This op-ed was written by Kelle Pressley-Perkins. She is a Moms Clean Air Force member from Charlotte, North Carolina. The post originally appeared on WRAL.com:
One of the real perks of being a mother to nine home-schooled children is that I make sure our family talks a lot about my favorite subject: civics. We do this talking in our class of course, but also around the dinner table with my husband, a disabled veteran. As parents, it means everything to us that our children know their voice matters and that they must use it.
To drive this lesson home, I recently took four of my younger children to Washington to meet with our lawmakers. What better way to show my four boys what using your voice means than to meet with our representatives on Capitol Hill? We met with aides to Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr one day ahead of the contentious nomination hearing for Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency, tapped to continue running the agency in charge of protecting our environment.
The following day, we sat in a Senate committee room listening to Wheeler during his nomination hearing. It became clear to me that this nominee’s actions speak louder than his words. It’s all about what Wheeler is not saying. Here is a climate change-denying nominee who has spent his time at the EPA feverishly rolling back and undermining some of the most important pollution protection measures on the books. One in particular that that hits home for me like no other: protections from mercury. As I reminded our senators’ staff, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards — which Wheeler has attacked through a proposal to undermine its legal foundation — specifically protect pregnant women and babies from irreversible harm. As a doula who has provided guidance and support to pregnant woman before and during labor for the last decade, I take harm to unborn children seriously.
In fact, since 2011, the mercury standards have helped to dramatically lower mercury emissions from coal plants—and North Carolina is no exception. In our state, we’ve benefited from a 70 percent drop in mercury pollution. As my outdoor-loving nine-year old, Amen, said to Sen. Tillis’ aides: “The air has to be clean if we want to advance to the future.” Amen to that.
Mercury, a potent neurotoxin, easily crosses the placenta, and it concentrates in a developing fetus’s brain, where it can disrupt the developing architecture of that precious organ. In my doula practice serving mostly minority women, I have had to have tough conversations about cutting back on eating fish high in mercury for fear it could lead to attention deficit or loss of IQ in the baby.
As the Senate prepares this month to make its consequential decision about Wheeler’s fitness for the job, I want our senators to know that this mom is watching them. Someone with no interest in protecting our children’s health and safety has no place running our EPA. On our flight home to Charlotte, I told my boys that our participatory democracy requires us to never stop raising our voices for our health and safety. We had to tell our senators about Wheeler’s track record and how his priorities imperial lives, ours and others.
The real question is: Are our senators listening?