3.22.2011

MOMS CLEAN AIR FORCE


Readers of Slow Love Life know that I'm what you'd call an older mom; I suppose I should refer to my kids as adult kids, since they're in their twenties. They're on their own. But I still worry about them. Once a mom, always a mom....Lately, I've been examining my soul about what I can do (with the rest of my life) to make their lives--and, someday, their children's lives--better.

I'm excited to share a new project that I've just started. The Environmental Defense Fund--for whom I've been writing a column called Personal Nature--is giving us a web forum for a grass roots campaign to mobilize parents around strengthening the Clean Air Act, called MOMS CLEAN AIR FORCE. We'll be online at first, but over the next nine months we'll go live, too. (It has been a while since I've marched in a demonstration, but I'm ready.) I'm impressed by the marvelous group of bloggers we have already drawn to the cause.

Last week the Environmental Protection Agency released the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, the first-ever national policy to regulate the nasty stuff spewing from the coal plants that provide us with electricity. These standards have been 20 years in the making. In that time, American engineers have developed cost-effective technologies to scrub the emissions from coal plants. Many responsible coal-fired plant owners have installed that technology. Many power companies--and even some coal companies--support these regulations.

But then there are the pro-polluters. The politicians, business people, lobbyists, coal operators who do not want to be regulated. They use the same arguments they've always used: the technology isn't there. Wrong. It isn't cost-effective. Wrong. It will hurt revenues. Wrong. It will cost jobs. Wrong. We don't want the government telling us what to do. Say what? 

Even when the government is protecting our well-being? protecting the health of our children? Because that's what is at the bottom of this fight. It shouldn't be about politics, right or left. It shouldn't be about money. It should be about health.

Mercury is shockingly awful stuff. The more I learn, the angrier I get that it is being spewed into our air. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that has been linked to brain damage in developing fetuses and developmental issues in children's brains. There are lots of other poisons coming from those smoke stacks too. (I've pulled together a "cheat sheet" on this issue for readers.)

People who live under the smokestacks are the worst hit. But these poisons disperse, and everyone is affected. We're all breathing the same air. And eating the same mercury-contaminated food--why do you think pregnant women are told to limit how much tuna they eat? Where do you think that mercury is coming from? The air!


I'm going to be writing about all these things over the coming months, both at Slow Love Life (as usual) and at Moms Clean Air Force--and I'll be joined by a group of bloggers who write about children's health, social justice issues, the environment, parenting; writers who come at this subject from different angles.

But we all drill down to the same bedrock. Protecting our children. VL, at miscellaneousmusings, in a recent comment section at Slow Love Life, wrote about the "roots of cruelty." I've been thinking about that phrase--and that potent word, cruelty. We don't often use such a strong term. But it is appropriate here. It is cruel to poison people. It is cruel (and stupidly shortsighted) to put money ahead of health. It is cruel to cause damage with utter disregard to the impact on the future.

The polluting coal plant owners have children. The pro-pollution politicians and lobbyists have babies--or grandchildren. Don't they want to keep them safe? So why are they playing political games with children's health?

As you can see, I'm furious about this issue. Never did I think that I would be walking around talking about how much I love the Clean Air Act, but there you have it. Some of us still remember when rivers were so polluted they caught fire--as in Cleveland, Ohio in 1969. When the smog in LA and NYC burned your eyes. The Clean Air Act, signed into law in 1970 by none other than President Richard Nixon, was a bipartisan miracle. One of our country's proudest--and most important--moments. Here is a link to the Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act.

Now we want to undo the good we have accomplished? We want to gut EPA's funding?

My level of outrage has been growing over the last few years, as I've followed the machinations of lobbyists, disinformers, and polluters.


The stakes are too high. I'm a mother who wants her children--and their children--to know that I did everything I could to make their world better. Not worse.

So I am fighting back. One thing I do know: Politicians don't like to make moms angry. So let's use that power.

I'm not an expert in anything but being a loving mother. Perhaps it is a function of getting older, but being a concerned, engaged citizen--and having the right to fight--means more to me than it ever did.

I'm hoping that you will feel as passionately as I do, and spread the word. Please let me hear any ideas you have about how to be effective in this campaign. Right now, there is a sixty day comment period at EPA for the public to send a note about their proposed standard. Use this link to write a letter to Lisa Jackson, who heads the Environmental Protection Agency. It is a little effort--for a good cause.

Even the pictures for this Slow Love Life post present an evolution in my thinking about how to approach this issue. I started out: hmm, clean air, I'll show blue sky. Nice. Easy. Those blue sky days are when we are happy to send our children out to play. The problem is, many of these poisons are invisible--the sky is blue, but toxic.

Okay, then, the double rainbow, which my son Theo and I witnessed last summer: A promise at the end of a storm? Hope sent to us from above? I love a miracle as much as the next person. But we can't wait. We have to clean up our mess we have made here on earth.

Then I found the baby in my photo files. I don't know who he is. As I watched him, one summer afternoon, playing on the beach, my heart filled with memories of my own children plashing in the sandy puddles as the tide crept out.

It is all about that child. It is all about our children. 

23 comments:

Farmer's Daughter said...

I love that last photo of the baby on the beach! You can bet I'll be posing my little boy for one just like it when it warms up here!

I look forward to working with you at the Moms Clean Air Force!

Abbie

Marcia said...

Dominique: I think your approach is the right one. It is not about money, it is about health. It would be helpful if we had some "talking points" that we could use to write our own congressional representatives in addition to writing Lisa. It is the Congress that we must target, not Lisa. What else can we do?

Dominique said...

EPA finds it very useful to get positive comment--those really count. They show support. But you are so right, we have to target our own representatives, too. That's a concurrent step--and that's where ALL our energy will go when the comment period at EPA is over. Re "talking points" for now--use the fact sheet over on the MCAF site, and points in the letter. We'll be posting much more information over the coming weeks.

Abbie, I love your site, and I'm looking forward to working with you too! Thanks! d

c said...

I agree, it's about health. Not money.

But the fight HAS to be about money - it's the only language they, politicians (specifically congress), plant owners, lobbyists, and those with the power to effect change, understand.

I haven't looked at the fact sheet yet, I will. But please, whatever strategy you come up with - it's about money.

Look at the horror in Japan. Did you read that the nuclear plant that has caused so much fear and heartache was deemed too old and unsafe and was scheduled to go "off-line"? But money is what kept it operating. Look at the results. I'm certain Tokyo Power now wishes it had not put money (profits) ahead of safety.

It IS about money. Ugh!

I know FOIA can be used to find many facts. Can we find the names of CFOs of not-so-clean coal companies? Can we target them and pose to them the exact question you ask: they are parents too, doesn't it matter to them?

Thanks for keeping the fight going. We all have to fight. If those company owners are as selfish as they sound, they also have to fight to protect themselves - seems their families' lives and wellbeing have no importance to them. Ask them if their own health and wellbeing matters at all.

Bill said...

Dominique,

I would like to further your comment "Politicians don't like to make moms angry" with "Bakery owners don't like to make customers angry" and "Blogsters should think twice about actually naming a local business in a critical way on their blog"

Frankly, I was a little disturbed that some of your readers took it upon themselves to contact the bakery "on your behalf". I know that it's possible to frame that in a positive way, which you did, but I can't help but think that it is not only inappropriate, but also somewhat weird.

Oh, and to get back to your post - EVERYONE is afraid an ANGRY MOM - not just politicians. Angry moms are scary - especially in groups.

Anonymous said...

Search as I might - there is no mention here of what is happening in the Northeast - that is the fracking of the earth to get to the CLEAN NATURAL GAS.

So many misnomers. IF I missed that you are against the fracking of the earth - please let us know. If this Moms group are FOR fracking would like to know before passing along your efforts to others.

Thanks and good luck with those efforts you have recognized.

Ellen

VL said...

Woo hoo, Dominique! I’m thrilled you’re taking on this new project! (In fact, I just happened to write a post that mentions, somewhat tangentially, a problem with the wording of the Clean Water Act that is preventing the EPA from prosecuting a huge number of violations—I wonder if the same thing happens with the CAA?)

In terms of ideas for your project:

1) I like the evolution of your visual thinking here. I think the next step, though, would be to remind people what happens when there is no regulation or insufficient enforcement: pictures of 1930’s Pittsburgh, when gas lamps had to be burned during the day so people could make their way along the streets might be powerful, as would any photos of contemporary China (there are a plethora available online). The Right is very good at using visual tactics to move people (and on occasion manipulate); I think we have to be both aspirational and cautionary.

2) Bearing in mind the profiles of people who tend to be anti-regulation, I think it would be very helpful to remind people that conservation has deep historical roots, among conservative men, no less. In fact, there have been legal regulations on pollution for several centuries; air-specific regulations came into real force, though, with the Industrial Revolution, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

3) You’re right: pollution is inseparable from health. Focused statistics should help here. In the course of research for a project I worked on last year, I came across this alarming fact:

In the Houston Ship Channel (HSC) and other industrial areas, exposure to air pollution increases cancer risk by a factor of 1000. Cases of leukemia and lymphoma are twice as high among kids living within two miles of the HSC.
(http://www.houstontx.gov/health/HoustonHealth/StateOfHealth2007.pdf)

Stats on water quality are equally alarming, which brings me to the next point.

4) Environmental quality is inseparable from health, and air quality is inseparable from water quality, from energy policy, from mining policy, etc., etc. It’s frustrating to feel like we’re bleeding from a thousand separate cuts. We need a coherent, cohesive, environmental protection strategy that doesn’t have loopholes that allow half the companies out there to escape regulation.

Looking forward to seeing this project unfold, and helping in any way I can.

yours,
VL

http://wwwmiscellaneousmusings.blogspot.com/

Kathi said...

Hi there
I was just telling someone recently that it seems to me that I am still parenting as much, if not more than when my kids were little. (they are now 30 and 36 years old) It seemed easy then, take them to school, help them with homework, drive them to their friends house. Life is much harder now more complicated.......but then, there are times when they are parenting me. We all need each other in different ways.
Best...Kathi

Anonymous said...

very happy to see more people
getting on this bandwagon.
However, in my opinion, unless
the poisioning by chemtrail
spraying is stopped and the
intention behind it addressed -
the rest is secondary. You
can see "What in the World
are They Spraying" a film now
out on the subject. It would
be great to get some momentum
going on it. Lynn

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine (about 40 years old), whose mother has advanced Parkinson's disease, recently accompanied her mother to the doctor - a specialist. My friend asked the doctor if Parkinson's had a genetic component and if she is at risk for her mother's disease. The doctor said that they believe Parkinson's to be an environmental disease. My friend said "well, I grew up swimming in the same poluted Green Bay, WI waters as my mom, so I probably am at risk." The doctor said "actually, due to the Clean Air and Water Acts, the water you swam in was much cleaner than the water in your mother's day. While the rate of Parkinson's has been on an incline, we expect it to plateau and then drop off due to the improvement in air and water quality DUE TO THE CLEAN AIR AND WATER ACT." I'm not sure of the science behind this anecdote, but it sure made me thankful for the regulations that our parents were wise enough to enact! Let's do the same for our kids.

Connor said...

What wonderful advocacy to commit one's time to!

Reminding companies that it is advantageous to align their financial interests with environmental defense, is wonderfully done here! Thanks!

The thing about the environment is that the 'not in my backyard' ways of thought aren't enough, since, unless you live in an airtight capsule, every toxin on earth is dynamically distributed. Nobody would like to be ill, that's a given that every corporation and every form of governance can safely infer on behalf of their willing or unwilling constituencies. To breathe in clean air and drink clean water is to be thankful.

karensandburg said...

dominique -- thanks for taking this on. i'm on board with this and just sent a letter to lisa jackson.

Anonymous said...

The Children's Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC is doing important research on the effects of pollution on kids' health and development:

http://www.mountsinai.org/patient-care/service-areas/children/areas-of-care/childrens-environmental-health-center

pamingram said...

Dominique, twenty years ago or so i joined with others in Florida to strengthen water quality standards for dioxin, a byproduct of many chlorinated production processes. We were successful and yet it was evident then as it's evident now given the current attempts to strip the clean air act of its efficacy, that all such incremental environmental 'victories' are never truly successful. at the time we were advocating for new rules, we learned that the science upon which our water quality standards were based, excluded potential harmful effects on women under a certain weight and all children and infants. i doubt much has changed in the intervening years. Additionally we were aware that while our focus was on Florida waterways,the issue was global in nature. dioxin had already been observed in the fatty tissue of residents of Antarctica, far from any point sources, transported via the atmosphere. Thank you for focusing your informed and thoughtfully considered voice on this vital issue. I hope many more mammas, daddys, aunts and uncles will rally with you on behalf of the health of our children,our globe and the future. pamela

jake said...

Okay, take your pick as to where you need to vent your spleen: the angry clerk behind the counter who did not appreciate your business OR those wise sages charged with tending our environment, i.e. the air we breathe and the water we ultimately drink. This is not difficult. Who are these clowns that we've put in office?

pamingram said...

seems to me incivility writ small, as in one's daily interactions with merchants and incivility writ large as in industrial production without concern for the negative impact on fellow citizens are both of a piece. would that we all would be more considerate in all our private and social engagement. That said i do hope people will focus in and rally with Dominique to strengthen, not dismantle, the Clean Air Act. pamela

VL said...

Did you see the new TV ad posted at ClimateProgress.org? "Save the EPA. Save our kids." You can view it at
http://climateprogress.org/2011/03/25/save-the-epa-save-our-kids/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+climateprogress%2FlCrX+%28Climate+Progress%29

Looks like someone else is thinking along the same lines as Moms for Clean Air!

Dominique said...

Hi Ellen, I've posted a few links in the past to some of the excellent reporting on how damaging the unregulated hydrofracking industry has been; notable was a recent series in the New York Times. So no, this group does not support unregulated, polluting hydrofracking.

Pam, you are right, there is a connection in the idea of civility--respecting one another's rights, being decent, honoring the earth. I remember reading about the dioxin fight. And no, far from over. But we can chip away at these polluters.

Jake, no need to take a pick. Big energy is needed for big causes--like coal burning power plants that don't scrub their emissions. Smaller energy for smaller causes--like rudeness. So long as all the energy is sustainable...but that's up to the individual, no?

Thanks for the tip on Mt. Sinai...I'll look up that research. Every major medical institution is against mercury in the air. I'll be writing at MCAF next week about how infants and children are especially vulnerable--and I'll let readers of SLL know that post is up.

The CLEAN AIR ACT did a great deal of good. Unfortunately, coal plants got around it when it came to regulating mercury. So now, our waters are terribly contaminated; 100% of the Great Lakes are under mercury contamination advisories.

That's why this latest round of tighter standards is so important. There's lots of information at the Moms Clean Air Force...and more to come! Thank you all for suggestions and comments....d

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