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Start Up, Shut Down, Malfunction Rule

Earth Month is coming to an end with some exciting updates. Last week WE ACT capitalized on Earth Day as an opportunity to send President Barack Obama a letter pertaining to a petition Sierra Club began in support of the EPA’s Start Up, Shut Down, Malfunction (SSM) rule. The EPA proposed this rule on February 12, 2013 “to ensure states have plans in place that require industrial facilities across the country to follow air pollution rules during times when the facility is starting up or shutting down, or when a malfunction occurs.” Whenever industrial facilities are beginning construction, are being shut down, or something in the facility malfunctions there tends to be an increase in air pollution emitted that is highly harmful to those who live nearby. This pollution contributes to the creation of smog as well.

The letter is a testament to the inspiring work of the Environmental Justice Leadership Forum on Climate Change or EJ Forum for short. The letter spoke about the communities that live in these unfortunate areas and how they live socially disenfranchised and oppressed with higher than average levels of toxic pollution. The geography of these communities is inextricably linked to these pollution problems. Because of income and race these communities are more likely to live adjacent to power plants, refineries, manufacturing plants and other industrial facilities which is why the proposed SSM rule is so crucial to making a noticeable and immediate effect for these communities. This is especially crucial for those who are younger and older because they are more likely to be affected by pollution.

In my Sustainable Energy and Environmental Health class at GW, I had to research the air quality levels for my hometown. I chose to investigate Houston, which most recognize for the oil refineries it houses. Additionally if the Keystone Pipeline XL passes it will likely be the endpoint for this highly controversial pipeline. Unsurprisingly the county I live in, Harris, had a high number of unhealthy days for asthma and other lung disease in 2012. Additionally Harris County received an ozone grade of F from the American Lung Association with 30 orange ozone days. The proposed SSM rule would benefit places like the county I live in. The majority of people that live there are minorities and on the lower end of socioeconomic status. As someone who grew up with constant trips to the pediatrician for my asthma, I can relate to this cause. The communities that my family live in need something like this rule to start protecting them from these adverse effects.

Although Earth Day has passed, do some research about the area you live in. Do you also live somewhere with high ozone days? Are there increasing cases of asthma? Does the area you live in house industrial facilities? These are just a few questions to consider when starting this journey. Knowledge and being vocal about the issues is what will make a difference. We need more action like this letter to President Obama to garner attention for this cause. The more people can show they care, the more likely others will follow suit.

Written by: Mayra Cruz