Las Vegas Sun

August 22, 2019

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Taking a stand for our health and Nevada

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J. Scott Applewhite / AP

In this Jan. 18, 2017, file photo, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator nominee Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Let’s make a stand for our health

SUN EDITORIAL

Say this for Scott Pruitt: He’s a model apparatchik in President Donald Trump’s alt-facts administration.

Pruitt, the director of the Environmental Protection Agency, would have Americans believe that taking a meat ax to his agency’s budget and rolling back environmental regulations will actually protect their health. In a number of interviews, he’s contended that President Barack Obama needlessly bloated the EPA’s budget in a misdirected attempt to address global warming when Obama should have focused on core missions like cleaning up Superfund sites and protecting drinking water quality.

So in the white-hat self-image that Pruitt is presenting to Americans, he’s bravely steering the EPA back to what it’s supposed to be doing.

But true to much of what comes out of the Trump team, much of what Pruitt is saying is misleading at best and blatantly untrue at worst. Granted, Obama may not be the economic savior that some of his admirers have made him out to be, but Pruitt’s attacks on him over Superfund cleanup, to use one instance, are grossly unfair given that Congress didn’t give Obama enough funding to deal with the toxic sites.

Meanwhile, Pruitt and Trump have rolled back numerous environmental protections not just related to climate change but clean water, offshore drilling, coal exploration and more, all of which could have detrimental consequences on public health. They’ve removed scientists from EPA processes of analysis and grant-making, and have brought on political appointees with no science background.

They’re also proposing to slash the EPA budget by 31 percent and reduce its workforce by 25 percent.

Some protectors.

Pruitt’s message is propaganda, aimed at hiding an agenda of making it easier for the fossil fuel industry and other polluters to foul waters, destroy habitats and dirty the air in search of profits.

If it looks like an oil-soaked duck and wheezes like one, it’s an oil-soaked duck.

So with Congress now back in session and budget discussions on the horizon, the Sun today presents guest columns from a number of Nevada environmental advocates who are working to prevent Pruitt and the Trump team from damaging the state and eroding protections for the health of Nevadans.

We would also urge readers to call their congressional delegates and encourage them to oppose the EPA cuts. Contact information is as follows:

• Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., 702-388-6605, https://www.heller.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact-form

• Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., 702-388-5020, https://www.cortezmasto.senate.gov/content/contact-senator

• Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., 702-220-9823, https://titus.house.gov/contact/email-me

• Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., 702-963-9500, https://rosen.house.gov/contact/email

• Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., 702-963-9360, https://kihuen.house.gov/contact/

Note: All email addresses are online forms.

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Bad to the last drop: EPA cuts would put water quality at risk

GUEST COLUMN

By Chris Giunchigliani

No one in Nevada takes water for granted.

We turn our lawns into xeriscapes, and our famed fountains on the Strip spout reclaimed and recycled water. We worry about the level of Lake Tahoe, and we build bigger water supply pipelines deep below the shrinking surface of Lake Mead.

In a state where less than 1 percent of the surface area is covered by water, water is precious — like silver and gold.

Yet even as Nevadans focus on the quantity of water in our state, the quality of our water is threatened. We need all the clean water we can get for drinking, fishing, farming and ranching, even swimming and diving.

For years, our struggle to provide safe drinking water has been supported by a partnership with the federal government. But unless Congress acts quickly, that help may be sharply cut back, or in some cases completely wiped out.

Under President Donald Trump’s proposal to slash funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent, some vital EPA programs would be eliminated entirely. Let states pay for it, the president says. But that’s just not feasible in a state like ours where the federal government’s share of the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection’s budget has been more than 35 percent — and the amount of funding that comes from Nevada’s general tax fund is zero. Yes, zero.

I know from trying to keep the Clark County budget in balance — we can’t do it alone.

What’s at risk? Plenty.

Over the last five years, Nevada has received more than $83 million in EPA grants to protect the state’s environment and economy. Additional EPA dollars have gone straight to local, tribal and regional projects.

That includes the $1.3 million to help the Nevada Tahoe Conservation District and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency meet Clean Water Act requirements to keep drinking water safe. Another example: more than $2.8 million to the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California to protect water quality and address lurking underground toxic hazards.

The Trump administration also would eliminate a major water pollution program that provided Nevada with $7.8 million over the last five years and helped control pollutants carried by rainfall runoff into the state’s drinking water, rivers and lakes.

These EPA grants have helped Nevadans fight real threats to the health of their drinking water. In 2002, for instance, water testing revealed potentially harmful levels of lead and sediments in the Las Vegas wash, which carries water from the 1,600-square-mile Las Vegas Valley into Lake Mead, which supplies drinking water for millions. Rising population and land development had led to an increase in hard surfaces like parking lots and rooftops that in turn caused higher levels of rainwater runoff. With the backing of EPA grants, state officials and my colleagues around the state launched major efforts to address water quality through rebuilding stream banks, restoring vegetation and wildlife habitat and removing invasive plant species.

The president’s budget would wipe that assistance out — completely.

The EPA also provides water pollution control grants to help us deal with contaminated water. The Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, along with several tribal governments in the state, received more than $9 million in such grants from 2012 to 2016.

The Trump administration budget would cut this funding by 30 percent.

Also slashed by 30 percet would be EPA grants thta helped public water systems in Nevada to the tune of $4 million 2012 to 2016.

And not just water programs are at risk: Clark County has received $500,000 in the last half-decade to clean up and turn hazardous “brownfield sites” into productive job sites, but that kind of aid also would be cut along with funds for monitoring and warning millions here when our geography trips up our air quality.

But there’s no getting around the risk to our clean water. Water agencies throughout the state, like the Clark County Water Rehabilitation District and the Southern Nevada Water Authority, work miracles every day. They deserve all our support. Every drop of it. They shouldn’t have to do their essential work with less.

No one who lives in a desert oasis like we do can ever take water for granted. We need a strong partner at our side. Cutbacks being thrown around in Washington would reverse decades of progress here.

Nevada needs a fully funded EPA. We shouldn’t have to go it alone.

Clark County Commission Vice Chair Chris Giunchigliani has lived in Clark County for more than 37 years. A former Nevada Assembly member, she is a member of numerous boards, committees and organizations.

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Life near toxic plant illustrated need for environmental safeguards

GUEST COLUMN

By Vernon Lee

I was an employee at the Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant for over 20 years. I am also a member of the Moapa Band of Paiutes Tribe and lived for many years on our reservation, less than a mile from the now-shuttered plant.

The reservation, about 45 miles northeast of Las Vegas, was established in 1873, a time of intense industrialization in the U.S. After minerals were found on the eastern side of our reservation near Gold Butte, our borders were reduced by executive order from 2.2 million to only 1,000 acres in 1875. The land was taken for extractive and polluting industries.

Since then, the global industrial revolution has exploited the land and polluted every corner of the world. Times have changed, now our oceans and skies are sick, sea levels are rising, wildfires are more frequent and hurricanes are getting more intense. It is time to change again for the future of mankind.

Pollution is being driven by investment in fossil fuels, the predominant contributors to global warming. Many of the most powerful corporations and world’s wealthiest people are heavily invested into the coal, gas and oil industry. Unlike fossil fuels, the wind and the sun are free, and thus investors are not able to make as much money from their development as energy sources. This has made these corporations rich and powerful, and they do not want to lose their ability to control our political system through their campaign spending.

I saw the negative effects of fossil-fuel pollution firsthand daily when I worked at Reid Gardner.

I would call my neighbors on bad-air days and tell people to get their kids indoors and shut their windows. There was often a stink of rotten eggs over the reservation. These smells were caused by dangerous hydrogen sulfide and other gases emitting from the coal plant’s evaporation ponds, which are essentially chemical soup pits where coal ash and other combustion wastes were placed in water to settle. Hydrogen sulfide is heavier than normal air, so it settled near ground level and acutely affected people.

Hydrogen sulfide affects memory and respiratory functioning. This made the impact to our reservation’s children especially terrible, as their academic and athletic performances suffered as a result of this exposure. Kids were not chosen to be on the football team, students had trouble excelling in school and qualifying for scholarships.

Our tribe worked together over the years with Sierra Club, and legislation finally passed in 2013 to schedule the closure of the plant. NV Energy ceased operations at the facility in February of this year. Although it was the largest source of carbon pollution in Nevada, Reid Gardner was a comparatively small plant, and several coal power plants across the country are much larger and still have plans to continue polluting for decades.

The Environmental Protection Agency is the watchdog to hold this pollution in check. Although the nation’s carbon pollution consistently decreased and several coal plants closed during the Obama administration, the current political climate is signaling that fossil fuels are coming back. The Trump administration has proposed massive cuts to the EPA, which if signed into law would be catastrophic.

Instead of cutting this agency, we need to be taking drastic measures to bring pollution under control now. The longer we wait, the more climate change will accelerate and the harder it will become to slow it down.

Hurricanes like Irma would get even stronger, and polar ice will melt even faster. Instead of cutting its budget, the EPA should be strengthened now more than ever.

The power and authority of America is for the people, our rights and our safety. Congress and the presidential administration should be enacting new policies and laws that will allow the world to heal. It is not too late. If industry backs off, the environment can still regenerate and global warming can still be slowed down.

Vernon Lee is a former member of the Moapa Bands of Paiutes Tribal Council.

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Health effects of environmental hazards can be seen firsthand in Las Vegas

GUEST COLUMN

By Lisa Abrahime and Laura Beauregard

Until now, it never occurred to us that we might feel compelled to defend the Environmental Protection Agency and its mission. We are both mothers of young children, nurses and, of course, hopelessly busy trying to manage our lives.

However, the prospective cuts at the EPA alarm us and have motivated us to try to bring awareness to this issue, in hopes of changing its trajectory. Our concern is not only for the health of our environment, but also for the physical health of our community and generations of Nevadans to come.

The Trump administration has proposed a “back-to-basics” approach to funding the critical duties of the EPA. But with over $2 billion in budget cuts, this approach may be interpreted, instead, as bare-bones funding. Certain EPA-funded programs and environmental research projects will be dismantled entirely, including one designed to protect Americans from radon and provide incentives to use energy efficient appliances.

These programs have helped inch our way to a more environmentally conscious future, now threatened with the current administration’s shortsighted agenda.

The EPA funds many programs that directly benefit the health and productivity of Nevadans. The work of the EPA creates $82 million in health benefits for the state, including a decrease in pediatric visits to the emergency room related to acute asthma attacks.

The EPA also leads protective programs and sets safety standards for toxic-waste management, such as that surrounding Yucca Mountain. Although regulations are not always desirable, without them large companies are less accountable for the disposal of toxic waste. In addition, the EPA helps to insure continuity between states lines, as pollution knows no boundaries. What we legislate on a state level in Nevada will not make much difference if what is being legislated by our neighboring states is not held to the same standard.

Furthermore, the EPA contributes to the research and mitigation of climate-related concerns, such as rising temperatures, wildfires, devastating superstorms and compromised water supply, which are all of critical importance to Nevadans and the nation as a whole.

The proposed budget cuts to the EPA slash the agency’s budget by one-third, which could have significant, negative impacts on the health of our community. This means defunding access to things like radon meters and testing kits, as well as regulation of mercury levels.

Funding for clean-air regulation would be reduced by 24 percent. Often, air pollution and exposure to radon (a natural byproduct of uranium), are linked to the mutations that can create malignant lung tumors, and according to the American Cancer Society, radon exposure is the second-leading cause of lung cancer.

Air pollution in Nevada is linked to increased asthma attacks, birth defects, respiratory and cardiovascular disease as well. Poor drinking water is a threat to us all, and as with any environmental impacts, our children, elderly, and disenfranchised populations will bear the brunt. It is no surprise that environmental protections promote healthier families and healthier communities.

Personally, our experience in the nursing profession has given us an intimate perspective into environmental-related health consequences. We see increases in emergency room visits and hospital admissions corresponding with low air-quality days.

When the air quality is poor, some patients cancel important treatment visits to stay home. Downwind smoke or increased smog constricts breathing, and everyday activities become impossible tasks — even those needed to treat chronic or terminal illness.

Our cancer patients often have serious comorbidities such as COPD and heart disease; these conditions are exacerbated by polluted air and excessive heat. Excessive heat leads to dehydration in this patient population, which in turn leads to an increase in hospitalization.

To be clear, these environmental concerns affect the entire community, not just our patients. Within our own families, we have felt the effects of air pollution and climate change — asthma, allergies, late nights awake with children struggling to breathe and missed days of work causing the inevitable economic stress on the family. Fueled by our devotion to our children, our health care training and our dedication to the betterment of health, for both our patients and our community, we stand fervently against the proposed budget cuts to the EPA.

Somehow, environmental and human health have become entangled in party lines. The health and well-being of our community is not a partisan issue. Clean air and clean water are basic human rights, and it is imperative that we begin to take ownership as a community of this idea, in order to continue to further sound legislation that meets the environmental and health needs of our most vulnerable populations.

The money allocated to the EPA is just a small drop in the bucket of the overall federal budget. The EPA budget accounts for less than 1 percent of total government spending. Are these cuts really worth endangering the health and welfare of millions of Americans?

We must speak out against the EPA budget cuts to protect our health from the devastations of toxic air, toxic water and unmitigated climate change.

Lisa Abrahime, RN, BSN, OCN, has eight years of nursing experience. Laura Beauregard, RN, OCN, has five years of experience.

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Nevada’s natural resources at risk of being diminished

GUEST COLUMN

By Rebekah May Stetson

I remember my first hunting trip to Paradise Valley. I reveled in the morning blue sky, the still air and warm sun. Distant coyote calls heightened the excitement as we embarked on our hike.

As a sportswoman and mother of three, I want the same memories for my children. However, I fear the president’s slash-to-the-bone budget for the Environmental Protection Agency could keep that dream from becoming a reality.

Targeting the EPA is not OK. For sportsmen and women like me, the EPA protects our health, our connection to nature and our hobby.

First, the EPA protects the air we breathe. That’s important — we’re outside a lot. Our kids are, too. Cutting the EPA will undermine existing pollution standards, impair enforcement and impede the agency’s ability to develop new protections. That’s dangerous; the American Lung Association ranked the greater Reno area 10th worst in the nation for certain types of pollution.

Second, the EPA protects our water. In Nevada, our water is precious. Lake Tahoe, beloved by those who seek nature’s beauty, saw its famously clear water grow cloudy in the 20th century. However, the EPA has spent $47 million in the last 20 years and coordinated with state and local officials to help restore the grand and vital lake. Today, it’s getting back to its pristine blue. Cutting the EPA could interrupt this progress.

It’s not just Lake Tahoe, either. Waterways across Nevada need restoration. The Carson River has so much mercury pollution that anglers can’t eat their catch. Meanwhile, studies have found that nearly 80 percent of the wells near the Anaconda mine in Lyon County have toxic levels of chemicals.

Finally, and importantly, the EPA protects our climate. President Donald Trump doesn’t believe in the science of climate change, calling it a “hoax,” and has taken steps to end the EPA’s climate change research and adaption programs.

Average temperatures in Nevada have already risen 2 degrees; Lake Tahoe is warming at alarming rates; water reservoirs are shrinking.

Washington politicians may ignore climate change, but Nevada sportsmen and women can’t.

Rising global temperatures could push 30 percent of all plant and wildlife species toward extinction. For example, worsening wildfires and droughts in Nevada are threatening the pronghorn, a gazelle-like mammal. It’s the fastest land animal in North America and a prize for local hunters as well as a beautiful creature to be observed by all.

Climate change endangers our loved ones, triggering more asthma attacks and increasing tick and mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile and Lyme disease.

It’s simple: Undermining the EPA is bad for hunters and anglers. It’s bad for politicians, too. A recent poll found that 75 percent of American sportsmen and women consider cuts in funding for parks, habitat and water quality to be a serious threat.

Our elected officials should oppose any cuts to the EPA, in particular, our own Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. He champions himself as a friend of hunters and anglers. We appreciate this sentiment, but it must be backed with conviction. Nevada sportsmen and women don’t want to see the EPA gutted. We want our kids to hunt and fish, not hack and wheeze.

Like much of Nevada, Paradise Valley has endured droughts, wildfires and rising temperatures. It’s already changed since my husband brought me all those years ago.

I urge Sen. Heller and his Nevada colleagues to oppose any cuts to the EPA’s budget. As sportsmen and women, we want our kids and grandkids to go hunting where our parents and grandparents once took us. A fully funded EPA will help ensure this legacy.

Rebekah May Stetson is the grassroots climate outreach consultant in Nevada for the National Wildlife Federation Her career has spanned from corporate banking to organic farming. She is a mother to three and a passionate lover of the wild, striving to nurture the beauty that surrounds us.

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