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.

The Largest Environmental Action in U.S. History – and I Was There

Lynn Hasselberger, Green Page Editor of Elephant Journal, posted some great photos and account of the “Forward on Climate” rally and march on 2/17  in Washington, D.C.  just a day after we participated along with an estimated 40,000 others.  And here, I haven’t even posted anything on Activist’s Diary about it until now.

When Ellen Gunter, eco-spirituality author and asked me why I went, in an interview she did with me for a related Elephant Journal article, I said “Well, should we start with my 8th grade science teacher, Mr. Kahn, who, during the height of the 1970s environmental movement, assigned us the project of building futuristic communities that could sustain the portended damages wrought upon our surroundings?”

My son & I before the march. NO KXL in lipstick. (Note: No, that's not real fur.) Photo taken (and lipstick provided) by Laura Sabransky

Lynn & her son before the march. NO KXL in lipstick. (Note: No, that’s not real fur.) Photo taken (and lipstick provided) by Laura Sabransky

“Or, should I mention my college environmental science professor, whose glint in his eye while discussing overpopulation motivated me to move to Washington D.C. in the mid-80s to take an uppaid internship with National Audubon’s International Population Program?”

Instead, I said, “Let’s just fast-forward to a couple months ago, when I saw the award-winning documentary, “Chasing Ice,” and vowed that I would participate in the next major, organized effort to bring the critical issues surrounding climate change to the fore.”

As of April 2, President Obama has not made a public announcement about whether he will approve or reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

In the mean time:
~ The State Department has issued an report,  funded partially by oil companies that is not truthful about the negative environmental impact of the pipeline;
~ The strictest smog pollution standards in our history were passed by the EPA, and
~ Over the weekend, Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline, which can carry more than 90,000 barrels per day of crude, was shut down after it leaked untold thousands of barrels of oil near the town of Mayflower, Arkansas.

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“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” ~ President Barack Obama

Every day that passes is another day that Keystone XL goes unapproved, and another opportunity for us to tell the State Department and President Obama that you are among the majority of citizens who understand that human actions are creating climate chaos, and you want President Obama to stand by his words that he will put people before politics when it comes to the future of our planet.

Read and see more in Lynn’s article, published in Elephant Journal,
February 18, 2013

“Man of the People” or Shill for Coal Industry?

If you read a letter to the editor you believe is completely lopsided and inaccurate, write and send a response, like my friend Perry Thomas did:

Indiana State Representative Matt Ubelhor is a former manager for Peabody Energy  – one of the, if not the largest, coal companies in the country. He’s leading the charge to continue coal power in Southern Indiana as well as pushing school ‘vouchers’ to help dismantle public education (of course, while his children attend expensive private schools). 

There was a vapid letter to the editor praising Ubelhor in this past Sunday’s local Herald Times as “a man of the people,” “who unlike so many of the liberal politicians, has worked, and worked hard for a living, providing for himself and his family” and as a man who “loves Indiana and wants to keep it environmentally safe and clean, while providing for growth” – “truly a man for us.”

Perry sent this letter in response:

Coal workers lung

Lung of a coal worker with Anthracosilicosis, showing black pigmentation and fibrosis due to inhalation of carbon pigment and silica.

“In response to Joseph HJ Grott’s L.T.T.E. 2013 Mar 10 giving kudos to Ubelhor: If you want your family, your friends, neighbors and community members to suffer poor health, than Mr. Grott’s right- ‘Ubelhor is a man for the people.’ If you want your family, friends, neighbors and community to suffer increased risk of stroke, asthma, COPD, slowed pulmonary reflexes, reduced lung function, reduced cardiac ability, increased risk of heartbeat arrhythmia, increased risk of heart attack & stroke, increased risk of blood clots, peripheral thrombosis, reduced oxygen in your system, accelerated atherosclerosis, endothelial dysfunction, vasoconstriction and hypertension- then Ubelhor’s your man.

You see, Mr. Grott was right in one regard “Matt . . . has worked, and worked hard for a living.” Unfortunately for most people he has worked hard in the coal industry (who he is currently shilling for as a government tool of big coal). Coal fired electricity plants regularly shower us with mercury, lead, other heavy metals, sulphur dioxide, dioxins, polycyclic aromatic chemicals, nitrogen oxides, and other fine particulate matter. All these emissions have horrible sometimes deadly health effects, but Ubelhor doesn’t care. He and his big coal backers are making millions while you get sick and die.”

Featured Activism… Fossil Fuel Divestment

Yes, it’s been almost 2 months since we last visited.  Sandy Hook happened.  Our nation and the world collectively grieved – and continue to grieve –  for the victims.  And,  for our country.  I haven’t taken a break from activism, but did from reporting  it.  More on that in another post.

My earnest and compassionate activist friend Perry in Indiana brought me back here.  He sent me a transcript of his activism this week to post.   I am flattered he wants to share and promote his good works here.  He called one of his favorite podcasts – Best of the Left – to share a great idea.  After reading his plea, visit Go Fossil Free and tell your school or alma mater to divest from fossil fuel companies.  Especially alumni with deep pockets, who give back to your alma mater – they listen to you!

“Jay –  this is Perry from Greene County, Indiana: First I want to say ‘Thanks’ for all you do and especially for putting out the best podcast on the web. Its extremely smart, extremely well-produced, consistent and entertaining. So, keep up the good work.

Second I’d like to leave an activist call for action. My guess is that a good percentage of your listeners are either students or college graduates and for all of those people in those two groups I’d like to urge them to go to gofossilfree.org and sign a petition to get their school to divest from fossil fuels.

We know that 200 publicly-traded companies hold the vast majority of the world’s proven coal, oil and gas reserves. We also know that colleges and universities have billions of dollars to invest in their endowments. We don’t think that the bastions of knowledge, populated with some of the smartest people who know the most about climate change should be making investments that will destroy the planet that the students they’re teaching are going to inherit.

We’ve already got 210 campus campaigns on the map, so go to gofossilfree.org and sign or start a petition urging your college to hit the fossil-fuel companies where it hurts- in the wallet. Thank you.”

Perry also started a petition for his alma mater a month or so ago and shared it with an on-campus environmental group he used to be a part of. Go Perry – Proud to know you!!!

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Dear Activist’s Diary…”Chasing Ice” & Our Melting Planet

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Please go see the incredible documentary “Chasing Ice”

“Think Globally, Act Locally” was my week’s theme.

Twice this week I saw the documentary “Chasing Ice,” which I believe will help reinvigorate environmental activism on climate change issues once it reaches wider distribution. Photographer James Balog, creator of the Extreme Ice Survey, set up time lapse cameras in multiple locations around the world to document the rapid disappearance of our world’s glaciers, so those of us who will not travel to Iceland, Greenland, etc., can see huge, magnificent glaciers “calving” and falling into the ocean for ourselves.

Combined with scientists’ compelling explanations of why this is caused by industrialization and how it is affecting our weather patterns and our ability to sustain life on our planet, I was left with the overwhelming sense that – as Balog puts it – we are in the middle of witnessing geologic changes of historic proportions – not something that only happened thousands of years in the past, but is happening right now.

I also left with the overwhelming feeling that almost nothing else matters as much, if we  cannot keep our planet alive to sustain human life. Or, as prescient comedian George Carlin said (paraphrasing) – there’s nothing to say that humans are supposed to outlive cockroaches. I have repeated that line kiddingly for years, but “Chasing Ice” brings an intense gravitas and urgency to the problem of global warming/climate change. I saw it a 2nd time to watch without crying throughout.

As an activist, my mind was churning throughout the film: “What can I do – in a big way – to raise awareness, to get our lawmakers to pay attention – what can I do?” Throughout the week, there were reminders that awareness starts in our own backyards.

British industrialization

  • Sierra Club wants us to sign a petition to urge Chicago City Council to embrace clean energy as a follow up to citizens voting for the ballot referendum for the city to purchase power for residents. They are urging this plan to eliminate coal from the energy mix, double the amount of the renewable energy that the city purchases in its energy mix &  secure resources from the chosen energy provider to be used to incentivize solar installations around the city.  Sign the petition here.
  • I indicated that I would be happy to meet with my alderman about this. I would love to watch “Chasing Ice” with him as well.
  • Chicago’s influential Mayor Rahm made another one of his defensive and arrogant remarks:  in response to questions about the expected CTA fare increase, he chided that CTA riders could instead drive a car to work.  He has since refused to back down from his comments, which remind us of the bubble politicians live in and how it us up to their constituents to remind them that not everyone can afford a car, wants a car, and if those who want one drove them, no one would be able to move an inch on our streets, much less breathe. Send a note to the Mayor,  like I did, if his ignorant and careless remarks concern you.
  • I contacted a local education/activism organization to see if there could be some collaborations involving Chasing Ice.

Enormous problems call for enormous response, but my reminder this week was that it is easier to look around my immediate environment for how I could make an impact.

What Have You Done to Create Change Today?
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