J. David Cox, Sr.

Earlier this year I had the honor of travelling to Taiwan with a delegation to discuss the values and need for organized labor. It was an amazing experience to go and speak to such engaging crowds about how being in unions of working people came with rights and a voice at work that are essential to a fair and safe workplace.

Each day I was there I felt myself getting more and more excited at the people we were speaking to, and the topics we were discussing. Unfortunately, each day I also got a little more winded, and started to develop a nasty cough.

If you know me, you may just think that comes with the territory of being a bombastic speaker engaging with crowds about something I’m passionate about. Unfortunately, it was a lot more than that. It was the unending amounts of smog being funneled into my lungs, and a lack of clean air for me to breathe.

Coming back to America I was thankful to be able to visit my doctor at home to get medicine and a diagnosis, but I was also thankful to be back in an area that I knew had safe air to breathe and clean water to drink.

All of which me very thankful for the dedicated men and women of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Since the Clean Air Act of 1970 set national standards for emissions, Americans have been breathing less pollution and living longer, healthier lives. According to the EPA, the six most common pollutants — particles, ozone, lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide — dropped an average of 70 percent in the last 40 years. The public health benefits are astounding: helping prevent asthma attacks, birth defects, respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and cancer. For this, I’m thankful.

However, not everyone values the workers at the EPA. This year, these career public servants have been under attack by an Administrator set on picking apart the agency and the protections it provides to benefit big oil and chronic polluters. At the same time, the President is intent on stripping the agency’s budget, and Congress is, at best, ignoring the need for a fully-functional EPA.

And yet these federal civil servants sprang into action to assess the storm damage after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma to ensure the water systems in the affected communities were safe. And these are people — scientists, researchers, toxicologists, and engineers — who have dedicated their lives to protect community health in this country and set aside political interests. To corporate special interests, and hoax believing leaders, the EPA is a do-nothing agency that should be eliminated.

But I know better. And not just because I’m a nurse and see children who struggle to breath because of asthma.

Growing up in small town Kannapolis, North Carolina, I remember seeing the local factories spew toxic waste into our air and drinking water on a daily basis. For a boy growing up in the 1960s, it was hard to know where to swim when there were lakes and streams that I needed to avoid. There were countless days I stayed indoors to avoid getting sick from breathing in airborne chemicals. Today though, Kannapolis is thriving, and I’d be happy to take my grandson to play there because the EPA made it clean and safe. And that wouldn’t have happened without the employees of the EPA.

And I know you’re thankful, too. This Thanksgiving, join AFGE Local 3911 in a $10,000 video contest to share our “Love Letters to the EPA.” We’re encouraging all Americans to share a short video on why we love the EPA. Submissions are due on Dec. 31, 2017. The entries we’ve received so far are from all across the country and tell incredible stories. I’m sure you have one to share, too.

As you list the things for which you are thankful this year, remember the EPA. Take a look at the great videos that have already been submitted online. Perhaps it’s time for you to share your love of the EPA in a video short. I wish we could all breathe a sigh of relief that our environmental protections are secure, but they aren’t. And until we truly value the work of the employees of the EPA, it will continue to be a thankless job.


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