionally, we can see the effects of coal pollution’s contribution to climate disruption.
Last year, we saw strong reminders of the deadly effects of out-of-control weather caused by runaway climate disruption across the country: devastating droughts, raging wildfires, and a typhoon that nearly destroyed a nation. Scientists have settled the argument: Climate disruption is happening and carbon pollution is the major contributor.
For too long, polluters have operated without sufficient safeguards, allowing them to freely threaten American neighborhoods. Finally, after years of delay, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is doing something about it by crafting carbon pollution protections for existing power plants, which should be published this summer.
If finalized, these carbon pollution protections would limit the amount of carbon pollution that dirty coal and gas plants can dump into our air. The safeguards would require energy companies to reduce their carbon pollution using the latest technology.
Thousands of people have shown support for the proposed standards at public hearings. Now recent polling data reveals seven-in-10 American voters support implementing the carbon pollution standards. Support is even higher among African American voters (77 percent) and Latino voters (71 percent). Coal and gas-fired power plants emit more than 2.3 billion metric tons per year of carbon pollution, approximately 40 percent of total U.S. energy-related carbon pollution — it’s time the EPA take action against these heavy polluters and keep American communities safe and healthy.
Through these common-sense protections, our nation can reduce dangerous carbon emissions as well as the toxic soot, smog and mercury that make their way from dirty coal plants into our air, food and bodies. These new safeguards can spark a wave of 21st century energy innovation and modernization that will protect our planet, our communities’ health, and will put our friends and family back to work.
It’s time for our nation to focus our energy on supporting sustainable clean energy jobs instead of continuing to rely on old, dirty coal-fired plants for our energy.
By establishing strong carbon pollution protections, the EPA is acting on President Obama’s Climate Action plan. This move will make for healthier kids, families and workers, while creating much-needed jobs and fighting climate disruption. Let’s clean up the coal and natural gas industries, invest in clean energy, and support the EPA’s new proposed safeguards.
Dr. Dolores Leonard is a retired professor from Wayne County Community College and former River Rouge resident. Deitra Covington-Porter is an executive board member for the Sierra Club’s Michigan Chapter.