Testimony at EPA Public Hearing on Vehicle Pollution Standards

Sierra Club at EPA hearingOn April 29 I provided the following testimony to the EPA at one of two public hearings held – the other in Philadelphia – on their proposed standards to lessen vehicle pollution.   I was honored to be asked by the Chicago Group of the Sierra Club and to be able to hear others’ moving and compelling testimony.  The EPA representatives were gracious and attentive listeners.  Early in the day, a number of car manufacturers testified in favor of the standards as well.

“Thank you for holding public hearings on the Tier 3 Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards Program.

My name is Laura Sabransky.  I live in the city of Chicago, and I have asthma.   I urge the EPA to enact the long overdue standards that will clean up gasoline and reduce smog-forming pollution from cars and light trucks.  I am a volunteer and have never been paid for my decades of advocacy work.

I grew up in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, adjacent to O’Hare airport, surrounded by major highways and expressways, and home to the largest industrial park in the United States.  While planes flew directly overhead five minutes apart, plumes of black smoke hovered over my backyard.

Toyko walkway

Not surprisingly, when my 8th grade science teacher asked us to design a futuristic community, I created a suburban downtown featuring interconnecting above-ground pedestrian walkways that took the place of sidewalks.

Because the air – in my vision of the future – would be too polluted to breathe safely.

In 1993, I was diagnosed with asthma.  Since then I have spent – conservatively – $15,000 of my own money – on prescription medications, devices and medical procedure and visit co-pays, to manage this chronic respiratory condition.  The amount would be much higher if I was uninsured.

Last summer, during record hot temperatures, I traveled to Milwaukee to volunteer for Tom Barrett’s campaign.   I hesitated to make the trip, because I had recently been out of breath from routine outdoor activities.

In Milwaukee, I felt great while walking up hilly streets and stairs of 80 homes for six hours, marveling at the clear, blue sky.  Upon emerging from Chicago’s Amtrak station, however, I noticed that the sky was brownish-grayish.  After walking a half block, my lungs felt tight.  The next day, I had the same experience.  I then realized for the first time, the problem was not me – it was the polluted Chicago air I’m breathing!

During the ensuing record number of Air Quality Action Days with high Ozone, I experienced sharp pains in my lungs, even when I stayed inside all day.  Two medical specialists had no answers on how to address this.

And, I am not alone. 132 million people in the U.S. still live in counties that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution, which equates to more than 4 in 10 people.[i]

According to the most recent asthma data for Chicago:[ii]

  • The asthma hospitalization rate is nearly double the national average.
  •  Up to 40% of asthmatics limit daily activities.
  • Death rates from asthma are 4 to 6 times higher for African Americans and Hispanics than for Caucasians.

Particularly relevant to today’s hearing is that:

  • New medical research concludes that poor air quality associated with busy roads can cause asthma.[iii]
  • Neighborhoods with the highest rate of asthma are near Chicago’s congested highways.  On this map, the red areas indicating the highest asthma rates are clustered around highways.[iv]
  • In 2011, Chicago had the most traffic congestion in the nation.[v]

If one was putting together a formula to ensure that more people suffer and die from asthma and other respiratory conditions, really, it would be difficult to top the one that’s been perfected in Chicago.

The future I envisioned in 8th grade as mostly science fiction – is upon us.

Still, there are organizations like the American Petroleum Institute trying to change the discussion from health and survival by warning of disputable negative consequences if the EPA’s regulations are enacted.

What many people don’t realize is that for decades – companies that profit from poisoning the air we breathe, water we drink and food we eat – have been writing laws that make it easier for them to commit toxic trespass upon us.  And in fact, these laws are being sponsored by many of our lawmakers who see their role less as problem-solvers than profiteers.

Laws restricting states from low-carbon fuel standards programs,[vi] preventing EPA regulation of dirty coal products,[vii] and protecting companies that commit lead poisoning,[viii] to name a few of the hundreds of anti-public health and environment protection laws, are written by corporations and organizations, and sponsored by lawmakers who belong to secret groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

I’m here to tell you that many of us believe we can no longer depend on our elected officials to protect us from the toxic trespasses that threaten our health and lives.

To quote Elizabeth Edwards:
“Those who need a champion cannot afford compromise, in the face of forces that are powerful, persistent, and pernicious and greedy.”

We citizens depend on the EPA to protect us, and we are depending on the EPA to enact the Tier 3 Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards Program.”

[i] American Lung Association, State of the Air Report 2013

[ii] Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago Fact Sheet, various sources

 [iii] European Respiratory Journal, 2013

 [iv] Chicago Initiative to Raise Asthma Equity Study: “Childhood Asthma Prevalence in Chicago Is Associated with Living Close to Highways” 2009

 [v] Urban Mobility Report, 2010

 [vi]Restrictions on Participation in Low-Carbon Fuel Standards Programs,” Approved by ALEC Board of Directors on January 28, 2013.

 [vii] “Intrastate Coal and Use Act,” Approved by ALEC Board of Directors on January 28, 2013.

 [viii] “Voluntary Childhood Lead Exposure Control Act,” Approved by ALEC Board of Directors on December, 1998.


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