Portland, Maine cityscaape. Photo by Ramona du Houx
By Ramona du Houx
Maine’s Congressional delegation is bringing a message from almost 200,000 Maine people to Washington this week, following tonight’s unanimous Portland City Council vote on their “Healthy Air Resolution”. Portland is the 7th Maine city to pass similar resolutions that call on Congress to protect and defend the Clean Air Act. They join Bangor, Waterville, Augusta, Hallowell, Lewiston and South Portland – home to 198,066 Mainers altogether, according to 2010 U.S. Census data.
Portland’s resolution specifically offers Portland’s support for “the federal Clean Power Plan, stronger federal ozone standards, and all national, state, and community efforts to address the root causes of climate change and ensure healthy air for Maine families and businesses."
Portland’s resolution, was introduced by Mayor Michael Brennan, Councilor Dave Marshall, and Councilor Jon Hinck
“Air pollution affects all of us,” said Dr. Marguerite Pennoyer, a physician specializing in allergy & immunology and a Maine Leadership Board Member for the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “It can lead to asthma attacks, strokes, diabetes, cancer, reproductive and developmental harm, and even premature death. Everyone is affected, but it is particularly dangerous for children, seniors, and people with lung and heart conditions.”
“I sponsored this resolution in order to send a strong message to our Maine delegation,” said Hinck. “Maine people are paying the price for pollution created elsewhere. We need Congress to level the playing field and support standards that are strong and fair. When our kids miss opportunities to learn, when our workers are out sick, and when health costs go up for all of us, it’s slowing growth and job creation, and suppressing Maine’s great potential.”
As Congress reconvenes following their February recess, they are expected to be grappling with dozens of contentious issues, including direct and indirect threats to the Clean Air Act andthe framework it provides for establishing science-based standards, monitoring air quality, and enforcing the rules intended to make the nation’s air healthier to breathe.
“We are thrilled with Portland’s unanimous vote and the important message it sends to Senators Collins and King and Representative Pingree and Poliquin,” said Effie Craven, Healthy Air Coordinator for the American Lung Association. “Maine is the nation’s tailpipe. We have one of the highest asthma rates in the country and there is no question we are already feeling the health and economic impacts of climate change. We need our representatives in Washington to do absolutely everything in their power to clean up the air, defend the Clean Air Act from industry polluters, and fight the root causes of climate change.”
According to the American Lung Association’s 15th annual State of the Air report released in April, Bangor was ranked as one of the four cleanest cities for ozone in the country. While Penobscot County received an “A” on the report card, Portland and its neighbors in southern Maine didn’t fare as well. Cumberland County received a grade of “C” for ozone pollution while York and Hancock Counties both received a grade of “D”, indicating that each county had more days when ozone reached unhealthy levels.
“On poor air quality days, saying that it’s hard to breathe is an understatement,” said Acadia Calderwood, a 14-year-old with asthma. “It’s like breathing through a straw on a humid day. Having an asthma attack is one of the most frightening things I have ever experienced. Asthma affects my life in so many ways.”
Coal-fired power plants are the nation’s single largest source of carbon pollution. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed the Clean Power Plan to set first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants. The EPA also recently proposed strengthening current ozone pollution limits from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to the range of 65-70 ppb – a level that their scientific advisors say would be more protective of human health.
“This is about the health of our kids,” said Jeannette MacNeille from Topsham, who has asthma. “To see a tiny baby struggling mightily to draw his next breath; to see an athletic long-distance runner on the ground with emergency personnel around her and an oxygen mask on her face; to find that a friend’s child has been spending time in the school nurse’s office with a nebulizer instead of in her classroom - these things sap our kids of their hope, their energy, their dreams, and their potential. Our kids are our future, and it matters that we take the time and the trouble to clean up our air.”
Portland’s resolution language says that “the city affirms and commits to supporting the proposed Clean Power Plan and stronger federal ozone standards, as well as fighting climate change and ensuring healthy air for all citizens”. The proclamation includes a variety of statistics related to the dangers of air pollution as well as the success of the Clean Air Act in its four decades of protecting public health.
“The timing of tonight’s resolution vote couldn’t be more important,” added Pennoyer. “We’ll be sending Maine’s Congressional delegation back to Washington with a message from 200,000 Maine people that says, stand up for us – we need to reduce carbon pollution, we need strong ozone standards, we need fair play across state lines, and we need to address the root causes of climate change to ensure healthy air for Maine families and businesses.”