Massive Cuts to EPA Threaten Communities Already Suffering From Pollution, Climate Change

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NAACP’s Jacqui Patteron says existing protections we weren’t sufficiently providing safeguards for communities that have been affected by recent water crises, which demonstrates the need for stronger regulations rather than rolling them back

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Story Transcript

KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.

Donald Trump’s administration on Thursday proposed a 31% cut to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget, as the White House seeks to eliminate climate change programs, and trim initiatives to protect air and water quality.

The EPA would sustain the biggest cuts of any federal agency in the White House 2018 budget as Trump seeks to clear away regulations that he claims are hobbling U.S. oil drillers, coal miners and farmers. Here’s White House Budget Director, Mick Mulvaney on Thursday as he discusses the biggest cut which targets the EPA and the issue of combating climate change.

MICK MULVANEY: The largest reduction, if you’ve seen the budget already is a 31% reduction within the Environmental Protection Agency.

Regarding the question as to climate change, I think the President was fairly straight forward, he said, “We’re not spending money on that anymore. We consider that to be a waste of your money.”

KIM BROWN: Well, the budget would also completely eliminate some climate change in clean energy programs like the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency Energy or ARPA-E, which funds renewable energy research, and focuses on a variety of different projects. Plus, what else is also on the chopping block, are four NASA Earth Science Missions.

So, is targeting climate change a waste for tax payers money as the Trump administration says or will these budget cuts actually end up costing us much more later, including the cost and impact to human health and the economy?

And with us to discuss this, we’re joined with Jacqui Patterson. Jacqui is the NAACP Director of Environmental and Climate Justice. She has served as a trainer, organizer, researcher and policy analyst on issues, including gender justice, racial justice, economic justice and environmental climate justice. Jacqui has authored multiple articles including “Energy, Democracy and Black Lives Matter and the NAACP Advocacy Agenda”. Climate Change is a civil rights issue and the people shall lead. Centering frontline community leaderships. She joins us today from Pella, Iowa.

Jacqui thank you so much for being here.

JACQUI PATTERSON: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you.

KIM BROWN: Well, we should also note that the Trump administration is also targeting science and research programs across multiple federal agencies for sweeping cuts, including rollbacks of nearly 20% cut to the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. A $250 million cut to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and an 18% cut to the National Institutes of Health.

So, Jacqui there’s a whole lot to unpack here so let’s try to get right to it now. The EPA runs on an annual budget of $8 billion with about 15,000 employees. And under the Obama administration we saw the EPA on a federal level and, also state environment agencies, have failing such as the Flint water crisis and the newly revealed water crisis that’s happening in East Chicago. So, is now the time to be chopping a third of the EPA budget, given that the country faces a lot of environmental catastrophes, possibly.

JACQUI PATTERSON: Yeah, thank you. I appreciate the question. Yeah, certainly from the standpoint, well, all of us who really rely on federal agencies, EPA is a federal agency, which is tasked with stewardship of our air, our water, our land. To have that protection removed at a time when we do have, whether it’s the Flint water crisis, the East Chicago water crisis, Jackson, Mississippi, schools in Newark, all these different places where, for example, kids are drinking poisoned water to the detriment of their health, to the detriment of their future development, etcetera, etcetera. Where we have places where the air quality is so poor that they’ve developed into these cancer clusters and where folks in every household is afflicted with one cancer or another.

I mean, there’s countless examples of ways that we must have, instead of rollbacks, we actually have to have pushing forward with greater protection. Because, as you said, even under the existing protections we weren’t able to sufficiently provide safeguards for those communities that have been affected by these water crises of late.

KIM BROWN: So, last week the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, which is a group representing over 400,000 doctors, more than half of the doctors in the United States said that, “Climate change is already causing problems in communities of every region of our nation.” And the 145-year-old American Public Health Association recently declared 2017, “The Year of Climate Change and Health.”

So, let’s take a look at a video clip from the American Public Health Association.

MAN: The science is clear. Climate change is real. It is happening today and it profoundly affects our health. We are experiencing more intense heat waves, droughts and wild fires. Young children and seniors are the most vulnerable to heat-related illness. Climate change increases the amount of airborne pollutants and results in higher ozone levels leading to higher rates of asthma and cardiovascular disease.

KIM BROWN: So, talk about a few of those hotspots across the country where communities are being particularly impacted health wise by environmental issues, Jacqui, obviously, he just referenced one. What’s the name of that corridor in Louisiana, do they call that the Cancer Corridor? Do I have that correct?

JACQUI PATTERSON: Yeah, they call it the Cancer Corridor they also call the Petrochemical Corridor because there are so many factories, shipping channels, there’s so many combined types of pollutants and sources for the pollution in that area. And one community that is severely impacted is Mossville, Louisiana. They have a group that is called Mossville Environmental Action at Work. Otherwise known as MEAN.

And because they have suffered under these challenges for years and now they’ve reached a point where basically the companies there are saying, “We’re not moving, so you’re going to have to move.” The area is so contaminated, the soil is contaminated, the air is saturated with these toxins and they are, have experiencing these high rates of cancer.

Other places that are experiencing similar travesties. Dickson, Tennessee, where the Holt Family … Sheila Holt-Orsted, is part of this community. Where they had their water supply contaminated by a landfill that was there. And they had tricoelthylene in their water. And they discovered this when a number of people in the community started developing cancer early, dying from cancer early, and where there’s a significant outbreak of cleft palate, you don’t even hear about, throughout that community.

And it was because of all of this landfill stuff that got into the water supply. And the people drank it for years. And some people, the white folks in the community were informed not to drink the water. African American folks were not informed not to drink the water. They did not receive the letters and, as a result they’re paying for that oversight with their lives, their very lives.

KIM BROWN: I want you to expand upon that, Jacqui, because, you know, climate change is impacting everyone wherever you live, your income, race, ZIP code, but certain communities, particularly, communities of color, are being disproportionately affected.

So, what will happen if the EPA continues these drastic cuts? If the Trump administration continues these very significant cuts to their budgets of 31% and if I understand this correctly, the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice will also be cut. Is that accurate?

JACQUI PATTERSON: Yes, that is absolutely accurate. And another impact, as I say, I’m here in Iowa where they were 85,777 people who are on the rolls for the LIHEAP, the Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program will lose their assistance as well. We’re coming out with a report; I think this week, called, Lights Out in the Cold. Reforming Utility Shut Off Policies as if Human Rights matter.

And it actually talks about those very people who are now being protected by the LIHEAP, being able to have assistance to pay for their heating and the electricity that will be losing that under this proposed plan, are the very people that we’re talking about in this Lights Out report.

People have been subject to shutoffs and therefore, people have burned down their houses from trying to light their house from candles. Burned down their houses from trying to heat their houses with space heaters. People have lost their lives because they haven’t had the electricity to run the respirator on which they rely for oxygen. So, these are just some examples, locally here and broadly.

Also, we’ve been working over these years with NOAA in a partnership with NOAA and a group called Climate Central, where we’ve been working with coastal communities throughout the country who are facing imminent displacement due to sea level rise. And what NOAA and Climate Central have been able to bring is the forecasting tools to be able to say, “This is what’s going to happen at this level rise, of sea level rise, this level of sea level rise, etcetera.

And we’ve been able to overlay that with social vulnerability data and then work with these communities to be able to assess their risk from Florida to Wilmington, North Carolina, to Gulfport, Mississippi to New Orleans, Louisiana to Mobile, Alabama. And really help folks to see this is where the imminent danger lies and really facilitate conversations about what they can do about improving infrastructure, about developing relocation plans, etcetera.

And if these cuts happen to NOAA who knows where that will be and so, therefore people will end up in harms without any warning or understanding of the dread that’s facing them. We’re already seeing displacement from the Inuit community in Kivalina Island and Alaska to the Biloxi-Choctaw tribe in Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana, which are the first folks who have actually been displaced by sea level rise due to the water overtaking the land on which they live.

KIM BROWN: Well, Jacqui Patterson is our guest; she is the NAACP Director of Environmental and Climate Justice. We’ve been discussing the Trump administration’s proposed budget for 2018 which features a variety of cuts to climate change programs, particularly the Environmental Protection Agency will see a cut of 31% to their annual budget.

That’s part one of our conversation so stick around for part two, right here on The Real News Network.

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