To all our valuable, and cherished, partners in the fight to strengthen our toxic chemical laws:
Several years ago, I was diagnosed with kidney cancer. It is a fatal disease, if not caught early. A surgeon removed the kidney, I was lucky, the cancer had not spread.
When I asked my doctor what causes kidney cancer — did I inherit it? would my children? — he shrugged and said, “It’s one of those environmental ones. Who knows? We’re full of chemicals.”
All over the country, men, women, and children are being exposed, every single day, day after day — for years —to toxic chemicals that are known carcinogens. Known endocrine disruptors. Known horrors. This motivated me to get Moms Clean Air Force into the fight to get toxic chemicals out of our stuff. We’re in it to protect our health.
I don’t believe we should wait another decade for the stars to once again line up, to hammer out yet another bipartisan chemical law. I don’t want my children — or yours — to continue to be exposed to toxic chemicals. I don’t want toxic chemicals to trigger another, different kind of cancer in my body — or yours.
And yet, we have just been publicly accused, by the director of the Safer Chemicals coalition, of which we were once a proud member, of acting in bad faith.
I want to make something very clear to our colleagues. We did not, and never would, publicly attack the coalition or its director. That coalition is made up of people we’ve marched side by side with, babies in strollers and backpacks, toddlers in hand. People with whom we have poured our hearts and souls into the fight not only to protect our families against dangerous chemicals, but to clean up the greenhouse gas pollution that is warming our planet. Our friends, our sisters, our brothers. Kindred spirits.
Last spring, we came to a crossroads on chemical safety reform. After days of heart-wrenching debate in our team, I decided that the Lautenberg-Vitter bill had advanced far enough for me to feel comfortable applauding its improvements, applauding the enormous effort it took in building bipartisan support — and, at the same time, to continue to keep demanding that the bill be made better. The coalition decided to take a stance against the bill, to work on a different one. We disagreed on strategies. The coalition asked us to leave.
Since then, again, we never once publicly attacked the coalition. Indeed, we highlighted their criticisms of the Senate bill on our website, in our letters to members. We also proceeded to do our own work to improve the bill, and keep the chemical reform process moving.
Yesterday, Joe Nocera, an old friend, wrote a column in the New York Times about the chemical bill facing the Senate. Over the years, from time to time, we’ve talked toxics — and fracking, and Brazilian music, and any manner of things. He called, out of the blue, and then wrote his column not because I told him to, as the director of the coalition (laughably) suggested, nor because, as he accused, I am “self-aggrandizing” and “building a brand” or “rewriting history.” He wrote it because he saw an interesting point of tension in the process of getting a bill passed: compromise.
I describe myself as a “pragmatic environmentalist.” I want to get things done. I want greenhouse gas emissions stopped. I want fossil fuel subsidies ended. I want investments in clean energy. I want methane leaks plugged. I want filthy coal plants closed. And I want toxic chemicals off the market. All of these things, I want to have happen as fast as possible. Time’s running out.
Other environmentalists have established priorities that I also support, spiritually and financially: divestment from fossil fuels, fracking bans — which, though radical, paradoxically don’t do enough, right now, to stop the pollution we’re all living with, right now. That’s my focus; I honor, and support, theirs, and ask only that our efforts be respected in kind.
We can agree to disagree on what the best tactics are to winning this fight — and all the enormous fights ahead of us. We can agree to disagree on priorities, and on strategies, and on substance.
What we cannot do — and what I will not quietly tolerate — is to attack one another’s motives, and impugn one another’s integrity. I won’t stand by while movement leaders refer to us in condescending, sexist, ways — we are no one’s “mom arm”, we operate with our own brains, thank you.
I trust — and you should too — that we are all in this fight for the same reason, with the same good, loving, hopeful hearts. Not to feed our egos, nor to tear down our colleagues, nor to distort each other’s work — but to make this world a better, safer place. For everyone.