This post was updated on January 9, 2019.
A bipartisan beginning
This might come as a surprise to some, but environmentalism once enjoyed strong bipartisan support from all corners of the country. It was nearly a half century ago that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established during Richard Nixon’s presidency. Back then, environmental legislation like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act passed with strong bipartisan support.
What a contrast to today. Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler – a former top coal lobbyist who spent years fighting clean air and climate protections – and a slew of top aides are waging an all-out assault on our bedrock public health and environmental protections. And now, President Trump has nominated Wheeler to take over as head of the EPA on a permanent basis.
This is not exactly the team you’d want to protect our health and the environment.
The good news (and we can use all the good news we can get) is that most Americans still support common-sense safeguards that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink and our climate – regardless of what Trump says. A majority of Americans also holds the EPA in high regard – nearly 2 in 3 have a favorable view of the agency tasked with safeguarding our health.
A strong EPA means healthy communities
What does the EPA do, exactly – and why do we need a strong EPA?
To put it simply, the EPA’s mission is to “protect human health and the environment.” By congressional mandate, the EPA implements and enforces federal environmental law. Here are just some of the important roles EPA plays in protecting our health:
- Clean Air: More than 25 million Americans live with asthma, and hundreds of thousands of asthmatic children are rushed to emergency rooms every year. Millions of Americans depend on local and state air quality monitoring to tell them whether the air is unsafe in their communities, and protections like the Clean Power Plan and Clean Cars standards would cut air and climate pollution, and encourage innovation and the transition to a clean energy future, which would benefit our health, the environment and our economy.
- Clean Water: Safe drinking water should be a right for all Americans. The EPA provides funding to help states fund cleanup of “non-point source” pollution that finds its way into our drinking water and waterways that many Americans enjoy for recreational use.
- Superfund: Across the U.S. are more than 1,300 Superfund sites that are in need of cleanup. More than 50 million Americans live within three miles of a Superfund site. Mercury, lead and radioactive contamination and other pollutants pose a potentially life threatening risk to families and communities.
- Toxics: In 2016, Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act (TCSA), which closed loopholes in toxic chemical safeguards. Following the law’s passage, EPA immediately began to implement requirements that would better protect people from potentially harmful chemicals and hold the chemical industry more accountable.
Day in and day out, thousands of dedicated EPA employees, including scientists, attorneys and health experts, go to work to protect our communities. Unfortunately, the current administration including some of EPA’s own leaders and some in Congress are working to weaken and roll back decades of environmental progress.
EPA under siege
Even before Trump’s election, the EPA had been tasked to do more with less. The agency’s budget accounts for just 0.2 percent ($8 billion) of a more than $4 trillion federal budget. In real dollars, EPA’s budget – which has been repeatedly cut by Congress – is at its lowest level in forty years.
What’s perhaps most troubling, however, are some of the people now running the EPA.
Two years into the administration, Scott Pruitt, and now Wheeler, and their pro-polluter deputies have targeted nearly every consequential environmental safeguard on the books, from the Clean Power Plan, to methane leak mitigation, to clean car standards, to mercury protections. The EPA’s science advisory boards are stacked with people who have ties with industry, and more polluters are being let off the hook. Wheeler, like Pruitt, will likely have no appetite for fighting for a budget that will allow the agency to effectively perform its mission.
By doing the bidding of corporate polluters, Wheeler and his deputies might as well put up a “for sale” sign outside their offices. The result: our communities, the environment and our planet will suffer the consequences of Trump and Wheeler’s toxic agenda.
But we can fight back to protect our future and our wallets.
What you can do
From meeting with and calling their elected officials, to writing letters to the editor, to hosting educational events (“Defend Our Beer” being the most popular), our supporters are making it known that they demand a strong EPA and an administrator who will put clean air, clean water and people first.
You can make your voice heard, too: Check out our resources page for facts and figures to help make the case for protecting our health and our planet. Meet with your own elected officials, share stories on social media or have one-on-one conversations with friends and neighbors about why you’re taking action.
It’s unfortunate that we must fight every day to protect our fundamental rights to clean air, clean water and healthy communities, but it’s a worthy one – and one we must win.