We Need to Stand Together Now More Than Ever

People and the planet during a Trump Administration

In the past, U.S. Presidents have been hostile to the environment, but it’s different this time.

Soon after George W. Bush took office, Vice President Dick Cheney launched his Energy Task Force, a secret council of oil and gas executives “to eliminate federal barriers to increased energy supplies.”  Their regulatory overhaul did a remarkable amount of damage, the most visible results of which were the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

But it’s different this time.

Two decades earlier, soon after he took office, Ronald Reagan appointed anti-environmentalists James Watt and Anne Gorsuch to lead the Department of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency, respectively.  Watt quintupled the amount of land leased for coal mining, made racist public comments that led to his forced resignation, and was later indicted on 25 felony counts of obstruction of justice.  Gorsuch hired industry lobbyists to run the EPA, quit enforcing the Clean Air Act, and got cited for contempt of Congress when it investigated her management of the federal Superfund program.

But it’s different this time.

We’ve seen it at the state level too.  In the 1990s, Governor John Engler appointed industry apologist Russ Harding to dismantle Michigan’s once-proud natural resource regulatory structure and reverse the state’s most important environmental laws.  What we got in exchange was an increase in landfills, in pollution sources, in untended contamination sites, and in a Department of Environmental Quality so besieged that, 20 years later, it allowed the wholesale poisoning of Flint’s drinking water.

But it’s different this time.

Donald Trump is the first successful candidate for major public office who openly campaigned to roll back the country’s most important environmental laws and international commitments.  He called climate change a Chinese-perpetrated hoax and has appointed a climate denier to oversee the EPA transition process.  There’s support in Congress right now for a radical anti-environmental agenda, so no Congressional committee will rein in the worst abuses.  We should expect the worst.

What does that mean for us in Michigan?

It means that communities will have no federal recourse when companies turn our lakes, rivers, and groundwater into dumping grounds.  It means there’ll be no appeal when our kids breathe air poisoned by pollution, or use products loaded with toxic chemicals.  It means that communities – rich and poor, urban and rural, black and white – will have no authorities to turn to when state regulators let them down.

Now, the EPA was far from perfect in Flint over the last two years, but it was an Agency staffer who helped bring to light the drinking water contamination there.  In Ann Arbor, residents have been looking to the EPA to clean up groundwater contamination in the city after 30 years of State inaction, but they’ll now need to look somewhere else.

All this means that we’re going to have to fight

We’re going to have to fight to stop the worst attacks on our health and our communities.  And we’re going to have to fight to stop rollbacks to the progress we’ve been making recently in healthy food, safer materials, and clean energy.

The Ecology Center has already joined forces with allies across the country to resist the worst threats to our health and our communities. Climate change, toxic pollution, and food insecurity burden the health and livelihoods of the most vulnerable in our society. We’ll fight for children with asthma living next to coal-fired power plants, local farmers facing crop failure, and the elderly, poor and disabled who seek respite from extreme weather events.

The Ecology Center’s work is more important than ever, and what we do works in the face of political headwinds – and even helps turn them around.

We educate people how to keep their families healthy and safe – and they’re going to want that information now more than ever. We push corporations to use cleaner energy, make safer products, and provide healthier food. We stand in the way of the worst environmental rollbacks and fight for policy reform wherever possible. These strategies work no matter who’s in the White House, in Congress, or in the Governor’s office.

We’re not going to sugarcoat it – we have a rough road ahead of us.  At the very moment that world leaders had come to a rough consensus – for the first time in human history – to take bold steps forward to address the existential threat to human civilization posed by climate change, the recent election casts doubt on what happens next. 

But America’s not a dictatorship, and government action’s not the only way to solve problems.  At the same time that Congress and the new President try to turn back the clock on climate action and a sustainable future, we’re going to fight to stop them.  And at the same time, we’ll keep finding ways to bring more clean energy, safer materials, and healthy food to local communities, and into the marketplace.

We’re going to keep fighting, and I hope you’ll join us. If the government won’t hold corporations accountable for the toxic materials in their products, we will. If they won’t ensure everyone has healthy, sustainable food to eat, we will. And if they won’t take the imminent threat of climate change seriously, we will.

It’s different this time, and that’s all the more reason we need to stand together, now more than ever. 

Published on November 28, 2016

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