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August 22, 2011

Pollution Is Personal: NAACP’s Clean Air Conference in D.C.

Karen Monahan at Listening Session

This guest column is by Karen Monahan (pictured), a Sierra Club Environmental Justice organizer and Vice Chair, Minneapolis NAACP.

Every day, the Sierra Club's environmental justice program in Minnesota talks to people whose lives are impacted by air pollution. Whether it be 50-year old Hosie and his recent hospitalization because of an asthma attack or the Get Your Green! students from the High School for Recording Arts rapping about how asthma affects youth, it's clear: pollution is personal. So personal in fact, that it can be overwhelming to see how obvious it is that clean air can literally save lives. That's why it was refreshing to hear from EPA staff and national leaders in DC last month at the NAACP’s Clean Air conference that strong clean air standards that protect our health are on the horizon.

Ten different organizations -- including American Lung Association, Consumers Union, League of Women Voters, Interfaith Power and Light and the NAACP -- rallied together in DC on July 18th for a conference on clean air. One of the speakers, Gina McCarthy from the EPA, reported that one out of 20 deaths is linked to air pollution. She recognized that "pollution is personal" and went on to note that "there is a cost and benefit to every thing in life and the cost of human health has to be a part of the equation." With over $100 million in health costs alone related to air pollution from coal plants, these remarks ring so true in North Minneapolis where Sierra Club joined forces with the Environmental Justice Advocates and others to clean up the Riverside coal plant because of asthma concerns in the community. The conversion of Riverside was completed in 2009.

While in DC, we met with several other Minnesotans who were in town for the conference, and had the opportunity to meet with our legislators to share our concerns about mercury, smog, soot, and EPA rules that could save lives. Some of our members of Congress are true Clean Air champions while others need to hear from constituents that they have our support in standing up for clean air and communities.

As an environmental justice organizer and Vice Chair of the Minneapolis NAACP, my takeaways from the conference are: 1) We have to have comprehensive climate change policies in order to save our lives and our planet; 2) Citizens need to educate and empower our communities and elected officials on poverty and pollution; 3) the EPA and President Obama need to know citizens stand with them and expect them to do the right things when it comes to the environment and our health.

It is up to all of us to stand up and take back our air, water, and land. They belong to the people, not the polluters.

(Picture: Karen Monahan is pictured at a listening session. Courtesy Leslie Fields.)


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