Letters to Congress: H.R. 861
This week on the Tox City Tribune, we’re offering an open letter that you can amend and send to your state’s congressional representatives. This week we are tackling a bill proposed in the House of Representatives: H.R.861-To terminate the Environmental Protection Agency. We wrote this letter as a way to talk directly to members of the current US Congress about the dangers of blindly rolling back legislation that could seriously harm environmental health and could also lead to severe impacts on our own health.
At the end of the letter we’ve provided links and resources where you can find relevant local information about the EPA’s work in the state where you live. This letter can be amended and sent to any of your local representatives, not just the ones who have sponsored or co-sponsored this bill (which currently includes Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Rep. Steven Palazzo of Mississippi, and Rep. Barry Loudermilk of Georgia).
We hope that this open letter can help voice the concerns for Americans who do not take attacks on the USEPA lightly. We also hope that this type of engagement can provide a new perspective about the importance of environmental protection to the conservative representatives who seem to doubt its usefulness. If you have questions, please get in touch!
Dear Rep. Matt Gaetz,
My name is Erica Brockmeier and I am a Florida voter who is passionate about our beautiful state. I earned my PhD in Toxicology from the University of Florida in December 2013. My project was supported by a graduate research fellowship from the US EPA and focused on the impacts of paper mill effluents on local fish populations in the Florida panhandle. Part of my dissertation focused on Florida’s ecosystems was published and is available to read through open access.
It’s my love of Florida and my concern for its unique and fragile ecosystems that motivates my letter to you. I am concerned with H.R.861 because of what this bill will mean for environmental and human health and for the landscapes and resources that make our country and our state wonderful places to live.
Our country is a vastly different place than it was in 1970 when the EPA was first enacted by President Nixon. Toxic pesticides like DDT were sprayed without thought of consequence, our gasoline was filled with lead, and the Cuyahoga River in Ohio was so polluted that it actually caught on fire (you can read more stories and see pictures here. Thanks to a government administration that recognized the importance of protecting environmental (and subsequently human) health, the US EPA was established to consolidate efforts to research, monitor, and establish rules for the safe use and disposal of chemicals.
The US EPA is also in charge of developing long-term clean-up plans for polluted sites as part of the 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). In Florida there are 52 Superfund sites, 4 of them located in Escambia county*. The US EPA is responsible for managing the cleanup of these sites and works to make them usable and safe for residents, visitors, and local wildlife.
There has been a lot of political discussion about the pitfalls of over-regulation while forgetting the economic benefits of many of these laws. Government regulations managed by the US EPA such as the Clean Air Act directly enhance our country’s economic well-being through an increased numbers of jobs in the engineering, construction, and manufacturing sectors. All of these benefits come at very low cost to the industries they are regulating. For example, data from 2005 showed that less than 1% of the revenue generated by US manufacturers was required for pollution control.
Environmental regulations also protect Americans and the places that make our country truly great. The US EPA estimated that amendments made to the clean air act in 1990 saved over 160,000 lives and prevented 86,000 emergency room visits in 2010 alone. The US EPA was also present during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill and helped gulf coast areas by collecting emergency data and ensuring sure that beaches and waters were safe for wildlife. The EPA’s efforts were also crucial for ensuring that clean-up efforts after the spill made Florida beaches ready to be enjoyed by the 20 million Florida residents and the 90 million tourists who visit our state every year.*
While it is important for our government to work towards decreasing unnecessary legislations and government bureaucracy, casting aside the efforts of an entire federal agency will put the lives and health of American people at risk by opening up our environment to inexcusable damage. Nearly 50 years ago our government, led by a Republican president, had the foresight to recognize the importance of a clean environment for the American people. Our founding fathers also established our country on the foundations of basic human rights including “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The first of these rights is life. The right to live as an American citizen also includes the right to live life to the fullest: breathing clean air, drinking safe water, and protecting our country’s natural resources for future generations of Americans.
Part of living the American Dream also involves the opportunity to enjoy the incredible natural places that make our nation truly great, especially our incredible national parks and the landscapes and ecosystems that existed since before we were a unified nation. These great American places need as much protection as the American people. And protecting them, as well as ourselves, is a rewarding legacy we can leave for future generations, and justifies the EPA’s existence. Our founding fathers and the founders of the EPA shared a common vision that provides the opportunity for a life well-lived for every American. Clean air, drinkable water, and protection from harmful chemicals enable us all to achieve this American dream.
The problems that we’ll face as a nation in the next 50 years will be more challenging than when the EPA was first brought to life. The issues will not be as obvious as rivers on fire or skies full of smog but can come from chemicals that haven’t been produced yet, or by future contaminations and spills incidents that go undetected, such as the contamination of drinking water in Flint, Michigan last year.
Because our country still has a long ways to go for ensuring that our land is safe and clean for everyone, I would encourage you to remove your support from H.R.861 and re-focus your efforts on something that would provide more benefit to the American people. The US EPA is fundamental for ensuring that Americans have the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, and throwing away this agency would do a significant disservice to the rights and well-being of all American citizens.
I would also encourage you and your fellow representatives to support an EPA budget that works for supporting the health of the American people. Recent news articles state that proposed budget cuts from the current administration to the EPA are up to 40% of the current budget. Because of this Agency’s crucial importance in protecting environmental quality, any broad budget cuts that are not thoroughly evaluated have the potential to damage our country and the health of the American people significantly. As one of the cuts is potentially for the program which supported my graduate education, I would also like to vouch personally for the benefits of these types of EPA programs. I would not be in the position I am today without the financial support from the EPA STAR program.
I am thankful to be part of such a beautiful state in the USA, and I hope that my fellow citizens can continue to enjoy the beautiful landscapes, pristine ecosystems, and enriching environments that attract so many visitors to our state every year.
Erica K. Brockmeier, Ph.D.
Italicized opening paragraph: Please replace with your own personal background, including why you feel that protecting environmental health is important.
Insert 1: For information on superfund sites in your state/local area, please visit this website.
Insert 2: If you know of a recent or historical environmental disaster in your area, include a brief description of the incident here. If you aren’t sure where to start, you can click here.
Italicized pentultimate paragraph: Please replace with a personal connection you might have to an EPA program, office, activity, etc, or simply a reason why you feel that environmental health should be a priority for our government representatives.
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