This article was originally published on the website of the invaluable PowerShift.org and is reposted here with permission.
Last week, thirty-five of the best and brightest young leaders descended upon the nation’s capitol to deliver the grassroots demands and action that we’ve been organizing for months. From leading campaigns to move campuses beyond coal, to mobilizing against the Keystone XL pipeline, and hosting training and strategy sessions at our regional Power Shift conferences, these young people are leading in the grassroots, but last week they came to DC to be heard. And heard they were.
The first stop was a meeting with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to thank her for her leadership, and show our support for her continuing to lead on critical matters of the mercury ruling and the Keystone XL pipeline. In a packed room on Howard University’s campus, we had a frank discussion on the state of public health, and the challenges we face in protecting it. Tayla Tavor from Michigan shared how she was diagnosed with asthma when she was 3-years old, and now finds herself at Michigan State University fighting to retire the largest on-campus coal plant in the country, which continues to threaten her and her peers’ health.
Administrator Jackson shared our concerns about the impacts of dirty energy. "It’s so important that your voices are heard, that campuses that are supposed to be teaching people aren’t meanwhile polluting the surrounding community with mercury and costing the children a few IQ points because of the need to generate power. It’s simply not fair," Jackson said. And she didn’t mince words about some of the challenges she faces in protecting the American people from big polluters. She slammed the GOP for putting the interests of the coal industry ahead of those of the American people.
Despite it all, when Maura Friedman, a student at University of Georgia, spoke about how Georgia has 13 coal plants (including one on UGA’s campus) and her concern for her reproductive health, Administrator Jackson confirmed that new public health precautions were in the pipeline, and in particular that her administration was committed to finalizing the new mercury ruling by December 16th (currently there are no limits to how much mercury a coal plant can emit).
And on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, we confirmed a major development; Administrator Jackson confirmed that her EPA would be weighing in on the contentious Keystone XL pipeline and it’s faulty Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). When asked about it, she said they would definitely make a statement, because after all, in her words “the pipeline will literally cut our country in half.”