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May 27, 2011

What Are We Waiting For?

Administrator Lisa P. Jackson was on The Daily Show last week, talking to Jon Stewart about the EPA's proposed rules to limit mercury, acid gases and other toxic pollution from coal plants. She spoke about the harm mercury does ("destroys our children's brains, oftentimes before they're born") and how many lives would be saved each year ("up to 17,000 premature deaths each year"). 

Philadelphia EPA hearing

EPA hearings on mercury from coal-fired power plants took place in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. (Photo credit: Sarah Landini.)

And this week, Americans had a chance to weigh in on the rule at public hearings held by the EPA in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. And weigh in they did -- from moms with strollers to clergy to fishermen to pediatricians. Their message was simple: We've got to stop poisoning our children. We've known about this problem for decades. We know how to fix it. What are we waiting for?

Good question. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran pro/con opinion pieces on the day before the hearing there. Dr. Yolanda Whyte, who has treated "hundreds of children whose health is compromised by pollutants in our air and water," made the case for adopting mercury controls. Then Chris Hobson, the "chief environmental officer" for Southern Company (one of the biggest and worst polluters on the planet) had the job of arguing that we should keep dumping tons of a potent neurotoxin into the environment each year. It's "a complex issue," he wrote. But the phrase that jumped out at me was "nonmeasurable reduction in risk."

Exactly. How do you measure the value of a child's life? How do you quantify the anguish of parents whose child is born severely disabled?  You can't, and there's nothing complex about that.

What's truly astounding is that some (not all) of the companies that burn coal to generate electricity are still arguing against putting pollution controls in place. As Lisa Jackson pointed out, this rule has been 21 years in the making. Waiting another year, another month, even another day -- is too long.

The EPA public hearings are over, but the agency is still accepting comments online through at least July 5th. What are you waiting for? Please send in your comment and urge EPA to protect public health and hold polluters accountable. Thank you!

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