Sept. 18 deadline for public testimony on pollution related health cost
A new ad campaign to draw attention to the disproportionate impacts of smog on communities of color has been unveiled by a coalition that includes the NAACP and the Sierra Club. The ad campaign comes after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) smog pollution standards recommendation was sent to the Office of Budget and Management in August for further analysis, said members of the group during a September 3 tele-press conference with reporters including the MSR.
“We are pleased to join our coalition partners” in the ad campaign, which includes the Sierra Club, Moms Clean Air Force, Earthjustice and Physicians for Social Responsibility, said NAACP Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy Hilary Shelton.
The ads will run first in Black newspapers in Detroit, Dallas, Chicago and Washington, D.C., said Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign Director Mary Anne Hitt. When asked about other Black newspapers, Hitt told the MSR, “We are looking at other places to place the ad.”
Shelton said the NAACP began advocating for stronger clean air standards in 2011. “Most of our neighborhoods are disproportionately impacted,” he continued. He noted that seven in 10 Blacks live in areas with unsafe air, and Black children are three times more likely to be admitted to the hospital due to asthma than other children.
Blacks and other people of color “are unfairly at risk,” said Dr. Catherine Thomasson, Physicians for Social Responsibility executive director.
“I can’t control the air,” notes Earthjustice Legislative Counsel Stephanie Maddin, a Black mother of a youngster, who expressed concern about her child and other children. Earthjustice Legislative Counsel Stephanie Maddin wants the August proposed Environmental Protection Agency recommendations to be accepted by the Obama administration.
“We support President Obama to ensure the right of every American to breathe fresh air and have a healthy life regardless of race, ethnicity or place of residence,” said Shelton.
“We have gotten a half-million comments to the EPA for a stronger pollution standard,” concluded Hitt. “Now the ball is in the administration’s court.”
Pollution costs public hearing update
The public has until September 18 to comment on the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s effort to determine the true costs of pollution for four specific pollutants, including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. It has been nearly 20 years since the commission established environmental and health costs related to fossil fuel pollution caused by generating electricity.
Some utilities have been vocal opponents of the plan, claiming that it would be too costly to implement new state or federal standards. But advocates believe instead that clean air and healthy communities should be their top concern.
Judge LauraSue Schlatter is expected to use public testimonies and written comments and include them along with findings, conclusions and recommendations in her report to the commission about the environmental costs for the pollutants early next year.
Boyce Jones was among the persons who testified in front of Schlatter at an August 26 public hearing in St. Paul. “My  ZIP code leads in the seven-county metropolitan area [in] the highest number of hospitalizations due to [health] complications,” stated Jones, who told of his teenage son having to be rushed to a local hospital because of shortness of breath.
Jones later told the MSR that the clean air issue must be “humanized and put focus on it [and] the people [who] are suffering.”
Kerry Jo Felder testified on the “high volume of traffic” in her neighborhood that contributes to bad air. She told the judge that children with asthma, especially in North Minneapolis, is a serious issue.
“You can’t put a dollar amount on human life,” stated Sierra Club’s Karen Monahan as she testified against the utilities’ contention. “I’m stunned [by] how this issue has been framed by some.”
Filsan Ibrahim of St. Paul and Noelle Barber of Minneapolis didn’t testify but watched the proceedings. Ibrahim said she hopes Schlatter will take the public testimonies into account as she completes her report.
“I want to bring this information back to the community,” concluded Barber.
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.