Youth Leaders Speak Out For Clean Air

Teja Sathi

This is a guest blog post by Teja Sathi, a youth climate leader who will be testifying before the EPA in support of strengthening regulations on ground-level ozone on January 29th.

I’m a science and technology-oriented student, and as such, I’m all for scientific advancements to alleviate the effects of global warming. In fact, I intend to contribute to this field by following an engineering pathway into college and my future career. But even with the best that science has to offer, I know that we can’t just invent our way out of problems with climate change and pollution.

I remember watching Captain Planet as a kid. In that world, Captain Planet would simply use his electrostatic charge to attract particles of carbon dioxide or ground-level ozone, and neatly vacuum them from the air. As I’ve grown up, I know, unfortunately, that there’s no superhero coming to save us. As a youth leader in the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) network, I know it’s up to me to create the change we need. That’s why I’m speaking out to support the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in lowering the standard for the average amount of ground-level ozone in the air to 60 parts per billion. I’ll be testifying at the public hearing on January 29th at EPA Headquarters in Washington D.C. to support the strongest ozone standard possible.

Why? Just like Captain Planet’s adversary, Hoggish Greedly and his smog hog automobiles, our cars release ozone precursors into the atmosphere that in turn, produce large amounts of ozone at earth’s surface. That’s smog. Smog is a threat to anyone who spends time outdoors – so pretty much everyone. Not only does ground-level ozone aggravate asthma and COPD, but it also reacts with the lining of our airways, causing inflammation even in those who don’t already suffer from respiratory illnesses.

It’s clear that smog is dangerous, and that more than 140 million people in the United States live in in areas with unhealthy levels of it. The EPA can help protect these people.

Strengthening the smog standards is the most simple and logical action to take from a scientific perspective. Ground-level ozone is formed by the photochemical reaction of nitrogen oxides in the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). More smog is created when there are more nitrogen oxides and VOCs in the atmosphere. So, to combat all the adverse health effects we see, the only clear choice is to decrease the tailpipe, power plant, and industrial emissions by enforcing stricter standards on the acceptable concentration of ground-level ozone.

This number, decided on by the EPA, is currently 75 parts per billion. At the current level, ozone is still causing vast illness, and even death, across the United States. The EPA must lower the primary ozone standard to 60 ppb in order to better serve the health interests of Americans.

According to the Clean Air Act, interpreted by the EPA, the decision about strengthening ozone regulations must be based solely on public health, not economic factors. These economic factors are still important and should not be ignored, but should be taken into consideration by individual states who have a better idea of their citizens’ livelihoods.

The EPA needs to fulfill its responsibility to the American people, and their health, by enforcing the strongest ozone level standard possible. Even without our own Captain Planet or his electrostatic, smog-vacuuming superpowers, the EPA can keep millions of people in our country safer by establishing stronger ozone regulations.

That’s why I’m testifying at EPA Headquarters in Washington D.C. on January 29th, 2015. I want to make my voice heard for all of the voiceless, and in support of better health for all.