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Howard's Blog

Howard A. Learner

Air Quality Matters in a Respiratory Health Global Pandemic

In the the midst of a global public health crisis, most air quality news has been focused on the cleaner air from less vehicle traffic and industrial activity.

Sadly, it’s not all good news.

What in the world was Hilco thinking in demolishing its coal plant without dust control in the Little Village community in Chicago? Hilco had a permit to demolish the old Crawford coal plant, which was shut down in 2012 after years of legal action by ELPC with community partner LVEJO and many other allies. That permit apparently required Hilco to extensively spray water around the site so it would not blow into the neighboring homes when the tall smokestack was demolished. That sensible control didn’t happen.

As shown in this video footage taken from a drone, the demolition spewed a massive cloud of dust and soot over the same low-income Latino community the plant has harmed for decades.

The lesson of this debacle should not be cynicism. It should be vigilance. We must continue public participation and engagement to protect the clean air we all need to breathe.

What in the world was the Trump EPA thinking in its decision to not strengthen Clean Air Act standards to reduce small particle pollution (PM 2.5) supported by sound science to protect public health? (OK, I know that some of you will point out the irony in that question.) At 2:12 a.m. on Saturday, ELPC’s Federal Legislative Director Ann Mesnikoff received an email from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget saying not to bother coming for a planned meeting on Monday morning. Our ELPC team was set to argue on behalf of strengthening our air quality protections for fine particulate matter rather than leaving the inadequate and dangerous current standards in place.

Translating the jargon here: “fine particulate matter” or “small particle pollution” or the more technical term PM 2.5 is essentially soot and small dust particles from truck and car exhaust and coal plant pollution. This air pollution exacerbates asthma, COPD, and other respiratory ailments – including COVID-19, as the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health study recently concluded. 

ELPC staff Susan Mudd and Tiffany Werner were going to join Ann to present three years of data from the community air-monitoring program Tiffany coordinates, which creates a block-by-block analysis of Chicago’s PM 2.5 hot spots. They were going to present themore than 10 million data points ELPC has collected working with groups like MAPS Corps, Clean North Branch, Neighbors 4 Environmental Justice, and many others.

Sneak Preview: What in the world is the Trump EPA thinking with its decision to weaken the effective Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) that protect children’s health, clean water, and safe food? The Trump EPA’s proposed regulatory analysis in weakening the MATS rule would flunk an intro economics course exam. The Trump EPA is skewing the regulatory benefit-cost analysis in polluters’ favor by excluding the important real-world health co-benefits of reducing mercury pollution. This distorts sound economic analysis by counting all of the costs, but only some of the benefits. This proposed rollback of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards is legally flawed and should be overturned by the courts.

While most of us are focused on navigating through the perils and challenges of the COVID-19 public health crisis, the Trump EPA sees this as an opportunity to roll back public health and environmental protections behind the scenes. They can proceed without the usual public outcry that should come with each environmental attack.

They want us to be quiet while we’re distracted by COVID-19. ELPC and our partners won’t be. We will continue to fight back and play to win for the rule of law, sound science, economics, and common sense.

Some other quick ELPC Updates:

  • ELPC Hosts Inaugural ELPC Thinks Webinar: Preparing for Great Lakes Flooding:  Last week, via Zoom, we convened our first post-COVID-19 ELPC Thinks Webinar focused on likely flooding from projected Great Lakes higher water levels, and what we need to prepare. Professor Drew Gronewold of the University of Michigan joined ELPC and the many people who tuned in for the excellent presentation and discussion. Watch the full webinar here.
  • ELPC submitted comments this week objecting to the Indiana Department of Transportation’s (INDOT) Mid-States Corridor highway proposal: This highway could potentially cut through the Martin State Forest or Hoosier National Forest and could disturb the forests’ ecosystems and endanger wildlife. ELPC Deputy Director Kevin Brubaker also noted, “here INDOT argues that because an area is declining, the state should build a highway. By this logic, Indiana should be building highways literally everywhere – a position that would quickly bankrupt the state and destroy the environment.”
  • ELPC cautions the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) about Ameren solar net metering plan: Ameren is relying on ambiguous language in state law to change the method used to value and pay home and business owners for solar energy generated from rooftop solar panels. “In general we would like to see the clean energy market develop in a steady stable way in Illinois, that supports financing, that gives customers predictability,” ELPC Staff Attorney Nikhil Vijaykar told Midwest Energy News.
  • ELPC Is Challenging the Trump Administration’s Clean Cars Rollback with Plans to Join Allies in Lawsuit: “The Trump administration acknowledges its change in sensible clean car standards will cause more public health harms, including worse morbidity and mortality rates, and will cost consumers more money at the gas pump,” said Howard Learner, ELPC Executive Director, in MiBiz. “It plainly trumps ideology over common sense during the midst of a public health crisis, and it is legally flawed.”
  • ELPC Is Challenging Line 3 Oil Pipeline thru the Mississippi River’s Headwaters: “There is a lot of new evidence and changed circumstances,” said ELPC Senior Attorney Scott Strand who represents client Friends of the Headwaters to stop the Line 3 oil pipeline in the Headwaters of the Mississippi River. Reflecting on declining oil prices amid the current public health crisis, he said to The Energy Mix, “Our case is stronger. [Oil] demand is gone, and it’s not going to snap right back up. There are long-term demand problems.”
  • Check Out this New Roundtable Conversation on Climate Change in Crain’s Chicago Business featuring both Howard Learner (ELPC) and Michelle Carr (TNC-IL). It’s an interesting discussion and positions climate solutions well for Illinois and the Midwest for this reader audience of business and policy leaders.

Thank you for your engagement and support for ELPC’s effective advocacy in these extraordinary times. I mean it!

Howard A. Learner,

President and Executive Director

Howard Learner is an experienced attorney serving as the President and Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. He is responsible for ELPC’s overall strategic leadership, policy direction, and financial platform.

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