SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Throngs of scientists, doctors, attorneys, government officials and private citizens filled the San Francisco Public Library’s Koret Auditorium on Wednesday to urge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency not to dismantle restrictions on carbon pollution.
“I’m just going to make a plea for human life,” said retired epidemiologist Mary Zhu, who warned against cancer caused by inhaling particulate matter from burning fossil fuels.
In a message to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, she added, “Mr. Pruitt may not understand what asthma and dying of suffocation is like. I beg him, go to an ER, preferably in a low-income neighborhood and see how frantic they are. Go to an ICU. And then decide if you want to kill people.”
Berkeley City Councilmember Ben Bartlett said Pruitt’s proposed repeal will hurt low-income communities that are often close to particulate-spewing power plants.
“Contrary to the unpopular belief of those in Washington, I know climate change is real and it affects everyone,” he said. “By moving to repeal the Clean Power Plan. Mr. Pruitt is turning a blind eye to the welfare of our families and the health of our children and seniors, particularly those in low income communities of color.”
Wednesday marked the second of three planned “listening sessions” by the EPA – and the only one on the West Coast – on its proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era regulation aimed at promoting renewable energy and reducing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants by 32 percent by 2030.
In 2016, a 5-4 Supreme Court halted the plan until legal challenges from coal-powered utilities and 27 states are litigated. This past March, President Donald Trump issued an executive order to review the plan for either suspension or revision if necessary, calling it a job killer.
The EPA’s Pruitt is committed to following that agenda, saying in October that the Obama administration exceeded its authority and the plan should be replaced.
“We are committed to righting the wrongs of the Obama administration by cleaning the regulatory slate,” he said. “Any replacement rule will be done carefully, properly, and with humility, by listening to all those affected by the rule.”
The three panelists representing the EPA – acting deputy regional administrator Deborah Jordan, and Preston Corey and Aaron Ringel from its Office of Intergovernmental Relations – got an earful from more than 100 people horrified at the idea of dismantling regulations intended to curb pollution.
They were from a range of backgrounds and expressed a breadth of concerns. Some worried about the future of their children in a world plagued with increasing climate change-related natural disasters. Others argued on behalf of clean energy as a burgeoning industry that provides more jobs than coal power.
Still others spoke of struggling to breathe as the wildfires that burned swaths of Northern California this past October choked the Bay Area sky with ash.
The Rev. Dr. Ambrose F. Carroll, senior pastor at the Church by the Side of the Road in Berkeley, opened his comment with a quote from his grandmother.
“My grandmother says two things: to whom much is given much is required, and secondly, when you know better, do better,” he said.
Carroll said it was “fitting” that he should be addressing the panel on the last day of Black History Month, and evoked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s support of striking black sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968.
“He understood that social justice was environmental justice,” Carroll said. “As Dr. King fought to improve the hazardous working conditions faced by the black sanitation workers, we’re here today to continue to fight for those on the front lines of pollution – the most vulnerable people in our community, our elderly and children in communities of color.”
People of color face greater risk of health problems from pollution, Carroll said, noting that more than 1 million live within half a mile of an oil and gas operation.
“African-Americans have higher cancer risk from toxic pollution. Black children are 4.5 times more likely to be hospitalized for asthma and ten time more likely to die from asthma than white children. So we come today asking to let us breathe today.”
One of the most impassioned speakers against repeal of the plan is Arsenio Mataka. Representing the California Attorney General’s Office, Mataka sharply criticized Pruitt as close-minded and delivered a stern message that California would fight against repeal in the courts.
“Since being sworn into office, Administrator Pruitt has continued to do everything he can to bring down the Clean Power Plan,” he said, to rousing applause. “If you ignore your responsibilities, and continue down the path you are on, the attorney general will be there to fight you every inch of the way.”
Just before the session started, the Center for Biological Diversity staged a mock funeral outside the library for “Frostpaw the polar bear,” a person in a realistic polar bear costume representing the wildlife harmed by global warming.
“Dearly beloved, he gather here today to pay our respects to Frostpaw the polar bear, who lays before us as a symbol to what is at stake if we fail to take action for climate chaos,” said the center’s climate campaign director Candice Kim, flanked by a dozen supporters holding banners and signs. She called repeal of the Clean Power Plan “a reckless move that threatens public health and the future of our planet.”
“Our funeral ceremony today isn’t just about polar bears. It’s about the thousands and thousands of lives that will be impacted by Pruitt’s callous disregard for public health,” Kim said. “Make no mistake, Scott Pruitt’s reckless plan to kill the CPP is the biggest industry giveaway proposed by the Trump administration so far.”
Kim urged passersby to send comments to the EPA by texting “IgniteChange” to 444999, adding, “What you see before you is not a future I’m willing to accept.”
With that, the group hoisted Frostpaw in his coffin and set off on a march around the block.