Yesterday, I was one of many people who attended an EPA hearing on the so-called Affordable Clean Energy Rule, which would deregulate coal-powered plants and cause the deaths of the over one-thousand Americans every year. You can read more about it here. Shamefully, this was the only public hearing on this proposed rule in the entire country. Reuters provided some limited coverage of the hearing from the morning.
In my five-minute testimony, I told the story of two boys who died on my pediatric unit during my time as a chaplain here in Chicago, and I discuss how their deaths are related to the suffering of many people in my home of East Tennessee. The EPA’s estimates on the amount of death and disease caused by this rule point to the fact that lack of regard for the environment invariably impacts the poor and disenfranchised disproportionately.
Listen to my testimony below, and submit your own written testimony online by October 31st, 2018 here.
My name is Robin Lovett-Owen, and I am a candidate to become a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
As part of the ordination process, I spent this summer as a chaplain at a hospital here in Chicago, where I was assigned to two pediatric units. As a children’s chaplain, I saw young people of all ages with a variety of grave illnesses, from the tiniest, premature babies recovering from open-heart surgery to twenty-something year-olds suffering from childhood cancers. In my time as a chaplain, I only witnessed the deaths of two children. Both died of asthma attacks.
I want to tell you about these two children. I’ve changed their names in this testimony.
The first was a teenage boy named Alexander, but his family called him Xander. He suffered a major asthma attack, which ultimately led to brain death. He was on my unit for nearly a week before life-sustaining care was ended. In the days leading up to his death, I learned so much about this boy. He was a star athlete and always had friends around him. He was always making others smile and laugh. His mother told me about how Xander would spend time with the kids no one else wanted to be around and how he would bring home abandoned animals, like baby birds or lost dogs. He had a big heart.
The second boy was only eight, and his name was Trey. He had special needs and was non-verbal at baseline. Though he didn’t use words, his parents told me Trey was expressive and happy and playful. He loved Sponge Bob; he loved to play with his sisters, who adored him. Trey was surrounded by love and tenderness because he was full of love and tenderness.
Xander and Trey were very different from each other in life, but their deaths have so much in common – both with each other’s and with 3,600 Americans every year who die of asthma attacks. As I am sure you already know, asthma rates differ for people of different classes and ethnicities – poor people and people of color are more likely to die of asthma. Xander and Trey fit this demographic, as they were both young black boys from the Chicago area. And while these two children remain foremost in my memory because of their deaths, I had dozens of children on my unit who were hospitalized because of severe asthma, most of whom were poor, most of whom were black or Latino.
The disparate rates of asthma depending on where you live, your class, and your race reflect the reality that asthma is not a tragic happenstance – asthma is a manmade disease. It is created by our collective lack of regard for the natural environment and our leniency with pollution. Xander and Trey didn’t die randomly – we could have prevented their deaths.
So, when I read the Affordable Clean Energy rule, my stomach sank. By your own estimates at the EPA, these deregulations will cost 1,400 lives annually, result in up to 15,000 new cases of upper-respiratory disease, and exacerbate asthma for tens of thousands of people. It’s hard to imagine what those numbers mean when you read them from the comfort of your desk; it’s all too easy to imagine what they mean when you’ve met and mourned children like Xander and Trey.
The ACE is a calculated effort to determine how many lives coal is worth. This inhumane calculation is not new to me. I was born and raised in Tennessee, and East Tennessee is my home. Appalachia, known blithely as “coal country” to most people, is close to my heart. Lung disease stemming from coal pollution is common in Appalachia, and it costs our very lives. I am standing before you today as an Appalachian person, telling you that coal is not in our interests. Like children and their families in Chicago, our interest is be healthy and for our air and water to be clean. Coal is not in the interests of Appalachia.
The deaths of black children in Chicagoland may seem like a far cry from the deaths of white coal miners and their families in Appalachia, but they point to the same truth: the true cost of polluting our air is the deaths of the most vulnerable people in our country, whether they be children of color in urban areas or workers in the hollers of the Smokey Mountains. The ACE will cause more deaths like Xander’s and Trey’s, and these same deregulations will cause more intense suffering in Appalachia. The ACE fails the least of these among us.
The cost of coal is far too high, no matter how cheap it gets, no matter how many jobs it creates. We must move away from this deadly and dirty source of energy if we claim to care for the lives of the poor and disenfranchised in our midst. I am asking you today, as a Christian religious leader and a Tennessean, to reject the Affordable Clean Energy Plan.
Thank you for your time.