Tampa activists demand cleaner air rules from the EPA

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Environmentalists rallied for clean air this morning in downtown Tampa. Their demand for less smog goes hand in hand with their call for reducing the rising rates of asthma in children.

About twenty protesters gathered around the base of a giant inflatable hand in Gaslight Park. The hand was holding an asthma inhaler, which for the activists represents the negative health effects of breathing in too much smog from fossil fuel pollution. Phil Compton heads the local Sierra Club chapter.

The Environmental Protection Agency is currently under pressure to reduce the allowable smog level from 75 parts per billion down to 60 to 70 parts per billion. It’s being challenged by fossil fuel industry lobbyists. Compton said that Hillsborough County has some of the worst air quality in Florida, much of which is attributable to cars.

While Hillsborough County doesn’t have fully developed mass transportation, Marcia Meijia from the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority says the county is taking some steps in the right direction.

Lynn Ringenberg is a doctor, a USF professor, and is a member of the Physicians of Social Responsibility in Tampa. She was worried about the effects smog is having on the developmental health of Florida’s children.

And although the EPA is using medical data to back up their decision to look at lowering smog levels, the American Petroleum Institute and politicians like House Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor are criticizing the agency and President Barack Obama for making businesses pay for emissions reduction. But the Sierra Club’s Compton said the health benefits to Hillsborough residents will be well worth it.

Kristen Rogers is the Chair of the Suncoast Pediatric Asthma Coalition is a mother of three with Asthma, and suffers from asthma herself. She is often forced to stay inside due to poor air conditions. She said the disease is not only costing her precious time, but also hundred in medical costs.

Compton praised the Obama administration for recently passing a phased increase in fuel efficiency standards to more than double current levels by 2025. But many politicians like Republican U.S. Representative Gus Bilirakis say the state’s Department of Environmental Protection does a fine job, and the EPA needs to stop regulating states. But Compton says that the EPA is necessary, since air pollution can easily cross state lines.

The Sierra Club says that with 7 million Americans suffering with asthma, and more than $100 billion in total pollution related health costs, Americans will pay more in the long run without the new rule, than they will in the short term with any potential job losses in the coal or gas industries. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is expected to propose a new rule on smog limits next week.

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