Senate Republicans recently voted to confirm former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as the permanent administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Though tasked with protecting Americans’ health and environment, Wheeler is instead attempting to force through a deadly plan to weaken lifesaving protections from mercury pollution.
Mercury is poison, and Wheeler’s scheme is a poison plan.
Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can cause permanent brain damage to infants and children exposed to mercury in the womb, including long-term impacts on their memory, cognitive functioning, language and fine motor skills. Wheeler’s proposal would undermine lifesaving safeguards that are effectively limiting the amount of mercury pollution from power plants. By pursuing this deadly agenda, he is jeopardizing the health and well-being of millions of Americans.
As a mother, I am grateful that I brought two healthy sons into the world. While I was expecting, I made sure to follow my doctor’s instructions — eating balanced meals, drinking plenty of water, getting enough rest, avoiding alcohol and even over-the-counter medications. I wanted to be sure to give these little ones the best chance to thrive both before and after they were born.
There were also factors over which I had less control, but which nevertheless contributed to my sons’ health and wholeness. I had access to quality health care. The drinking water in my home was clean and safe. I lived in a community that did not have high levels of pollution that I was breathing in and passing on to my unborn children.
This is not the case for many pregnant women with families living in communities that lack access to health care and safe drinking water and are in close proximity to sources of pollution such as dirty coal-fired power plants.
Prior to 2012, mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants was completely unlimited and accounted for 48 percent of all human-caused mercury pollution, according to a report by Columbia University. Studies conducted by the EPA before the mercury pollution protections were enacted found that one in six babies born in the U.S. had unsafe levels of mercury. However, between 2011 and 2017 — following the enactment of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards — this pollution declined by more than 81 percent nationwide. These are the very standards Wheeler is now threatening.
Wheeler stated that these protections for the unborn are no longer “appropriate and necessary.” His poison plan would not just dismantle these lifesaving standards, it also would create a higher threshold for future protections by narrowing the range of benefits the agency can consider when devising new rules, excluding most of the public health benefits from the calculations.
Wheeler is proposing that health benefits might not even be considered in the rule-making process — only the potential cost to the industries producing these poisons.
As a mother and as an ordained minister in the Christian tradition, I find this to be morally unacceptable. As I read the Scriptures of my own faith, we are called to follow the example of Jesus Christ, who protected the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable — and advised the mighty and the powerful to do the same. As people of faith and conscience, we have a moral obligation to defend the vulnerable and care for future generations.
The mission of the EPA is “to protect human health and the environment.” Wheeler’s willingness to poison our children goes against the very mission of the agency and is anathema to the moral principles embraced by diverse religious traditions.
People of faith are encouraging Americans from across our nation to speak out against Wheeler’s deadly poison plan. The EPA will be holding a public hearing in Washington, D.C., on March 18, and accepting public comments on this issue through April 17. All Americans who care about healthy children and communities should make their concerns known. Together, we can stop this immoral attack on vulnerable infants and children.
Rev. Susan Hendershot is the president of The Regeneration Project and Interfaith Power & Light, a religious response to global warming. She is ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) with a master of Divinity from Emory University in Georgia.