It shouldn't be dangerous to breathe. But, for thousands of kids in Atlanta, just going outside is like a fullback going into a game without a helmet - unhealthy and unsafe. Millions of American kids live in places where the air is so polluted that its not always safe to practice sports, go for a hike, or visit the local park. In fact, Atlanta has one of the worst asthma rates in the country, meaning the dreams of too many kids are at risk of getting sidelined by chronic health problems.
As a kid from South Carolina who grew up to become a professional football player in Atlanta, my career has been a dream come true. Now, with the Ovie Mughelli Foundation, my focus is on making sure kids all over Georgia and all over the country have the same opportunities to pursue their own dreams. And, like any good game plan, that starts with the fundamentals, like making sure we all have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.
For too long, these basic necessities of life have been getting blitzed by pollution. But now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is stepping up, proposing the Clean Power Plan - the first-ever action to clean up the carbon pollution from power plants that's creating smog, triggering asthma attacks, and threatening our communities by fueling the climate crisis.
With the Clean Power Plan, the EPA is proposing we clean up how we power our country, asking states across the country to come up with plans that will cut carbon pollution by upwards of 30 percent. That can mean getting the power plants that are the largest source of this pollution to clean up their act. It can mean new investments in energy efficiency. And it can mean a new focus on clean, renewable energy sources like wind and solar that are already creating jobs all over the country. But what it will definitely mean is cleaner air for our kids now and safer communities for their future.
It's not exactly a last-minute Hail Mary, but it's literally a lifesaver. The fact is Atlanta communities have been paying the cost for unchecked carbon pollution for far too long. I don't need to tell anyone who watches the news that smog is a serious problem here. The code orange bad air days that plague our summers are keeping children, the elderly, and people with respiratory problems in doors. The code red or purple days are keeping all of us inside.
Forget about exercising or football practice - smog pollution triggers life-threatening asthma attacks, reduces lung functions, and even shortens lives over the longer-term. And the effects of this pollution are being felt already in Georgia, especially in some of our more vulnerable communities. Seventy-one percent of African-Americans live in counties in violation of air pollution standards -- so it's no wonder the incidence of asthma among African Americans is 36 percent higher than everyone else.
But the dangers of this pollution are truly colorblind. With record temperatures, record droughts, record wildfires, and record storms becoming the new normal, we are tasked with being the generation that must act to tackle the climate crisis. Extreme weather fuelled by carbon pollution is threatening communities from coast to coast - but the Clean Power Plan is a huge step in the right direction. This plan doesn't just slash that dangerous carbon pollution, but it recognizes the enormous economic potential in action -- potential that will mean a better future in Georgia. Solar energy is set to boom in Georgia -- and we've already got some of the largest off-shore wind potential of any state.
In other words, we've got great field position, but it's time to get the ball across the goal line. The Clean Power Plan is that forward progress on 3rd and long that we need.
Too many kids across Atlanta and across Georgia already struggle to find safe places to play, to find healthy, affordable food to eat, and to connect to their communities in a meaningful way. The least we can do is ensure the basic building blocks of life, like safe communities and clean air, are available to them. And when we can create thousands of new jobs doing just that, you know we've got a blueprint for success. That's why I am proud to add my voice to the millions speaking out for the Clean Power Plan.
Photo credits: Moms Clean Air Force, Ovie Mughelli Foundation