Arizona: Fight for Clean Air and Clean Energy Inspires a Family of Activists
Kathy Mohr-Almeida and her daughter Anna (pictured at the right) - along with millions of others in Arizona and surrounding states - could breathe a little easier if the Environmental Protection Agency steps up to enforce the Clean Air Act protections for Navajo Generating Station, one of the biggest polluters in Arizona.
Kathy and Anna are superstar volunteers for Arizona Beyond Coal who are working to transition Arizona away from the Navajo Generating Station coal plant (NGS) and replace it with clean energy. The 2,250-megawatt NGS, near Page, Arizona, is the largest and dirtiest coal plant in the state. Today Kathy and Anna joined a crowd of parents marching and delivering more than 10,000 petitions to the Environmental Protection Agency office in Tempe demanding strong clean air protections at NGS.
"People who live near NGS are suffering from health concerns - the families on the Navajo reservation are sick because of the coal plant's pollution," says Kathy, a mental health counselor in Phoenix. "Many of the people with breathing problems are kids."
The EPA is expected to decide within the next few weeks whether to enforce the Clean Air Act at NGS and require reduced pollution through the retrofit technology. The Clean Air Task Force estimates that pollution from Navajo Generating Station contributes to 16 premature deaths, 25 heart attacks, 300 asthma attacks, and 15 asthma emergency room visits each year, with total annual health costs of more than $127 million.
"The plant also has a negative impact on the Grand Canyon," says Kathy, referring to the pollution haze that clouds the Grand Canyon many days. "These places draw people to the northern part of the state, which economically benefits the entire state. If the air is too dirty to enjoy the most spectacular site on Earth, how long will people continue to visit?"
Kathy's daughter Anna sees the realities of bad air quality around her every day.
"Many of our family members have breathing difficulties," says 11-year-old Anna. "My cousin, Ricky, has been hospitalized for breathing difficulties, and my dad also has difficulty breathing when the air is dirty. Six kids in my class suffer from breathing problems, which get worse when the air is dirty."
The fight to clean up NGS for Kathy and Anna is also about the huge amount of climate pollution the plant spews into the atmosphere.
"Climate change is the biggest concern human beings currently face," says Kathy. "All other issues pale in comparison to mitigating the impact of human activity on the environment now."
Kathy also became an activist because of her daughter. "I cannot imagine looking Anna in the eye down the road and telling her I did nothing to prevent catastrophic climate change. Mitigating the negative impact of human activity on the climate is a very important value in our home - more important than personal goals."
Anna has been so inspired that she's started a nonprofit environmental organization called Kids Climate Action Network (Kids CAN!), to empower the youth voice in the climate change conversation. Her mom says Anna is working with renowned climate scientists, community leaders, and others on climate and clean air issues. Anna will also be attending the Sierra Student Coalition summer training program in July.
You can hear the pride in Kathy's voice when she talks about her daughter. "(Anna's) organization is by kids for kids, and her website includes a video forum for kids from around the world to share ideas, activities, and action steps."
Anna's crusade for climate action and clean air has had her testifying at numerous public hearings and speaking at rallies. Her passion is contagious.
"Young people should care about having clean air and a stable climate now because we - my generation - will be most harmed by the poor choices adults have made," says Anna. "I think burning a fossil fuel like coal is like having a cancer, because the problem continues to get worse and worse without any help. We are ready for a serious treatment to stop climate change. The longer we put off taking our medicine, the worse the fossil-fuel-caused cancer will get. We are already very seriously sick."
This is why the solution for Arizona (and beyond!) is clean energy. Activists working to clean up and transition NGS are big advocates for solar and wind power - and we're with them every step of the way.
If you're in Arizona, you can help by taking action here.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign