Human-caused climate change is throwing global ecological systems out of balance and is connected to every single issue we work on as an environmental organization, from public health to wildlife protection. Coastal areas are already experiencing the effects of climate change and marine ecosystems are in distress, with warmer and more acidic waters resulting from the ocean absorbing unnatural amounts of carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere. Climate change is truly an existential crisis of global proportions, characterized by a long-term trend of warming, increasing severe weather events such as droughts and floods, wildfires, and rapid acidification of our oceans which have absorbed a huge amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide. We pay for these effects in many ways, and will continue to do so with future generations bearing a disproportionate burden for the harm caused by generations of increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Our current course of continued reliance on (and subsidization of) the fossil fuel industry is unsustainable and unjust. We must also acknowledge and address the climate impacts of industrialized agriculture and specifically animal agriculture.
Elected and appointed governmental officials have a fiduciary duty to protect the resources we depend on for life, and leaders of business and industry have power to make a difference for our shared resources, for better or worse. The United States has a critical leadership role to play in the years and decades ahead, and we should encourage our representatives at all levels to work toward policies that address the causes and effects of climate change in meaningful ways. Find and call your representatives today: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials.
Our Children’s Earth Foundation has worked to reduce emissions that contribute to climate change while also putting our health at risk. We have challenged dirty coal plants, fossil fuel refineries, diesel buses, and megafarms that previously enjoyed legal exemptions allowing them to emit volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere. In all our efforts, we push for maximum long-term protections for public health, air quality, and environmental justice. See below for summaries of OCE’s key cases related to protecting our climate for current and future generations alike. Many of our air quality and public health cases also provided a climate benefit; more on those cases is available on our AIR QUALITY page. A full list of OCE’s cases can be found here.
Diesel engine exhaust is carcinogenic and contains Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), which are linked to lung conditions including asthma. Premature deaths linked to NOx and other chemicals in dirty diesel have occurred all over the world for generations. Children are particularly susceptible to the negative health effects of diesel fumes. Diesel exhaust contains tiny particles of toxic metals and chemicals that can become lodged in the lungs, and can even penetrate the lungs and enter the blood stream.
Way back in 2001, OCE challenged the Bay Area Air Quality Management District over a rule which would have allowed a tenfold increase in carcinogenic emissions from diesel generators used intermittently for backup sources of energy. As a result of our lawsuit, the Air District rescinded the rule and proposed a vastly improved set of rules to regulate emissions from new and modified sources of air toxics. We achieved greater governmental transparency and improved rules regulating sources of air toxics for communities in San Francisco and surrounding areas.
Then, OCE turned to the issue of diesel buses throughout California, which more than a million kids rely on for daily transportation. California’s Proposition 65 requires businesses to disclose toxic chemicals in the products they purchase and the pollution they release into the environment. Prop 65 focuses on chemicals that have been clearly shown to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. Diesel fumes from idling bus engines seep into the passenger area of buses and expose kids to a concentrated cloud of toxicity. Idling diesel buses are particularly horrendous, as kids often have no choice but to sit and wait on the bus while being exposed to dangerous pollution that can have direct health consequences, and the buses needlessly increase their greenhouse gas emissions at the same time.
OCE partnered with Environmental Law Foundation and Communities for a Better Environment to reduce diesel exhaust emissions from school buses throughout California. Our lawsuits targeted ten companies that operated the majority of the school buses in the state. The case settlements required that thousands of the dirtiest buses would be replaced or retrofitted to protect children’s health and comply with clean air laws. For buses that were not yet retrofitted, our case settlement required disclosure per Prop 65 in for form of large and conspicuous placards on each bus. The largest company among the defendants, Laidlaw Transit, eventually agreed to settlement terms totaling $34.9 million—a record for a Proposition 65 case—to cover the needed retrofits, buy new buses, and to compensate the plaintiff organizations for attorneys’ fees.
In 2001, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and U.S. EPA entered into a backroom agreement with Mirant Potrero Power Company to provide power from “peaker” units that exceeded hourly operational limits allowed by law. Peaker units burn oil, making them extremely dirty generators of energy in terms of pollution output. These units are designed to operate only during peak demand, and are equipped with little or no pollution control. Pollution from peakers poses serious health risks to people who live and work in surrounding areas.
Typically, peakers at Mirant’s Potrero power plant operated 200-300 hours per year, but in 2001 some of the peakers operated for more than 875 hours. Along with Bayview Hunters Point Community Advocates and Communities for a Better Environment, OCE sued Mirant and other defendants to stop illegal peaker use and force Mirant to install pollution controls for extended use. We also pointed out that the air district violated California’s environmental review law by excluding the public from the planning process and failing to conduct thorough reviews of the environmental impacts of the expanded peaker operation. The City and County of San Francisco also joined the suit. Shortly after filing suit, OCE reached a settlement under which Mirant agreed to stop exceeding the permit limits at the dirty peaker units and to pay $100,000 into a mitigation fund for projects benefiting air quality in Southeast San Francisco.
Like so many organizations, individuals, businesses, states, nations, and other entities, OCE is extremely concerned about the current course of the U.S. government with regard to climate change and environmental policies. OCE is a non-political, non-partisan organization. Healthy children and an inhabitable planet are not political or partisan issues. There is only one major political party in the world which denies the overwhelming scientific consensus regarding human impacts on the global climate. Unfortunately, that political party is located in the United States of America.
OCE has participated and will continue participating in public protests aimed at raising awareness and putting government officials on notice that We The People demand and expect action to protect our climate, our ecosystems, our water, our air, our health, and our children's futures.
The U.S. has a critical leadership role to play in the years and decades ahead. Please encourage your representatives at all levels to work toward policies to address the causes and effects of climate change in meaningful ways.