Did you watch the State of the Union? I sat there, computer by my side, tweeting with people from all over the country about the speech. Using Twitter, it is fun to feel connected to a wider conversation, especially when you live out in the woods on a stormy Vermont night, feeling isolated.
Two parts of President Obama’s State of the Union speech stuck out for me as great progress in the area of keeping kids safe from industrial pollutants and chemicals. I’ve been watching State of the Union speeches my whole adult life, and I have never heard statements like these from a president…
“I will not back down from protecting our kids from mercury pollution.”
Hooray! We have a president in office saying he won’t back down to billionaire polluting lobbyists who want to scale back or tear down the EPA’s new Mercury Air Toxics rule.
Now this is progress.
We know the air toxics rule will positively affect our nation for years to come–saving lives, improving school attendance, worker productivity, and lessen human suffering in addition to helping children develop cognitively without the poisoning effects of mercury.
I was proud to hear President Obama mention mercury. Then President Obama talked about natural gas.
“We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years, and my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy. Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade.”
I am from Pennsylvania, where ecosystems, public health and drinking water have been significantly harmed by the ramp up in horizontal fracking. I’ve also watched the movie Gasland, and am very concerned about the chemicals being injected into the ground and the health effects on communities and watersheds around natural gas extraction sites. Especially because companies don’t have to disclose what those chemicals are…and some of those chemicals we know to be really toxic.
Can you imagine that…companies putting chemicals into products for use on our bodies, or for our kids to play with, and not have to disclose what they are?
Well, yes, that is exactly what has been happening with cosmetics, toys, jewelry, and other products for years! And right now in our country, there is enormous pushback against this. Just look at the local food movement, the market for safer toys, and the push for the Safe Cosmetics Act. We’ve seen what happens when companies regulate themselves: We get lead in toys, hormone-like chemicals in water bottles and sippy cups.
I pondered the phrase, “safely develop this energy.” Then he followed up with, “And I’m requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use. Because America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.”
We have a lot of work to do before we can know exactly what that means. But to hear the president speak about the health and safety of our citizens, and about disclosing chemicals, felt like progress in the right direction.
In a crowded field of issues, to hear President Obama choose to highlight protecting our families from mercury pollution and the industrial chemicals used in fracking, gives me hope. It shows me this is a president who won’t shortchange our health to appease polluters, the oil industry, and lobbyists.
President Obama, thank you for remembering public health in your state of the union speech. Protecting the health of our nation, especially our children, should be one of your highest priorities.