President Donald Trump’s deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency terrify me. They will gut the agency, removing protections for American families and our children.
As I travel from one polluted community to the next, women weep as they hold their children, and explain how chemicals in their air, water or land have made their families sick.
Local leaders describe how their city or town won’t help them, because it’s a company town, and no one will hold the polluter responsible. They go on to say their state agency isn’t much better. Their only recourse is the federal EPA.
The EPA was designed to provide a safety net for these communities. But it has been hard enough for EPA to answer demand for their services across the nation, and to stretch their existing budgets. Clearly, Trump’s administration intends to take away this safety net, and a means for checks and balances.
I can tell you from first-hand experience that living in a toxic environment, with little hope of getting out, is a family’s worst nightmare. In 1978, I lived with my two small children at Love Canal in Niagara Falls, NY, where 20,000 tons of toxic chemical wastes were buried.
My daughter had a rare blood disease, and my son suffered from many medical problems including with his liver, asthma and epilepsy. Our house was worthless, and our American dream taken away through no fault of our own. Fifty-six percent of our neighborhood children were born with birth defects.
Niagara Falls was a city with 47 different chemical facilities. The city didn’t want to upset the industry, nor did the county. Moreover, the state was concerned about setting a precedent, estimating there were thousands of similar sites in the region just like Love Canal.
The federal EPA came in to investigate the site, after pleas from the community that the city and state were not acting. Eight hundred families were later relocated, and the Superfund Program was established to address threats to human health by the most dangerous chemical waste sites.
Superfund provides the opportunity for the EPA to come in to a town or city and clean up contamination to protect families from exposure. The program also identifies the corporations that created the site, and holds them responsible for the costs. If there is no responsible corporation, the EPA has the authority and funds to clean up the site.
There is no gentle way to state the obvious. Trump prioritizes corporations over people, children and the planet. These cuts will gut the agency, removing protections for American families.
I am old enough to remember the black smoke of the steel mills, the rivers catching fire and sickness and death in communities that surround the factories. The magnitude of the cuts proposed by this administration will take America back decades.
Cuts in the EPA budget mean no one will be watching the polluters. No one will be there to ensure industrial facilities don’t dump wastes into the sewer, air or rivers.
No one would hold polluters accountable to pay for cleaning up toxics or for the costs of sick children with asthma, cancer, with birth defects and so much more.
Superfund was designed to provide technical, financial and legal assistance to states and local governments by creating a pool of funds to be used in the most toxic waste sites in the country.
States nominate sites for the Superfund program because they want help; they can’t afford to clean up abandoned sites on their own. As was the case in Niagara Falls, many states and local governments have neither the resources to investigate, nor the backbone to take on corporate polluters. Instead, they look the other way.
Trump's cuts mean there will be no one to police the environment, and no enforcement. Think about that. What if there were no police in your neighborhood? People would speed down neighborhood streets where children walk to and from school. Someone could just walk into a bank and demand money, or someone could assault you or your loved ones with no fear of consequences.
What polluters take from us is more than any bank robber can ever take, and much more devastating. The air you breathe, the water you drink and land you play on could be toxic poison. Regulations mean little when there are no police, no investigators or consequences for doing harm.
The entire planet is at risk if the Trump Administration cuts the EPA’s budget by 30 percent. Everyone but the very wealthy will suffer the consequences. Families of low income and of color will suffer the most, as they often live closest to industry.
Rather than weakening the EPA and environmental protections, we should work to strengthen rules to protect communities from the impacts of waste dumps, factory farms, fossil fuels, and other pollution sources. We should work to ensure all people have access to clean water, safe food, and a livable climate.
Everyone will be harmed by these cuts, and everyone must speak out. Our very existence, public health and America’s future depend on it, as does our ability to control industrial pollution and hold corporations accountable.
Lois Marie Gibbs is a former resident of the Love Canal community and founder of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, a project of People’s Action.