Las Vegas Sun

August 17, 2019

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GUEST COLUMN:

Families will suffer if Wheeler becomes EPA chief

Las Vegas is blessed with blue skies, but the air we breathe is among the dirtiest in the country. The American Lung Association ranked our city as among the top 25 most polluted in the country for smog and particle pollution — and gave Clark and Washoe counties an F grade in its latest air quality report. Our air pollution problem puts Nevada’s children at risk for asthma attacks, lung infections, stunted lung development and more.

As an organizer fighting for the health of children across the state, and especially as a mom, I am deeply concerned about our air quality. But what’s even more concerning — at a time when we urgently need to focus on helping our kids breathe easier — is that we could soon see someone confirmed to run the Environmental Protection Agency who clearly supports policies that will make this pollution worse.

Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator at the EPA, is up for the job of administrator of the agency whose duty is to protect our health from pollution. Wheeler is a former coal industry lobbyist with a record of promoting health-harming policies that prioritize polluters’ profits over public health. In fact, Wheeler’s fingerprints are all over some of the most regressive environmental U-turns to come out of President Donald Trump’s EPA. For a nominee who has already shown us that he won’t prioritize our environment or our health, it’s no exaggeration to say this person is uniquely unqualified.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a high-stakes vote on Wheeler’s nomination, with a full vote in the Senate expected shortly after. When that happens, I would implore our senators to give this nominee two thumbs down. 

More than 42,000 children in Nevada already live with asthma, and Wheeler’s policies would lead to more asthma attacks, more hospital visits and more school days missed.

In my years of advocating for Latino communities and low-income Americans across the state, I have never seen someone so unfit to lead our nation’s environment and health agenda.

Here are a couple of examples why:

• Climate change is expected to make temperatures hotter in Nevada, put pressure on already limited water supplies and make air pollution worse. Yet Wheeler did not seem concerned about these dire impacts on our kids when he rolled back EPA’s climate pollution standards for power plants, cars, oil and gas facilities, and more.

• Wheeler is letting companies that pollute our air and water get a free pass while our children pay the price. A new study found that fines for polluters have dropped 85 percent under Wheeler and Trump.

Wheeler’s latest move poses an especially ominous danger for our children: more mercury exposure.

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can cause brain damage in infants, affecting a child’s ability to walk, talk and learn. Important standards enacted in 2011 protect our kids from this toxic pollution, yet Wheeler is now attacking the very foundation on which these protections are built, and the likely result is more mercury for our families. Not only would this put our mostly vulnerable residents at risk, but the loss of productivity from lowered IQscaused by mercury could cost our economy billions.

Simply put, we cannot put someone who so blatantly ignores our children’s health at the helm of the institution in charge of with protecting them. It is clear from his actions that corporate polluters are his first priority, not American families.

I help lead a community of moms driven to speak out by the love we have for our children, and together, we urge U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen to go the extra mile in taking a strong and vocal stance against Wheeler’s nomination.

Our children deserve better. It’s up to everyone with a child they love in their life to demand better on their behalf. Nevadan moms are counting on our senators to join us.

Claudia Najarro is the Nevada Ecomadres field organizer for Moms Clean Air Force and Green Latinos. She lives in Las Vegas with her family, where she fights for the health and well-being of the Latino community.