This week and next, more than 60 Moms Clean Air Force members from across the country are testifying by phone before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about the agency’s failure to strengthen protections from lethal but invisible particle pollution, which comes from the combustion of fossil fuels.
Sharing stories about the real, human consequences of breathing particle pollution with EPA staff, our moms, dads, youth activists, and children’s health advocates are demanding science-based health protections. In the midst of a respiratory pandemic that may be made worse by exposure to particle pollution, now is the worst possible time to allow dangerous pollution into the air. Low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately impacted by air pollution, and refusing to strengthen these standards places a disproportionate burden on these vulnerable groups.
MOMS ARE NOTHING IF NOT MULTITASKERS, MR. WHEELER
Writing in The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, our public health policy director Molly Rauch took EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to task for his failure to update particle pollution standards in an op-ed that ran the day before the hearings began. Deadly soot is responsible for over 85,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. It causes stroke, heart attacks, lung infections, asthma, and cancer, and it increases the risk of premature birth. In her opinion, Molly lays bare the ways that Mr. Wheeler has moved under cover of COVID-19 to aggressively weaken Clean Air Act protections and ignore scientific consensus. “Take one look at the slew of policies coming out of the EPA in the past two months,” Molly writes, “and it’s hard not to conclude that Wheeler is relishing the timing of the coronavirus pandemic.” Calling Mr. Wheeler’s decision to disband his Particulate Matter Review Panel in 2018 “devastatingly deliberate,” Molly explains the legacy of dismissing an expert panel whose expertise in particle pollution was absent when it was needed most. Instead, Mr. Wheeler and the agency relied on the advice of a council with seven members, none of whom have expertise in particle pollution science. Fortunately, Molly and other advocates are not letting COVID-19 distract them: “Maybe Wheeler is banking on the fact that, with work, schools and our families’ futures in disarray, we’re not paying attention. One thing Wheeler didn’t bank on: Moms are nothing if not multitaskers. While sheltering in our homes and juggling even more responsibility for the care and education of our children, we are outraged at Wheeler’s callous disregard for the health and wellbeing of our families.”
WHEELER TAKES FIRE FROM MOMS AND SENATORS OVER REGULATORY ROLLBACKS
This week, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler came under fire from lawmakers during a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill about his regulatory rollbacks. Dominique Browning, our co-founder and senior director, had terse words to share about how Mr. Wheeler is trying to defend the indefensible.
In Roll Call, a newspaper covering Congress, Dominique criticized Mr. Wheeler’s record, especially as of late: “Since the pandemic hit our shores, he has proposed an onslaught of rollbacks and freezes designed to satisfy polluting industries at the expense of our children’s health. Wheeler is undermining health protections from toxic mercury, tailpipe pollution, deadly soot, and more, even as he loosens environmental enforcement…He is easing up on health-harming pollution even as a respiratory pandemic preys on those with underlying health conditions.” At the hearing, many Senators questioned why Mr. Wheeler would be using the cover of a global pandemic to put in place rule changes that will worsen air quality and could literally make Americans sicker.
Following the hearing, Courthouse News spoke to Dominique to get her reaction. Dominique told the news service that there was no doubt that many of the proposed rollbacks would result in dirtier air and worse outcomes for those most at risk: “To protect vulnerable populations, the Senate should freeze EPA actions until the pandemic is over. However, hell will freeze over before that happens, as was made clear by Wheeler’s protectors during this hearing. They are willing to sacrifice people’s lives in the service of their radical deregulatory ideologies.”
CORONAVIRUS’S “UNIQUE THREAT TO BLACK PEOPLE”
Writing from the heart with moral clarity, our national field director Heather McTeer Toney penned a personal essay in Dame magazine entitled “The truth about why Covid-19 poses a unique threat to black people.” Heather uncovers the many ways in which hard-won environmental policies are being swept away as we are distracted by the Coronavirus. Worse, Heather underscores how “misinformation, racial profiling, and a general—and warranted—distrust of the medical establishment put Black communities at disproportionate risk of Coronavirus infection, misdiagnosis, and death.” Despite this profound burden, Heather notes, African Americans are powerfully responding to the current crisis: “[T]he black community is strong and we are survivors. Our ancestors didn’t suffer atrocities for us to perish in an isolated mass. We will call out air pollution in our neighborhoods as we search out masks and gloves for our children. We will register and vote, reminding those in power that our voices cannot be silenced or suppressed.”