This opinion piece was written for Earthjustice and is reprinted here with permission.
Nobody gets through a day without breathing. Not executives in the coal-fired power and cement industries, which are polluting our air daily. Not the legion of lobbyists they hire to patrol the halls of Congress in defense of dirty air. And not the members of Congress who, hand-in-hand with these special interests, are marching the Clean Air Act off a cliff.
At the very same time that these women and men draw breath, they are working to derail and delay clean air protections with a vigor that suggests there isn't a set of functioning lungs between them.
To confront this audacity, Earthjustice helped to bring a diverse group of doctors, nurses, faith and tribal leaders, and environmental justice advocates to Washington, D.C. earlier this month for an event dubbed 50 States United for Healthy Air. These 80 Clean Air Ambassadors, who came from all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, met with members of Congress, the Obama administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to defend our right to breathe. Rev. Dr. Michael Stinson, one of the ambassadors, stated their purpose clearly: "We are people from all 50 states with a passion for one issue—clean air."
As part of an online storytelling project, Earthjustice staff asked the ambassadors to express in a sentence what clean air is to them. Their sentences read like axioms, as they elucidate core realities and challenges of this issue.
Matthew Tejada, Air Alliance Houston
"Clean air is something everyone should have but not everyone gets."
Kansas City, KS
"Clean air is a healthy America."
"Clean air is endangered."
The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set these health standards, but years of industry pressure and unfavorable political administrations have resulted in their delay—all at great cost to our health. Earthjustice litigation and advocacy has effectively moved the process forward, leading to proposed and final health standards from the EPA against toxic air emissions from power plants, cement plants and other major pollution sources. We continue our work to ensure that strong health protections against this pollution are issued without delay.
Dr. Michael McCally, Physicians for Social Responsibility
Santa Fe, NM
"Clean air is essential to health and cheap at the price."
"Clean air is our responsibility."
These Clean Air Ambassadors made clean air their responsibility. They took the initiative to speak out for our right to breathe, and we are humbled by their efforts. There is much at stake in these times, and we must all do our part to defend those things that allow us to lead happy, healthy lives. We will continue to do our part in the courts, ensuring that the Clean Air Act and other landmark laws are followed. You can do your part by contacting the EPA and demanding that it use the Clean Air Act to protect our health and our lives, which is exactly what it was designed to do.