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This opinion piece was written for Earthjustice and is reprinted here with permission.

Clean air is a life saver, which is why Earthjustice is working to ensure that polluters don’t stand in the way of safeguards against air pollution. Here’s a round up of some recent news in the ongoing campaign to protect our Right to Breathe.

Use the #right2breathe hashtag on Twitter to track campaign updates.

EPA Defends Hazardous Waste Loophole
Back in 2008, the Bush administration exempted oil refineries from safety requirements designed to protect the public from the storage, transport, and burning of hazardous waste. Citizen groups including Earthjustice asked the current EPA to close the loophole, but last week, the agency signaled its support for the Bush-era exemption. This is bad news for communities that live near oil refineries. Wilma Subra of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network said “Communities in the Gulf region already suffer enough from refineries’ toxic pollution. The last thing we need is uncontrolled burning of their hazardous wastes.” A public comment period will open shortly—we’ll keep you posted on what you can do to help close this egregious loophole.

Texas Congressman Dirties the Facts on Cement Plants
Earthjustice and our clients celebrated last August when the U.S. EPA issued strong protections against mercury and other toxic pollution from cement plants. The EPA estimates that cutting cement plants’ pollution could save 2,500 lives every year. But in early Jan. of this year, a Texas congressman announced his intention to use an obscure procedure to block these health protections from ever taking effect. To build support for his effort to strip away these safeguards, Rep. John Carter (R-TX) distorted the truth. In response, the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice released a report that debunks Rep. Carter’s claims.

Regulate Boilers to Save Lives, Create Jobs
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) wrote a great op-ed that calls on the EPA to issue strong health protections against the toxic air pollution created by industrial boilers, which burn coal, oil, or gas to create heat and electricity at industrial facilities. Reducing boilers’ emissions of fine particulate matter (aka PM2.5, see graphic below)—a mix of incredibly small pollution particles that are dwarfed by a grain of sand—could save nearly 5,000 lives every year. But those tiny particles aren’t all that boilers emit; they also release mercury, lead, corrosive acid gases, and cancer-causing benzene and dioxins. The health benefits of reducing these dangerous pollutants haven’t even been quantified. Check out the congressman’s op-ed.


Court Denies EPA’s Request for Deadline Extension on Boiler Health Protections
Speaking of industrial boilers, on Jan. 20 a federal judge denied the EPA’s request for more time to complete its health protections, which were due on Jan. 16 under a court-ordered deadline. The health protections are already many years overdue, but under intense pressure from polluters, the EPA wanted as much as 15 additional months to complete them. Instead, the court gave the agency until Feb. 21. Earthjustice attorney James Pew said the following in an interview:

Given their druthers, agencies will sometimes spend years deliberating over what the best policy would be, but that’s not what Congress wanted. Congress wanted these protections in place, and that’s why it set these deadlines.

Everyone agrees—even industry, as far as I know—that every year of delay kills off another 5,000 people or so. That’s 5,000 dead Americans. Would the industry guys like pictures of these people, or what?