Statement Of Heather Sage
Environmental Protection Agency
Aging Initiative Public Listening Session
April 23, 2003
Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future
Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future
Good afternoon. I am Heather Sage, Outreach Coordinator for a statewide non-profit organization, Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, or PennFuture. I am here today to speak on behalf of the many hundreds of PennFuture members and volunteers who are senior citizens. PennFuture strives to create a just future, for all Pennsylvanians.
Unfortunately, it seems that the Bush Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency seek to create a future where some lives are valued more than others, where the interests of industry and polluters supercede the health and well being of everyday people. Here in Allegheny County, people over the age of 65 make up over 17 percent of the population, and seniors comprise 15 percent of the statewide population. These numbers will grow as my parents' generation ages. Protecting and improving the health and quality of life of seniors should be viewed as a critical priority. Yet the current approach is to do just the opposite.
Pennsylvanians endure some of the worst air quality in the nation. Pennsylvania seniors, their children and grandchildren, suffer the health consequences of breathing the nation's fourth smoggiest air each day. In a study conducted by Abt Associates in 2002 for the Environmental Integrity Project, it was estimated that in 2001 alone, emissions of sulfur and nitrogen oxides from four Western Pennsylvania power plants led to over 1000 premature deaths, more than 700 cases of chronic bronchitis, nearly 400 hospital admissions, and over 22,000 asthma attacks.
While each one of us is negatively affected by the poor air quality in this state, our seniors bear the greatest burden. The four most frequent causes of death for people 65 and older, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2001, are heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Each of these conditions is worsened by air pollution exposure. My own grandmother, who suffered from heart disease and emphysema, spent nearly the last three years of her life indoors, unable to enjoy fresh air or a sunny day, as it was too dangerous for her to be outside due to the horrible quality of our air. Fine particle "soot" and ground-level ozone, or smog, attack the cardiopulmonary system, reducing lung and heart function. A 2002 Abt Associates study estimates that 30,000 Americans die prematurely each year due to pollution emitted by electric power plants alone-most of these being senior citizens.
Rather than strengthening the current air quality protections we are afforded under the Clean Air Act, or even faithfully enforcing the law, the Bush Administration and the EPA are advocating a plan to allow polluters to emit more smog- and soot-forming pollution, as well as mercury, over a longer period of time. As if that isn't egregious enough, the Administration, and EPA in recent policies, justify doing less to protect public health from air pollution by discounting the estimated value of the lives of senior citizens. While it is sometimes difficult to see through the haze and smog we experience here in Pennsylvania, it is crystal clear that this Administration sides with big corporate interests and industry time and time again, at the expense of public health and despite public interest.
Despite the catchy sound bites, the Administration's air plan will hurt our health, worsen global warming, and help big polluters. When comparing the proposed air plan to the current Clean Air Act protections and provisions, it is apparent that the Administration plan falls dangerously short. This plan would delay reductions in sulfur dioxide by up to six years, would delay reductions in nitrogen oxides by up to eight years, would delay reductions in mercury by up to 10 years, and would do absolutely nothing about carbon dioxide emissions from power plants at all. This plan would repeal safeguards for local air quality, and would prohibit states like Pennsylvania from pursuing any pollution reductions from power plants in upwind states (like Ohio) before 2012, and would then make it next to impossible to do so after that point.
When Administrator Whitman said only a couple of weeks ago in Tampa that she would not put a value on human life, I hope she meant that she would not devalue human life. I hope she meant that the EPA considers the value of each human life to be equally important, such that she would ensure that seniors are not discounted in cost-benefit analyses. I hope she values the quality of human life, and understands that environmental and human health are intricately tied together. Polluters and their allies should not be deciding the fate of our environment, our health, and our lives. Thank you very much.