Advocating for Our Right to Breathe Clean Air

Local doctors, tribal leaders, nurses, clergy, labor leaders, parents and concerned citizens from all 50 states descended onto Washington, DC for the “50 States United for Healthy Air” delegation to speak with elected officials and staff from the EPA and the White House to voice their concerns about the quality of our nation’s air and its impact on public health.  Clean Air Ambassadors advocated for legislators to support legislation on emission standards for new and existing power plants, limits on ozone pollution and soot emissions, to support new proposed legislation on cleaner vehicle tailpipe emissions (tier 3) and to urge the EPA to set federal regulations on the disposal of toxic coal ash.

The Clean Air Ambassadors were representative of our different partner organizations: American Nurses Association, Earthjustice, Hip Hop Caucus, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, National Latino Coalition on Climate Change and Physicians of Social Responsibility that came together to hold this national delegation.

Georgia McIntosh, VP of Communications at Earthjustice prepared the ambassadors for their meetings by explaining the importance of their personal stories which “are tools of power due to the story forcing the audience to listen while also invoking emotion.”  She then emphasized that “when data and personal stories are weaved together the audience is moved intellectually and emotionally.”

Personal stories, like the one shared by Hilton Kelly, long-time resident of Port Arthur, Texas did just that. Kelly described his mostly low-income African American home-town as having more than five large refineries, six chemical plants and an incinerator facility. He recited a poem he wrote titled “My Toxic Reality” in which in graphic detail describes the effects of polluting companies that have engulfed this small community and has gravely contributed to the many illnesses of its residents.  He stated an astonishing statistic that “one of out every five households within the low-income people of color community in Port Arthur has a child that is suffering with asthma and other contaminated air-related illnesses. “ Growing up in this town he says, the air pollution was just accepted as a way of life. “We knew our neighbors were dying from cancer and we were expected to die from cancer, it was just the way life was.”

The conference was filled with a diversity of people from all walks of life. Each ambassador had a personal story on how the lack of strong regulation and enforcement of legislation concerning air, carbon and coal ash pollution affected themselves, their family and/or community members. Many of the ambassadors have faced resistance and continued negligence from polluting corporations; therefore these meetings with their elected officials, and EPA and White House staff were very important in not giving up on their fight to invoke change among these companies operational behaviors that contribute contaminants to their environment.  In addition, prior to meeting with their respective legislators, the Clean Air ambassadors were able to mingle, share personal stories and helpful resources with each other and learn about specific lobbying strategies. 

The conversation of promoting clean air within our communities did not begin nor will it end with the conclusion of the “50 States United for Healthy Air” Event.  The Clean Air Ambassadors promised to continue their fight within their communities as well as develop partners with other ambassadors to further expand this fight, because we all no matter the color of our skin or level of income coming into our households have a Right to Breathe Clean Air!
The NAACP is currently joining the fight in support of the EPA proposal titled, “Tier 3 Motor Vehicle Emissions and Fuel Standards,” please support our efforts by find out more information and writing comments to EPA through this link,