Mainers have a right to clean air

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All people deserve a chance to live a long and healthy life. That is why it is so outrageous that President Donald Trump is gutting the Environmental Protection Agency and important policies that keep our air clean.

Although our air is cleaner than it was 30 years ago because environmental and public health legislation has worked, air pollution is still a major threat to our health here in Maine. In fact, Maine has the dubious distinction of having some of the highest asthma rates in the nation.

Because pollution knows no boundaries, we are unsafe no matter where we live, and our children and elderly are most endangered. The risk of health problems, including premature death, heart attacks, asthma and respiratory illness can impact us all.

According to a new report from Environment Maine Research and Policy Center, people across Maine are still experiencing too many days of increased air and smog pollution each year. In 2015, the Lewiston-Auburn region experienced 57 days of elevated air and smog pollution. Maine is often considered the tailpipe of the U.S, due to air pollution that comes from the west. The Clean Air Act was originally called the Muskie Act, after Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie, who was instrumental in its creation because he understood the risk to health from air pollution. Protecting our air and our environment is key to who we are as Mainers.

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However, the environmental rollbacks and budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration threaten the health of Mainers across the state and undermine our efforts to improve air quality and decrease air pollution statewide. In particular, people who live near local pollution “hotspots” face higher levels of pollution and greater health risks. For example, research suggests that living near busy roads causes asthma attacks, especially in children, and increases the risk of cardiopulmonary disease, heart attack, lung cancer and even dementia.

Climate change is a major part of the problem, too. Global warming is extending the smog season across more of the year, and driving up smog levels on hot days. Warming is also intensifying drought and making wildfires more frequent and intense — causing additional pollution that can travel hundreds of miles.

Maine can do better than that. Instead of continuing to pollute the air, we can choose a much cleaner country, where the air is safe for everyone and where the climate is stable and able to support healthy communities.

Even one day with unhealthy air is too many.

So why is President Trump taking such reckless actions on clean air? In just the past month, the president has proposed to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent and instructed the agency to rewrite the Clean Power Plan and roll back general clean cars standards — the largest steps the United State has ever taken to cut dangerous global warming pollution.

Make no mistake, those reckless proposals would hurt our health. Killing the Clean Power Plan alone could lead to 3,600 additional premature deaths, 90,000 more asthma attacks in children, and 300,000 more missed work and school days across the country by 2030 .

In the face of these dangerous actions by the Trump Administration on clean air, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King must stand for our health. And the Maine Department of Environmental Protection should work to improve Maine’s clean air policies, including doubling the strength the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

We were disappointed to hear that recent RGGI proposals fall short of that ambition. During the past decade, the program has saved 600 lives and averted 9,000 asthma attacks across the region. Stronger protections would magnify these benefits. Choosing a less ambitious proposal means less protection for our health and environment.

We need to continue reducing the burning of dangerous and dirty fuels such as coal, oil and gas and, instead, shift to cleaner, renewable energy.

The more we cut pollution, the sooner dirty air days can become a thing of the past.

Emma Rotner is a campaign organizer at Environment Maine. Karen D’Andrea is the executive director of the Physicians for Social Responsibility Maine Chapter.

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