PA Greens: Allegheny County must pass paid sick leave, address air quality
PHILADELPHIA – The following testimony was given by Vice-chair Jay Walker, Green Party of Allegheny County, before the Allegheny County Council on March 9.
My name is Jay Ting Walker, and I’m the vice chair of the Green Party of Allegheny County. I want to lend my voice of support for the paid sick days legislation that’s being considered by this council. During a global pandemic sick workers feeling like they’re stuck choosing between potentially infecting others with COVID or paying their bills is completely unacceptable. Let’s as a county put into place an ordinance that not only benefits the workers who run our society, but also our entire society as a whole. Paid sick leave legislation is a common sense policy that should be a no-brainer.
I'm also here to speak on another important health issue. As all of you are aware, our county has some of the worst air quality in the entire country -- the entire country! People die of air quality related issues every single day here, yet we don't seem to take the issue very seriously. This year we've already had multiple strings of particularly bad air quality days. Ever wonder why you feel sick in the morning? Unexplained headaches? Why you seem to wake up in the middle of the night for no reason? You can thank major local polluters and lack of enforcement for that.
There have been some promising steps taken by the Board of Health under new director Dr. Debra Bogen, but it's extremely premature to take a victory lap. You've likely seen the press release from our county, boasting about our new temporary air quality compliance. We might want to think twice about celebrating being the last part of the country to reach this bare minimum level. This is especially true when the improvements were largely due to a global pandemic grinding our economy to a halt. The no-PR-spin truth is that we've made only minor improvements and our residents continue to suffer from poor air quality on a daily basis.
Just like with today's sick leave ordinance, Allegheny County Council will soon be in position to pass more laws to better protect the health of our residents. Please support stronger air regulations so that our residents don't continue to get sick and die for the continued profits of wealthy executives. Proposed ordinances will be delivered to the County Council by the Allegheny County Health Department. Each of these will have received hundreds of public comments asking for them to be strengthened. They will also have received a handful of comments from polluting industries fighting for their continued permission to kill our fellow residents with minimal accountability. Speak with the attorneys and engineers in our region's air quality organizations about how these regulations can legally do more to protect the health of all residents across our county. More and more people are realizing how terrible our air quality continues to be. If we want to succeed as a region we'll need to be serious about tackling this issue.
Lastly, I'd like to ask our county council to increase air permit fees as recommended by the Allegheny County Health Department. All of the facilities in Allegheny County are paying outdated fee amounts while every other facility in Pennsylvania has already been paying the recommended fees. This increase would bring us in line with the rest of the commonwealth. It would also help properly fund the Health Department's regulatory oversight.
In closing, I'd like to ask County Council to:
- Vote in favor of paid sick leave legislation,
- Strengthen the proposed air quality regulations that will be eventually coming to you, and
- Vote in favor of increasing air permit fees to match those of facilities across the rest of the Commonwealth.
Use the powerful law-making tools at your disposal to protect the health and the lives of the 1,213,570 residents in our county. You all hold very important and powerful positions. A wise man once said, "With great power comes great responsibility." Please do the responsible things to protect us all!
The Green Party of Pennsylvania (GPPA) is an independent political party that stands in opposition to the two corporate parties. GPPA candidates promote public policy based on the Green Party's Four Pillars: grassroots democracy, nonviolence, ecological wisdom, and social justice/equal opportunity. For further information about GPPA, please visit www.gpofpa.org. Please follow GPPA on social media:
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For more information:
Allegheny County Health Department: Unhealthy Air Quality Observed in the Mon Valley, CBS News KDKA, April 5, 2021,
Allegheny County Executive Vetoes Paid Sick Leave Act, CBS News KDKA, March 16, 2021,
Report: Pittsburgh Ranked 8th Worst for Air Pollution among U.S. Cities by Hannah Lynn, Pittsburgh City Paper, April 22, 2020,
Clean Air for Pittsburgh, PennEnvironment,
Pittsburgh Air Pollution, Clean Air Council,
The U.S. Steel Corp.'s Clairton Coke Works on the Monongahela River is the Pittsburgh region's major polluter.
Photograph: Rebecca Droke/Post Gazette