Our Shared Stake in Clean Air, Livable Climate

07/29/2013 04:46 pm ET | Updated Sep 28, 2013

President Obama's plan to take action on climate change is a critical step in protecting communities and our health. It is also a moral obligation we have to our children and future generations. We commend his leadership in putting forth his climate plan and especially for directing his administration to control industrial carbon pollution from power plants. Reducing carbon pollution from its largest source is not only common sense, but essential, if we are to slow the pace of climate change and to restore healthy air in our communities.

That's why millions of Americans, hundreds of local and national organizations, and 117 Clean Air Ambassadors who gathered in Washington, D.C. in May have been speaking out for our right to breathe clean air. 50 States United for Healthy Air is a coming together of individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds and from every state in our country united by the belief that we should put aside our differences and make this nation and the world one in which we can all breathe a little easier. We join President Obama in his inspirational call to the rest of the nation to do the same: to come together to fight back against climate change -- a threat from which none of us is immune.

The 50 States Ambassadors represented national as well as local organizations, all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, and hailed from all walks of life: doctors, nurses, teachers, clergy, tribal, labor and social justice leaders, rappers and musicians, parents and concerned citizens of all political stripes. Most of the Ambassadors came directly from the front lines of exposure to deadly air pollution. In their daily lives they deliver emergency health care to children struggling to take their next breath, advocate protection for their fence line communities, and comfort family members, friends and congregants who have lost loved ones to lung disease or heart attack.

While in D.C., the ambassadors met with senior staff at the U.S. EPA and members of Congress to share their personal stories and demand a better future for our lungs, our health and our communities. Regardless of their varied individual backgrounds, these ambassadors shared a top goal: to advocate for carbon pollution controls for power plants, recognizing that the old dirty plants are a threat to us all.

The viability of our planet is a nonpartisan issue, upon which all people of all faiths and all political parties should agree. Those who live near and even right next to dirty industrial polluters, like power plants, are particularly at risk of aggravated asthma and other lung and heart diseases made worse from the associated air pollution. Climate change intensifies this threat in already disadvantaged communities where managing poor health outcomes associated with air pollution and responding to extreme weather events will also exacerbate financial hardship. The price of upholding the status quo on dirty energy from fossil fuels is too high for our communities to bear. For example, higher temperatures caused by climate change will trigger higher levels of ozone (smog) and nearly 4 in 10 Americans already live in areas with unhealthful levels of ozone pollution.

Reducing carbon pollution will also help spur the clean up or retirement of the nation's oldest and most polluting power plants. These plants have been exempt from pollution controls for decades and they continue to emit dangerous amounts of soot, sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide, all primary components of smog.

Now we have a President acknowledging that the price our communities have paid and will pay for climate change is unconscionable because it's preventable. As President Obama noted, more than 40 years ago, Congress enacted the Clean Air Act to reduce harmful air pollution, recognizing that this was a national problem that required strong national action. The votes were nearly unanimous. Under this crucial law, the Environmental Protection Agency must set emission standards to limit pollution that "may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare." In 2009, EPA painstakingly analyzed a mountain of scientific evidence and determined that carbon pollution threatens to harm public health and impose devastating effects on people and communities throughout the nation. The Clean Air Act has already saved millions of lives and billions of dollars in health care costs. The same will be true where climate change is concerned and where the stakes are even higher.

In the words of one of our Ambassadors, "[We] must lead by example so our younger generations understand that when we protect our environment, we help to ensure a better quality of life for ourselves and future generations."

50 States United for Healthy Air is a partnership of the American Nurses Association , Earthjustice, Hip Hop Caucus, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement , National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Council of Churches, National Latino Coalition on Climate Change and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Trip Van Noppen

Hector Sanchez
Executive Director
Labor Council for Latin American Advancement

Rev. Lennox Yearwood
Executive Director
Hip Hop Caucus

Karen Daley PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN
American Nurses Association

Mark Magaña
Executive Director
National Latino Coalition on Climate Change

Catherine Thomasson, MD
Executive Director
Physicians for Social Responsibility

Jacqueline Patterson
Director of NAACP Climate Justice Initiative

Cassandra Carmichael
Director, Washington Office and Eco-Justice Programs
National Council of Churches