Clean air takes over Capitol Hill

| June 4, 2013

By Denise Abdul-Rahman
Special to Frost Illustrated

WASHINGTON, D.C.—On May 15, more than 100 nurses, physicians, clergy, labor and tribal leaders, and social justice advocates all met with their members of Congress to call for greater protections from smog, coal ash, carbon and other dangerous air pollutants. This National Asthma Awareness Month is an opportunity for Congress and the Obama administration to protect the health of millions of Americans suffering from asthma by adopting strong air pollution standards and protecting the Clean Air Act.

Under the banner of 50 States United for Healthy Air, this diverse group of representatives from 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 represented all 50 states and Puerto Rico to clean up the air we all breathe.

There are three “Clean Air Ambassadors” for the State of Indiana: T. Wyatt Watkins, pastor of an American Baptist/Alliance of Baptists congregation on the east side of Indianapolis, and board chair for educational programming with Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light; Cathi Murray, City County councilwoman of Town of Pines and the representative for the People In Need of Environmental Safety (PINES), and, I, Denise Abdul-Rahman, chair of Indiana NAACP Environmental Climate Justice (ECJ).

As the chair of the Indiana NAACP ECJ, I am mirroring the call of our Clean Air Ambassadors, however specifically for the State of Indiana, the call is for:

• Finalizing a pending standard to reduce carbon emissions from new coal-fired power plants, and to urgently move forward on a standard to reduce emissions from existing power plants. These plants are responsible for more than one third of the carbon pollution generated in our nation. 16 of Indiana’s Coal fired Plants have Coal Ash Ponds.

• Finalizing a federally enforceable coal ash rule. More than 1,400 unregulated coal ash dams and landfills threaten the health and safeties of hundreds of communities living near these dump sites. Despite a massive coal ash spill and a growing number of coal ash contamination cases (204 in 37 states)—11 of these sites are in Indiana alone and ranks fifth highest number of coal ash sites in the U.S.—the EPA has not finalized federal regulations for the disposal of toxic coal ash.

According to Earth Justice Indiana Fact Sheet (, there are deficiencies in the Indiana Coal Ash Regulatory Program and the State of Indiana requires almost none of the essential safeguards required to protect its citizens from contamination of water and air from the toxic chemicals in coal, Indiana fails:

• To require groundwater monitoring at all new and existing ponds and landfills;

• To require composite liners at all new coal ash ponds and landfills;

• To require ash ponds and landfills from being constructed in the water table;

• To require financial assistance for coal ash ponds;

• To regulate use of coal ash as structural fill and

• To require coal ash dams to be designed by professional engineers, be inspected and have emergency response plans.

In fact, according to Indiana Clean Air Ambassador, Cathi Murray, one-third of the citizens in the Town of Pines are forced to drink, bath and brush their teeth in bottled water because their well water is toxic. She said she will continue to advocate until every citizen has access to clean running water, free from coal ash contaminants by:

• Strengthening the current standard for ozone pollution, or smog. This could annually prevent up to 12,000 premature deaths, tens of thousands of asthma attacks and hospital visits, and hundreds of thousands of lost school and work days. According to Indiana State Department of Health ( an estimated 136,202 (one in 13) children and 457,670 (one in 11) adults currently have asthma. The burden of asthma is highest among black children and adults. Black children and adults are nearly two times more prevalent to having asthma than whites and Hispanics.

• Finalizing the pending cleaner gasoline and tailpipe standards (Tier 3). This would reduce smog-producing pollution and soot emitted from our vehicles, preventing up to 2,400 premature deaths, 3,200 hospital admissions and 22,000 asthma attacks each year, nationwide.

Stronger national air quality standards would force polluters to use available technology to clean up their act, reducing the threat to children, older adults, people with lung disease, people of color, low-income communities and outdoor workers and recreators.

In my view, the Clean Air Ambassadors from Indiana expressed many of these concerns to Senator Dan Coats’ staff, Senator Joe Donnelly, personally, Congressman Andre Carson’s staff and Congressman Visclosky, personally. As the Indiana NAACP ECJ chair, the time given to listening to our concerns regarding the Right2Breathe is really appreciated and as chair, I am asking our representatives to lean into environmental climate justice, now!

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This article originally appeared in the June 5, 2013 print edition.


Category: Health, National

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Frost Illustrated is Fort Wayne's oldest weekly newspaper. Your Independent Voice in the Community, featuring news & views of African Americans since 1968.

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