Trump nominees pose a hazard to our health

Trump nominees pose a hazard to our health
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As President of the National Medical Association, I spend my days working to protect Americans’ health and advance health equity for minorities, especially African Americans. Achieving a healthier and more just society, however, might soon become even more difficult if two nominees for key administration positions are confirmed by the U.S. Senate. These nominees, Kathleen Hartnett White and Andrew Wheeler, have alarming ties to industry groups and have shown a concerning disregard for science. They would put our health at risk.

A new report released by the NAACP and the Clean Air Task Force found that African Americans face a disproportionate risk of health problems from pollution. More than one million African Americans live within half a mile of an oil and gas operation, and more than 6.7 million live in a county that is home to a refinery.

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The results are stark: black children are four times more likely to be hospitalized for asthma, and 10 times more likely to die from asthma than white children. And 7 in 10 African Americans currently live in counties with dangerous air pollution levels. That’s unacceptable — we need strong health and environmental safeguards that protect all Americans, especially vulnerable populations and communities of color, from harmful pollution and climate change impacts.

 

We cannot make meaningful progress without dedicated leaders who are committed to tackling our biggest health and environmental challenges. These nominees simply do not fit the bill, which should concern all Americans.

Hartnett White, who has been nominated to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality, has a long record of outrageous statements that raise serious questions about her judgment. She has called renewable energy "parasitic," said we don’t need to cut methane pollution, and argued that fossil fuels helped end slavery. At her recent confirmation hearing, she couldn’t give a straight answer when asked where she gets her information, denied climate science and said science shouldn’t “dictate” policy.

As an environmental official for the state of Texas, Hartnett White even covered up irradiated drinking water, directing staff to fudge the numbers from radiation tests to hide the fact that Houston’s drinking water violated federal radiation standards. Why? To avoid having to tell Houston families or the federal government.

This alone is enough to demonstrate why Hartnett White should not be allowed to serve as the White House’s top environmental quality official.

Andrew Wheeler, meanwhile, has been nominated to be the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s deputy administrator. He’s a prominent coal industry lobbyist whose firm raised thousands for politicians and lobbied for Murray Energy, a coal company whose CEO recently said he wants to “bury” the EPA. If Wheeler’s allowed to help steer the EPA, he’s nearly certain to take aim at lifesaving health and climate protections like the Clean Power Plan, which has been vigorously opposed by the coal industry.

Coal-fired power plants are one of the top sources of air and water pollution in the United States. Handing a coal lobbyist a high-ranking position at the EPA would jeopardize the agency’s mission of protecting our health and environment.

Hartnett White and Wheeler have deep and longstanding ties to polluters, chemical manufacturers and other industry groups. Importantly, they both have alarming histories of fighting against vital health protections. Together, and in concert with EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on 'forever chemicals' Architect of controversial EPA policies to return as chief of staff: report EPA asked to justify proposal to limit power of its science advisers MORE, they would dismantle lifesaving health and climate protections like the Clean Power Plan.

These nominations call into question this administration’s commitment to protecting public health and achieving equitable health outcomes. Confirming these nominees would only confirm that there will be more sick kids, more pollution and more toxic pesticides that put us all at risk.

When it comes to our health, the facts are clear: communities of color bear a disproportionate burden when it comes to pollution and climate change. We cannot afford to put those who deny science in charge of decisions that should be based on science. The public health and medical community have a clear, united front: to protect public health, prevent ailments and disease, and promote healthier lives. It’s imperative that we take bold, decisive action to curb climate change and the harmful carbon pollution that fuels it. 

Dr. Doris Browne is the president of the National Medical Association, the largest and oldest national organization representing African American physicians and their patients in the United States.