Dear Mr. Scott Pruitt (President Trump’s Nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency),
On warm winter afternoons, my daughter Estrella and I head to the beach. She sits in the matching beach chair beside me with her sketch pad and Harry Potter book. But the books are quickly tossed on the beach towel. Instead, she chases sandpipers along the shore, and writes her name in the wet sand with a thin branch from a tree she finds tossed on the beach; it’s rough edges smoothed from the seas undulations.
“Where do these branches come from?” she asked me last week.
“They are washed in from the rain,” I answered her.
I don’t let the kids play near the storm drain just after the rain. Wedged between the granules of sand is oil, heavy metals and pesticides washed off miles and miles of pavement and thousands of acres of chemically treated lettuce and strawberry fields.
But while our rivers and oceans are under stress from pollutants, fertilizers, and trash, I recognize our country has made tremendous gains in the near five decades since the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, the agency you want to lead Mr. Pruitt.
I was too young to remember the junkyards on the banks of rivers, or the thick smog settling over many U.S. cities in the early 1970s. You likely don’t remember either, as you were two years old when Nixon signed the Executive Order to establish the agency.
So I’ve gathered a few images together of a pre-regulated America. These are days when “American business’ had freedoms,” as you mentioned during your senate confirmation hearings.
Smog over Manhattan in 1966. Photo source: Business Insider
The burning Cuyahoga River in 1969 from industrial pollution led to the Clean Water Act
The images bear no resemblance to the shore my daughter runs along thanks to regulations enacted and enforced by the EPA.
Even if rivers aren’t burning anymore, or tires are not littered along this great country’s shoreline, the work of the EPA to protect air, water, and human health is far from over.
Consider the following:
- Dead zones, fed from pollution upstream in places like the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico continue to grow.
- Forty percent of America’s rivers and 46 percent of our lakes are too polluted with nitrates to support aquatic life according to the EPA.
- The volume of raw sewage dumped into U.S. waters decreased 65 percent thanks to the EPA, but 850 billion gallons continue to overflow annually. The EPA estimates Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) are to blame for 3,500-5,500 gastrointestinal illnesses each year in the Great Lakes area and coastal beaches.
- Air pollution causes 200,000 early deaths in the U.S. every year.
I leave you with advice from Republican Utah State Senator Todd Weiler. He too is not fond of environmental regulations. But after his experience working to improve the daunting smog problems of Salt Lake City (currently the smoggiest city in the country), he has insight I hope will inform your own.
“In a free market there is no incentive not to pollute. In fact, the incentive is to pollute as much as you can get away with. And it pains me to say, but the Clean Air Act is working and that’s a big reason why our air is getting cleaner.”
I wish you all the best in this next chapter of your career. It is my sincere wish for my daughter that you will do all you can to keep America Beautiful. And I will do the same.