As we wade through the uncertain waters of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also watching a parallel public health horror perpetrated by President Trump’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which is headed by Administrator Andrew Wheeler. Wheeler, a former industry lobbyist, has been exploiting a global pandemic to continue his relentless assault on public health and environmental safeguards.
Since 2017, the current administration has finalized or proposed 100 rollbacks of rules designed to address public health and climate change, many of which fall under the EPA’s jurisdiction. Now, Wheeler is using the pandemic to continue his dishonorable mission to roll back multiple air pollution safeguards, including tailpipe pollution standards for cars and trucks and lifesaving protections for mercury and other toxic pollutants released from power plants. The EPA even instituted an unprecedented and sweeping suspension of enforcement of environmental safeguards and gave dirty corporations months to pollute at will during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In fact, thanks to this reckless suspension, already more than 350 facilities have skipped reporting water pollution across the country, showing how this pollution waiver is just another giveaway to corporate polluters. Altogether, Wheeler’s actions have clearly damaged our health and environment, putting West Virginia’s most underinvested communities directly in harm’s way.
We know that unchecked air pollution — including particle pollution — exacerbates the severity of COVID-19. Many West Virginians live with conditions that are made more severe by this type of pollution — including heart disease and asthma. In fact, our state is home to over 34,000 children and 177,000 adults living with asthma, according to the American Lung Association. We should be pursuing policies that take on pollution, not threaten the basic right of West Virginians to breathe clean air.
As a mother of two young children under four in Upshur County, this fight is constantly on my mind. My children’s lungs are still developing and what they are breathing now will most certainly affect their ability to fight off respiratory diseases like the novel coronavirus in the future.
But, Administrator Wheeler is at it again, failing to clean up our air when families like mine need him to do so. Among other egregious moves, the EPA is refusing to strengthen the current national standards for particle pollution, or deadly soot. In May, I testified at a virtual hearing to urge EPA to follow the science and strengthen these standards. Their refusal to adhere to their mission to protect our health and environment is an outrage to moms just like me across the United States.
This form of air pollution is invisible but deadly and can lead to numerous health complications like heart attacks, strokes, lung disease and premature death. Particle pollution exposure can spell trouble for babies and children too. It is linked to low-birth weight and a higher risk of brain, respiratory and digestive problems in early life. Promoting policies that clean up our air will not only mitigate the worst impacts of air pollution, but will also enhance the health of our state, helping our communities become more resilient to public health challenges like COVID-19.
Our family chose to live in West Virginia so our children can grow up close to and learn from our land and environment. In a state long known for its bold leaders, we need Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to continue to lead by standing up for our children’s future and speaking out against Administrator Wheeler’s reckless actions that dirty our air in the middle of a pandemic. Sen. Manchin has proven himself a leader time and again, first voting against the confirmation of Administrator Wheeler and citing the need for clean air when doing so, to now supporting West Virginia in its response to the coronavirus.
It is vital that our leaders in Congress like Sen. Manchin hold Wheeler accountable for walking off the field and then leaving us vulnerable to pollution during this public health crisis. By speaking out against Wheeler’s actions, Sen. Manchin can show us that he sides with families and children like mine, as he has done before, over dirty corporate polluters. We are counting on him to do the right thing.