Continuing our mission to protect public health and the environment

Yesterday, I led Senate Democrats in the first Environment and Public Works Committee hearing of 2017 where we considered the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA was created in 1970 through collaboration between Republican President Richard Nixon and a bipartisan Congress. Since its creation, the EPA has carried out its core mission of protecting human health and the environment by using the most modern scientific and medical data available to set common-sense environmental and health standards. The difficult job of the EPA is critical to keeping our air clean, our drinking water safe, and protecting our families from the most harmful toxins.

In my opening statement, I expressed to Attorney General Pruitt my grave concerns about his views on the EPA’s core mission and reminded him of our duty as public servants to be good stewards of the world around us and protect the most vulnerable among us from dangerous pollution and harmful toxins.

You can watch my full remarks by clicking the image below. 

“Leading the Environmental Protection Agency is hard work. That agency – created by President Nixon and a bipartisan Congress 46 years ago – is tasked with implementing our nation’s most important clean air, clean water and safe chemical laws. The EPA is required to use sound science to protect both our environment AND our public health. By and large, the EPA has done this successfully for decades, while our economy has continued to grow. Many in this room today may not remember a time before the EPA: a time when states had to work individually to protect citizens and the communities in which they lived. A time before the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act were signed into law. A time when businesses operating throughout the U.S. were faced with a myriad of conflicting state and local laws affecting our health and environment. The choking smog and soot of a half-century ago seems unfathomable now. Rivers on fire and deadly, toxic plumes sound like something from another world – impossible in our United States.

“Today, we have the luxury of largely forgetting these frightening circumstances thanks to the efforts of the EPA and its employees, in partnership with state and local agencies and with companies across America. In fact, the EPA and its many partners throughout this country have been so successful that it’s easy for some of us to forget just why this agency is so critical. For some, it’s also easy to presume there’s not much more for the agency to do. That could not be further from the truth. The environmental threats we face today are real, and they don’t respect state boundaries. As we consider a nominee to run our nation’s foremost environmental agency, it’s worth reminding everyone here why the mission of the EPA is so critical and just what’s at stake. Over time, my state of Delaware has made great strides in cleaning up our own air pollution, but our work only goes so far.

“Delaware, like many states on the East Coast, sits at the end of what’s known as ‘America’s tailpipe.’ Ninety percent of the air pollution in Delaware comes from outside the First State – from power plants hundreds of miles away in places like Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and across the Midwest. As governor of Delaware, even if I had eliminated every source of air pollution within our state by stopping every combustion source and ordering every motor vehicle off of our roads, Delawareans still would have faced deadly doses of air pollution. Should children and others in Delaware really be forced to live with the consequences of decisions made by polluters hundreds – or even thousands – of miles from us? I don’t think so. Fortunately, the EPA has recently implemented something called the Good Neighbor rule to make sure that all states do their fair share to clean up the air. Every citizen in this country has a right to breathe clean air, regardless of whether they live in a downwind or upwind state. That is why we have the EPA.

“I remember fishing as a boy with my father along the Dan River near my hometown of Danville, Virginia. We brought home the fish we caught to eat. My mom and sister ate them, too. Today, that quintessential American pastime comes with a warning label. That river, along with countless other polluted streams, rivers and lakes in all 50 states, are subject to public health advisories cautioning citizens against eating the mercury-laden fish found in them.

“We’ve known for decades that most of the mercury in our fish comes from the air pollution that is emitted from the dirtiest coal plants and then settles in our waterways. We also know that mercury is a powerful neurotoxin that accumulates in the human body over time, threatening the health of this generation and generations to come. The EPA recently issued public health protections to clean up the toxic air pollution from our dirtiest coal plants, allowing families in Danville and thousands of other communities to once again eat the fish from our rivers, lakes and streams without concerns of mercury poisoning. That’s why we have the EPA.

“Too often, when states and local communities are pinched for cash, they try to save money by shortchanging clean air and clean water protections. Improvements to water infrastructure are often ignored, corners are cut, and solutions are adopted that may save dollars now, but inflict costly and unnecessary damage later. As we’ve seen most recently in the city of Flint, Michigan, these cuts can have a terrible – and even tragic – impact on the health of the most vulnerable in our society, especially the youngest among them. Today, the citizens of Flint still lack clean drinking water, and a new generation there, which has been exposed to high levels of lead, faces an uncertain future. That’s why we have the EPA.

“You may not know it, Mr. Pruitt, but Delaware is the lowest lying state in our nation. The highest point in the First State is a bridge. Back home, the reality that our climate is changing is not up for debate. Families and business owners face the stark realities of climate change every single day. Tackling that challenge is not just the right thing to do or what is best for Delaware’s economy. It’s a matter of survival.”

“Take a ride with me some 30 miles south of the Dover Air Force Base heading east toward the Delaware Bay on Prime Hook Road, and you’ll see what I mean. There was a time not long ago, when just before you reached the Bay, you came to a parking lot. Today, that parking lot is under water. Stand there with me looking to the east and you’ll see part of a concrete bunker sticking up out of the Bay. Recently, someone showed me a photo taken of that bunker in 1947, the year I was born. It was on dry land, 500 feet WEST of the water’s edge. But our little state alone cannot stem the flow of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere that is largely causing our climate to change, our seas to rise and our coastlines to retreat. Every state must do its fair share to safeguard our climate and their neighbors. That’s why we have the EPA.”  

You can find my full remarks here.

Take care, and God Bless,

Tom Carper