Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Chemical Lobbyists With No Soul, Have Got To Go!

I woke up once again to chirping birds, wonderful sunshine, freshly brewed coffee, and homemade yogurt. My legs are almost not ghostly white anymore too! I've got a sweet deal here in California. The only thing that damped this Oakland morning is a story about EPA's toxic standards for cities being 10 years late.

In my very short journey as a chemical reform activist, I've realized just how naive I am. I took my little government class in elementary school, where I learned about EPA and immediately began my 20 plus year fascination with politics and history. Introduced by a Republican, dedicated to protecting the environment, out to defend people like me and my family, the EPA seems almost magical in light of other government authorities. But the story I'm learning outside of James S. Hunt Elementary room 212 has been a bit different.

The lack of action by EPA is complicated, like everything the government does. Maybe a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. Congress has to charge the agency with mandates and then agree to its funding, not to mention the head of the agency changes with each Administration.

If you have seen the news, you already know that getting Congress to not fall to the ground yelling and screaming and thrashing about like a 5 year old isn't always possible. So hearing that EPA is 10 years behind schedule in releasing toxic standards for cities because of lack of funding and political will isn't incredibly surprising. They are also two years late in releasing guidelines on Safe School Siting in order to help communities prevent the building of schools on top, near by or inside sources of pollution. Yes, schools are often built inside old factories or chemical facilities.

EPA was suppose to release toxic standards for cities in 2000. Though the most recent risk assessment came from 2002 data and reports on hotspots around the country that have lingering air pollution problems have yet to be updated as mandated by Congress when the Clean Air Act was amended in 1990. Many states have laws saying that state standards can not be more strict than EPA's guidelines. Without any standards states can't even begin to pass their own.

I'll try to get this right:

(1) EPA is suppose to protect our health and environment
(2) States depend on EPA standards to create state laws on protecting health and the environment
(3) The chemical industry has enough influence to greatly pressure EPA in the standard setting process

Therefore: The chemical industry has an unfair influence over state environmental and health standards at both a federal and state level.

I don't know for sure that one of the reasons for EPA's toxic standards for cities has been slowed down, if not come to a complete halt, because of the chemical industry. Maybe that's a stretch. But if the reason they are siting is the lack of funding from congress and the chemical industry is a large influence on capitol hill, then it's safe to say that throughout the past 10 years there have been many discussions between law makers and those that make the chemicals that might be included in these standards and that these discussions led to a lack of funding.

The New York Times is reporting that between 2001 and 2002, funding for air toxics work in EPA dropped 70%. This lack of funding is continuing to impact children attending schools near highways, factories, coal fired power plants, dry cleaners, gas stations, and anywhere else where air pollution is high. Our economic future continues to be impacted by the rising chronic health problems of our children, while chemical lobbyists schmooze with our lawmakers.

I hate writing about this stuff without offering something to do. I don't have something directly related to these air toxics standards but congress is in the process of trying to pass Safe Chemical and Water Facilities Act. Send an email to congress urging them to pass this precautionary and much needed legislation.

This legislation will help chemical and water treatment facilities switch over to safer technologies that do not include toxic chemicals like chlorine. One thing we can learn from BP fucking up the livelihoods of the people of the Gulf, is that we must act with precaution. We can not say that accidents won't happen. Accidents will happen and toxic chemicals will needlessly destroy communities unless we do something about it.

Renee Claire

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