Letter: We see you, Andrew Wheeler
The COVID-19 pandemic has its own iconography. Images of masks, gloves, charts of “the curve” and collections of faces during video conferences are visual evidence of what we can’t see: the virus itself.
While Americans have been focused on day-to-day survival, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler spied an opportunity. At the end of March, the EPA announced that they would suspend enforcement of some health and environmental protections indefinitely. The EPA characterizes this policy as temporary, but as of now, there is no end date.
Polluters no longer have to monitor, report or be held accountable for their release of harmful and toxic materials into our water and air. The announcement appears to be driven less by necessity and more by the opportunity to exploit a time when Americans are otherwise engaged.
The Trump Administration and the EPA have been working diligently since 2017 to dismantle environmental and health protections. In fact, the New York Times reported that 100 rollbacks were either in progress or completed since Trump took office, many of which are related to air pollution. The March announcement, in the middle of a pandemic, is arguably the most drastic.
We already know that air pollution and human health are strongly linked. Breathing in particulates and soot causes heart and lung disease. A recent study from Harvard found that even small increases in air pollution can result in large increases in COVID-19 death rates. The EPA’s decision to roll back environmental and health protections, at any time, would be short-sighted. During a respiratory pandemic, it is unconscionable.
We are incredibly lucky to live in the beautiful Yampa Valley where we can get outside and enjoy the beautiful lands surrounding us. But, air moves. Pollution in one area spreads to others. We are not invulnerable to air pollution and its harmful health effects, just as we are not invulnerable to COVID-19.
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have been so heartened to see so many people doing their part to protect our community’s health. Let’s keep at it. And let’s remind Andrew Wheeler and the EPA of their mission “to protect human health and the environment.” We’re doing our part; they need to do theirs. Contact the EPA at https://www.epa.gov/home/forms/contact-epa.
Dr. Athena Renee Murray
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