By John O’Grady
Every American president since Ronald Reagan has declared the state of the Union to be “strong.”
But in 2018, our Union, and the health of American people, is weak and endangered by increased exposure to environmental contaminants.
On Jan. 30, our President is expected to lay out what he plans to do about threats foreign and domestic. But President Trump‘s State of the Union will not speak to the threats to clean air and water posed by the deregulation of industry. By his failure to fully account for the risks posed by his anti-public health agenda, he also presides over a weaker state of the Union.
What does he know about the health of our citizens and the quality of our air and water? Each is threatened and sold to the highest bidder.
Trump’s fidelity to the fossil fuel industry is well known. The New York Times’ discovery in early January of Murray Energy’s “wish list” for the president still has shock value. Apparently, in March of last year, Robert Murray listed 16 regulatory rollbacks that would make him more profitable The Trump administration is well on its way to complying. No. 1 on the list: “The so-called Clean Power Plan must be eliminated.”
This administration’s failure to protect clean air by repealing the Clean Power Plan has caused direct harm to human health. The overall benefits of reducing the amount our CO2 emissions to the atmosphere under the plan are staggering. It is well known that we must reduce emissions to slow the warming of our planet. Now we must take stock of what damage Trump’s repeal of the Clean Power Plan will do to Americans’ health.
The Clean Power Plan would provide public health and climate benefits worth an estimated $55 billion to $93 billion per year in 2030, far outweighing its costs of $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion.
As EPA has documented, for every dollar invested through the Clean Power Plan, families would see up to $4 in health benefits.
EPA projected that reduced exposure to particle pollution and ozone in 2030 will avoid a projected 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths, 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, 340 to 3,300 heart attacks, 2,700 to 2,800 hospital admissions and 470,000 to 490,000 missed school and work days.
Reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants will also have profound, measured health effects on a micro-scale on communities across the nation.
A 2017 study showed babies born in New Jersey, downwind from the recently closed coal-fired Portland Generating Plant facility in Pennsylvania, had higher birth weights and were carried to term more often than babies born prior to the closure. These public health benefits may not be achieved now because Trump’s favored industry interests were always opposed to the Clean Power Plan. It required them to spend their profits to clean up air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuel.
Industry also took aim at the Clean Water Rule, and Trump again obliged by attempting to withdraw it. Water pollution is enormously costly in a variety of ways.
First, the damage to tourism and industry that rely on clean water bodies can be profound. The Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico spill in the included a $20 billion fund to settle damage claims. The Louisiana fishing industry lost at $2.5 billion and the cost to tourism in Florida was $3 billion.
A spill on Elk River in West Virginia cost local businesses $19 million each day, almost 24 percent of the economic output of that area.
In 2014, blooms of toxic algae from farm runoff wiped out Toledo’s source of drinking water and the tourist economy on Lake Erie’s south shore. Tourism there brings in $1.8 billion per year, and, in Toledo alone, $3- to $4 million was lost in one weekend when businesses shuttered during the algae bloom.
But it is the impact on public health of polluted drinking water that can bring on a crisis with the most tragic consequences. The algae bloom poisoning Toledo’s drinking water proved it is vital to the health of our union to protect drinking water sources.
Most rivers get most of their water from headwater streams. Pollution of flow upstream influences the water quantity of the downstream river. Over 95 percent of Americans get most of their drinking water from Public Water Systems regulated by EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Just over 60 percent of those use surface water sources and serve 117 million people.
The Clean Water Rule proposed by EPA aimed to protect the health of these “feeder” streams, thereby safeguarding the sources of drinking water serving those people. EPA’s plan to apply the Clean Water Act to the streams, wetlands and other water bodies was designed to prevent drinking water contamination.
The terrible, costly Flint tragedy was precipitated by a change in Flint’s source of drinking water.
Elected officials should take note — poll after poll shows that the public’s deep concern for clean air and clean drinking water is not just associated with one side of the political divide now segregating our country.
Large majorities of Americans have stated, on the record, that they disagree with Trump’s rollback of public health protections from the start.
A Quinnipiac University poll conducted just 73 days into Trump’s tenure shows that 61 percent of voters nationwide disapproved of Trump’s policies on the environment.
Majorities of all age groups disagreed with Trump’s approach, but the disapproval among younger voters is nearly unanimous. Among Americans under the age of 35, 79 percent disapproved of his environmental agenda. The public’s disapproval did not abate in follow-up polls published in April and June of 2017.
Polls have shown Americans already have concluded that the fervent deregulation agenda will make more asthma sufferers of our children, kill the most vulnerable citizens among us and exacerbate chronic illness. When will our legislators in Congress finally listen to their constituents and reverse the disaster of environmental policy imposed by the Trump administration? Those in Congress hold the power to stop this attack on public health.
The state of our Union is not strong, and can never be strong, as long as our president puts profits over people, and protects industry over public health, and Congress fails to act to stop him.