By John Kennedy
USA Today

For more than 30 years, I was a proud employee of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Pacific Southwest regional office in San Francisco. My job was to help develop systems to protect clean air and mitigate toxic contamination. I’m particularly grateful for the work I did on emergency response measures that set up monitoring and reporting systems to inform the public of the impacts of disasters such as wildfires on air quality.

My greatest reward came from working with the women and men at EPA. Their service, professionalism and dedication to clean up our air, water and land, and to protect the public’s health, were an inspiration that provided motivation throughout my career to do my best as a public servant.

My personal connection to the EPA and appreciation for its mission make it especially disheartening to see the level of vilification and animosity aimed at the agency since the dawn of the Trump administration. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is determined to undermine the EPA’s ability to regulate pollution and conduct scientific research. Instead, he’s focusing on boosting industry profits.

Meanwhile, Trump and his allies in Congress have proposed drastic budget cuts that would bring the EPA staffing levels to their lowest in 30 years and strip funding for programs that protect the air we breathe and the water we drink. Thankfully Congress rejected Trump’s plans to slash the budget, but the proposals we’ve seen remind us how fragile funding can be from one fiscal year to the next.

Now, as a retiree and grandfather, I see the need for robust environmental protections more than ever. I was recently diagnosed with advanced stage lung disease and must pay careful attention to air quality. During last fall’s Western wildfires — among the worst in recorded history — the very program I helped launch was on the ground monitoring the air, collecting data and putting out timely and accurate public health messages for people like me.

Thanks to partnerships across federal, state, local and tribal agencies, I became a direct beneficiary of the work I did during my career at EPA.
When the president and Congress slash federal agency budgets, the impact reverberates far beyond Washington. It means states that rely on EPA grants to help keep toxic pollutants out of the air have less money for air quality programs, whether they are in response to a disaster or to keep the air safe for children as they walk to school every day.

My granddaughters, Clare and Chloe, have reinforced my gratitude for the agency, and made me an advocate for the work it does to preserve a safe environment for generations to come. Clare, Chloe and all kids in this country deserve the opportunity to grow up healthy and to enjoy the outdoors. The EPA is crucial to achieving this, and it’s up to Trump and Congress to support the funding EPA needs to carry out its mission.

John Kennedy is a retired federal employee who worked at the EPA’s Region 9 office, serving the Pacific Southwest region of California, Nevada and Arizona.

 

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