Summer Lee touts federal investment in pollution monitoring with other leaders (Penn-Capital Star)

PITTSBURGH — A trio of Pittsburgh-area politicians joined local climate action groups in Downtown Pittsburgh on Thursday to spotlight the nearly $2 million southwestern Pennsylvania has been awarded from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) to monitor harmful air pollution in the region.

“Our region has been grappling with the consequences of air pollution for a long time. We all know about them with higher rates of asthma, especially childhood asthma,” Pittsburgh City Councilmember Erika Strassburger said during a press event in front of the City County Building. “And I know every parent would move mountains to keep their children safe.” 

Strassburger was joined at the news conference by U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, D-12th District, and state Rep. Sara Innamorato, D-Allegheny, who also is seeking the Democratic nomination for Allegheny County executive. 

Together, they spotlighted the nearly $2 million southwestern Pennsylvania has been awarded from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) to monitor harmful air pollution in the region, which long has been plagued by air quality issues. 

In some communities “in Allegheny County and in Pittsburgh, parents are physically unable to do that because of the dangerous air quality they’re exposed to on a regular basis,” Strassburger said. 

 Alison L. Steele, the executive director of the Environmental Health Project, speaks during a news conference outside the City-County Building in Pittsburgh on Thursday, 3/16/23 (ScreenCap).

Southwestern Pennsylvania received the funds from the IRA and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is providing $236 million in IRA funding across the country for air monitoring, including grants for monitoring near industrial facilities, and air quality sensors in disadvantaged communities. 

“We have known for decades that Allegheny County has some of the worst air quality in the country that harms our Black and brown and working class communities because they have had to bear the brunt of that air quality from our industrial polluters,” Innamorato said. 

She added that the funding is a first critical step “to invest in environmental justice, in communities that have been left out of the conversation for far too long. 

“And together with these communities, we can build the sustainable economies of the future and create good paying jobs in the process. Because it turns out that reducing pollution is good for our economy, and it’s good for our environment,” she said.

The press conference came on a day when the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection had issued a code orange air quality alert for parts of Allegheny County, including Clairton, Glassport, Lincoln, Liberty,and  Port Vue. An orange alert means air pollution concentrations in the region may be unhealthy for people with asthma and other sensitive groups.

Lee, who grew up in the Mon Valley, said she came to environmental justice advocacy not through education or expertise, but through necessity.

 “Mine was a community as others mentioned today that has suffered from some of the worst air quality in the nation,” Lee said. “Ours is a story that is interwoven with communities all over this country and indeed the global south of this world, where we see corporate corporate polluters who sacrifice the health and the well being of our neighbors and our community members, often for their own financial gain.”

She praised youth and activist community organizers who demanded the government work toward climate action reform.

“We need to keep the pressure to make sure that these funds are doled out equitably, and intentionally to right the wrongs of environmental racism and to pass more big board bills to hold polluters accountable,” she added.  

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