THE BLOG
04/07/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The People Speak Out in Favor of Stronger Smog Standards

"I've been hospitalized many times with asthma attacks. It's scary when you can't catch your breath. When I was young, going to the hospital with asthma was a monthly thing. Now I'm on an adult dose of asthma medicine and the only other way to manage the asthma is to limit my outdoor activities. That's hard to do at 14. My doctor's even talking to me about moving away from Houston's pollution when I go to college."

Those are the words of 14-year old asthma patient Aaron Smith, who attended the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hearing on its proposed ozone rule in Houston, Texas, on Tuesday with his mother Rosa Smith. The Smith family lives near the Houston refineries.

If those statements by Aaron aren't enough to make you think about what kind of pollution we're putting into our air, that's a shame. Smog, one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution, comes mostly from coal-fired power plants and automobiles and is harmful to human health even at very low levels. Scientists have compared exposure to smog pollution as getting sunburn on the lungs. Smog also blocks the views and harms forests and wildlife in some of our nation’s most special places, like the Grand Canyon and the Great Smoky Mountains.

During the Bush administration, the EPA convened a group of scientists who recommended stronger national ozone limits, but then they ignored the recommendations of those scientists. Now President Obama's EPA is back on the job, using on the best scientific information to make sure the Clean Air Act continues to protect public health.

EPA's proposed National Ambient Air Quality Standard follows the recommendation of its scientists and numerous health groups, setting the limit between 60 and 70 parts per billion of ozone (one of the key ingredients in smog) - and we support the strongest limits of 60 ppb. EPA also has a proposal for a secondary limit to protect the environment. That limit should be set at the lower level of 7 ppm-hours to help ensure that our natural places and the economies that rely on them are protected.

EPA held three public hearings this week on the rule, in Arlington, VA; Houston, TX; and Sacramento, CA. There was a fantastic turn-out at each hearing from those who want stronger smog standards, with the overwhelming majority of speakers at all the hearings supporting EPA's proposed ozone standards.

We teamed up with the American Lung Association and many other excellent health and environmental organizations to turn out the crowds to these hearings. I spoke at our pre-hearing press conference in Arlington on Tuesday, pointing out that burning coal is one of the biggest contributors to smog in the U.S.

We had doctors, scientists, concerned citizens and many parents testifying on behalf of the stronger standard. At the California hearing, environmental justice advocates from the Oakland area spoke out about the pollution and high levels of asthma rates that disproportionately affect the African American communities there, where people are more likely to die - 10 years too soon - because of ozone related illnesses.  

And young Aaron Smith in Houston was not alone in the worries about his future. We saw many parents testifying on behalf of their children. High school students and teachers testified at the Sacramento hearing (video).

Check out my post on the Sierra Club Climate Crossroads blog for some great video and photos of the hearings.

Unfortunately, we also saw many from the coal and oil industries testifying against the proposed rule. Yet while the dirty industry spokespeople continued trying to create more roadblocks for clean air, our families and organizers remain positive about cleaning up our air.

"In Texas, we've been cleaning up the air for forty years, so we can do this. We've done it before," said Neil Carman, Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter Clean Air Program Director, chemist and former Texas state air regulator. "Science tells us that the current smog standards fail to protect the health of millions of Americans. We are very happy to see EPA proposing much-needed protections against ground level ozone.”

Have you submitted your comments yet on this stronger ozone rule? Do it now!