Guest Columnist

Andrew Wheeler's EPA plans hurt families

An empty podium awaits the arrival of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. on July 11, 2018. (Ting Shen/Reuters)
An empty podium awaits the arrival of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. on July 11, 2018. (Ting Shen/Reuters)

This week, the U.S. Senate is considering the nomination of acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler to confirm him as disgraced former Administrator Scott Pruitt’s permanent replacement — a potentially dangerous proposition for Iowa. Though tasked with protecting Americans’ health and environment, Wheeler is instead attempting to force through a plan to remove lifesaving protections from mercury pollution and refusing to protect us from cancer-causing chemicals in our drinking water.

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can cause permanent neurological damage to infants and babies exposed in the womb, including long-term impacts on memory, cognitive functioning, language, and fine motor skills. Wheeler’s proposal would target lifesaving protections that limit mercury pollution from power plants, jeopardizing the health and well-being of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

Wheeler is also putting the safety of Iowa’s drinking water at risk, allowing children and families to be exposed to dangerous chemicals known as PFAS. EPA’s own science has shown these chemicals are linked to severe health impacts like cancer, thyroid disease, and weakened childhood immunity. Senators from both parties have expressed concern over Wheeler’s willingness to endanger families. Now, we’re counting on U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst to protect Iowa’s children by voting against Wheeler’s nomination.

Studies conducted by the EPA before the mercury rule was enacted found that one in six babies born in the U.S. had unsafe levels of mercury. Since 2011, however, mercury pollution declined by 87 percent in Iowa, saving 160 lives per year — thanks to the very standards Wheeler would roll back.

Wheeler says these protections for unborn children are no longer “appropriate and necessary.” His plan wouldn’t just undo these lifesaving standards; it also would create a higher threshold for future protections by excluding public health from consideration when devising new rules. Wheeler is proposing that health benefits should not even be considered in the rule-making process — only the potential cost to the industries.

As a mother and as an ordained minister in the Christian tradition, I find this to be morally bankrupt. As I read the Scriptures, 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 are morally obligated to defend the vulnerable and care for future generations.

The mission of the EPA is “to protect human health and the environment.” Wheeler’s proposals go against the very mission of the agency.

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People of faith are urging Sen. Ernst to protect Iowa families from Wheeler’s plan and vote against his nomination. If Ernst votes in favor of Wheeler, she is voting in favor of plans that directly harm Iowa children and expectant mothers. All Iowans who care about healthy children and communities should make their concerns known; to 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.

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