Eugene Students to US Senate: Defend the Clean Air Act

Eugene Students to US Senate: Defend the Clean Air Act

By defending the Clean Air Act, Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley can protect Oregonians from mercury and other toxic pollutants from coal plants

For immediate release

Eugene, OR – On Wednesday the youth-run Cascade Climate Network and the University of Oregon-based Climate Justice League called on Oregon’s US senators to defend the Clean Air Act and public health. With Republicans and conservative Democrats in Congress now attempting to restrict the Clean Air Act’s authority, students urged Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley to stand strong for the law this Earth Day.

“The first Earth Day in 1970 helped usher in the wave of awareness that spurred passage of the modern Clean Air Act,” said Casey Gifford, a junior at University of Oregon. “Forty-one years later, we need to ensure regulators retain their ability to enforce the Clean Air Act and protect Americans from pollution.”

Gifford just returned this week from PowerShift 2011, a youth energy summit that brought 10,000 young voters to Washington, DC to push for clean energy and a transition away from dirty fuel sources like coal plants. “I realized how fortunate I am not to have a coal plant in my immediate neighborhood,” Gifford said. “One speaker at PowerShift began to cry as she told how she has suffered from cancer three times because her home is surrounded by coal plants.”

Oregon only has one coal plant, the Boardman facility located in the northeastern part of the state. But that single plant is Oregon’s largest source of carbon, mercury, and other pollutants that threaten human health and the environment. “Burning coal leads to smog, acid rain, global climate change, and air toxics,” said Terra Smith, who graduated from University of Oregon last term. “The Boardman Plant alone produces 200 pounds of mercury every year, when just 1/70th of a teaspoon of mercury in a 25-acre lake will make the fish unsafe to eat.”

This spring the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working on the nation’s first rule to restrict mercury emissions from coal plants. The move is a requirement of a set of Clean Air Act amendments originally passed by Congress in 1990. But today conservatives in Congress are trying to prevent the EPA from doing its job.

“The Clean Air Act is one of our nation’s oldest and most important environmental laws,” said Nick Engelfried of the Cascade Climate Network, a youth-run organization with chapters at more than fifteen Northwest colleges and universities. “Unfortunately some members of Congress are trying to weaken the Clean Air Act, leaving communities vulnerable to pollution. They’re putting the profits of coal companies and other big polluters above our health and right to clean air.”

At a press conference outside the Wayne L. Morse Courthouse Wednesday, youth organizers gathered around a seven-foot banner with the names of all 700 coal plants in the US written across it. Each of these plants, like the Boardman facility in Oregon, emits mercury and other toxic pollutants. The students next went into the courthouse to hand-deliver copies of a petition to the offices Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley. The petition has nearly 400 signatures collected by UO students in support of a strong federal rule on mercury.

“We need Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley to continue to stand strong for the Clean Air Act,” said Engelfried. “Already this month they helped defeat not one but four different amendments to the federal budget bill that would have reduced the EPA’s ability to enforce pollution laws. Conservatives are certain to attack the Clean Air Act again, and Oregon’s US senators must refuse to compromise.”

“Upholding the Clean Air Act and the EPA’s ability to regulate air toxins will help eliminate pollution sources like the Boardman Plant in Oregon,” Smith said in her closing statement. “Using dirty coal as a main source of energy is not a sustainable practice.”

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