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Daily News Blog

30
Nov

Tell President-elect Biden We Need an Environmental Leader to Head the EPA

(Beyond Pesticides, November 30, 2020) The “environment” is central to President-elect Biden’s priorities: climate change, COVID-19, and the next pandemic, racial equity, and economic recovery. The new administration should include an EPA administrator who understands the relationships among these and other environmental issues and has a clear vision of the changes needed to dramatically change our course, currently heading for ecological destruction.

Tell President-elect Biden to appoint an EPA Administrator who is an environmentalist with broad environmental credentials and a vision that embraces a dramatic transition away from hazardous chemicals and polluting practices at this perilous time.

Let’s start with what the past four years has taught us about who we do NOT want as EPA Administrator. We do not want an industry lobbyist, someone whose work has been funded with industry money, who has represented industry in litigation or as a lobbyist, who has attacked environmentalists, or has never read Silent Spring. Such a person is not qualified to provide the leadership needed to address priority issues and understand the interconnections necessary to address the crises associated with climate, health, and biodiversity decline.

On the other hand, a strong candidate will support holistic thinking, with an understanding of interrelationships in ecosystems. This requires an understanding of  1) the relationship between a healthy environment and a healthy economy; 2) disproportionate risk and environmental racism; 3) the importance of standing up to polluting industries; 4) the existential threats facing the country and the globe; and 5) the failure of risk assessment and unrealistic risk mitigation measures that poison people and the environment, and destroy life; and 6) the need for meaningful results, rather than politically expedient compromises.

Relationships Among Priorities and Relationship to Environment

Climate change has been shown to increase people’s susceptibility to COVID-19, disproportionately affect the low income and people of color, and pose a major threat to the economy. COVID-19 affects our response to climate emergencies, disproportionately affects minorities, and has had a severe impact on the economy. The data is clear that racial injustice is inextricably linked to the climate crisis, the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on black and brown essential workers, and an imbalanced economy that functions poorly in ensuring everyone an equitable share of United States wealth and promise. Because of this, environmental leadership must work hand-in-hand with economic decisions that affect sustainabilty—only sustainability can bring us solutions to the urgent issues of climate change, pandemics, and racial inequity. Currently, all environmental decisions are screened and controlled by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, which fails to address the disparities that are causing unimaginable harm in the interest of “economic health.” We cannot achieve sustainability until we change our relationship with the “environment”—that is, the total biosphere of the Earth. An EPA administrator must be empowered to challenge these foundational problems.

Climate Change

President-elect Biden has prioritized climate change, having appointed John Kerry to the cabinet post of “Climate Envoy,” and is likely to choose someone who is strong on this issue to head EPA. Climate change, however, is affected by, and affects, other environmental and health concerns. It is important that the Biden EPA work across agencies to ensure a coordinated approach—so that industry production and use practices, individual and multiple chemicals effects, and background sensitivities associated with elevated risk factors can be addressed in the context of their interrelationships.

The leadership provided by this holistic analysis must prioritize the solutions as a replacement for polluting practices and widespread harm. For example, toxic pesticides kill nontarget organisms, including pollinators, soil micro- and macrofauna, predators and parasites of pests, and plants that support the agroecosystem, are unnecessary to achieve productive, cost competitive, and profitable food production, and can be replaced by organic agriculture. EPA leadership can and must question the reasonableness of the conventional wisdom that toxic chemical dependency (including fossil-fuel based toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers) is acceptable, given the viability and nontoxic practices. This can be achieved under current risk standards of most environmental laws with the appropriate leadership that takes seriously the existential threats that we face and the viability of alternatives that eliminate toxic practices. We have entered a period that requires toxic chemical and fossil fuel elimination, driven by communities across the country that understand the threats and are forcing a change in their community practices. We need leadership at the top of EPA that is willing to listen to local leaders and urgently change the path we are currently on.  

COVID-19

EPA has a number of responsibilities that affect the pandemic and the prevention of another future pandemic. Exposure to toxic chemicals—especially those affecting the respiratory, immune, and nervous systems—makes people more susceptible to the disease. EPA’s programs can recognize the threats to vulnerable population groups and tighten the reins on controlling how and when we use toxic chemicals—leading to a phase-out. In the case of disinfectants, EPA lists disinfectants that can be used to destroy the virus on surfaces, but has done so without providing information about the risks of using those disinfectants and the availability of safer materials.

Racial Equity

A blatant example of systemic racism is imbedded in risk assessments in environmental regulation. In deciding on “acceptable” risks, exposure assessments inevitably discount the impact workers, people of color, and those with preexisting health conditions or comorbidities. For example, EPA routinely calculates worker exposure separately from other exposures. In applying aggregate exposure assessments of pesticides, EPA does not include worker exposure. Risk assessments do not include exposures to multiple chemicals—and such exposures routinely affect fenceline communities, farmworkers, and factory workers.

Work with Other Agencies

Achieving the goals expressed by President-elect Biden will require cooperation among agencies. While the Climate Envoy position is an important step forward, EPA must step up to fulfill its mandate and ensure our future and the future of following generations.

The EPA administrator must have the experience to regulate and the background to understand that it is critically and urgently important to:

  • cooperate with USDA in considering the viability of organic agriculture in eliminating the use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers. Coordinating ecological management of forests with USDA will help in fighting climate change.
  • work with the Department of the Interior (DOI) to facilitate the protection of natural areas, which serve as a carbon sink and assist in combating climate change. DOI can also assist in protecting indigenous cultures that have much wisdom to offer for protecting natural systems.
  • work with the Department of Energy to ensure that our pursuit of energy sources supports life and protects our biosphere.
  • intersect with the Food and Drug Administration on pharmaceuticals and other toxicants in waterways, Department of Health and Human Services on public health protections, the Fish and Wildlife Service on endangered species, U.S. Geological Survey in monitoring water quality, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in climate and marine issues.

In order to solve the problems we are facing, we must stop treating EPA and other federal agencies as silos that work on discrete and isolated problems. In fact, readers of Beyond Pesticides Daily News know that the body of science screams for us to act on the confluence of issues that converge to threaten human life and sustainability of planet. Therefore, the new EPA Administrator should be a visionary with a holistic vision for a sustainable society and a livable future.

Tell President-elect Biden to appoint an EPA Administrator who is an environmentalist with broad environmental credentials and a vision that embraces a dramatic transition away from hazardous chemicals and polluting practices at this perilous time.

Dear President-elect Biden

Congratulations on your election.

I ask that you appoint an administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who understands the relationships among environmental issues, with a clear vision of the changes needed to dramatically change our course away from ecological destruction.

The past four years have taught us who we do NOT want as EPA Administrator—someone whose work has been funded with industry money, represented industry in litigation or as a lobbyist, attacked environmentalists, never read Silent Spring. Such a person is not qualified to provide the leadership to address priority issues and understand the interconnections associated with climate, health, and biodiversity decline.

A strong candidate will support holistic thinking with an understanding of interrelationships in ecosystems—with an understanding of the relationship between a healthy environment and a healthy economy; disproportionate risk and environmental racism; the importance of standing up to polluting industries; the existential threats facing the country and the globe; the failure of risk assessment and unrealistic risk mitigation measures that poison people and the environment; and the need for meaningful results rather than politically expedient compromises.

The environment is central to your interrelated priorities of climate change, COVID-19, racial equity, and economic recovery. Climate change increases susceptibility to COVID-19, disproportionately affects the low income and people of color, and poses a major threat to the economy. COVID-19 affects climate emergency response, minorities, and the economy. Racial injustice is inextricably linked to the climate crisis, the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on essential workers, and an imbalanced economy.

An EPA administrator must be empowered to make environmental and economic decisions to achieve sustainability—necessary for solutions to the urgent issues of climate change, pandemics, and racial inequity and requiring a new relationship with the Earth.

Your priority of climate change is affected by, and affects, other environmental and health concerns. It is important to work across agencies to ensure a coordinated approach—both because they are important in their own right and because of their relationship to climate change. Cooperation among agencies is needed to promote organic agriculture, conserve natural areas and marine ecosystems, preserve indigenous cultures, and monitor resources.

EPA must prioritize solutions to replace practices causing widespread harm. Toxic pesticides kill nontarget organisms, including pollinators, soil micro- and macro-fauna, predators and parasites of pests, and plants that support the agroecosystem, are unnecessary for productive, cost competitive, and profitable food production, and can be replaced by organic agriculture. EPA leadership must thus question the reasonableness of conventional wisdom accepting toxic chemical dependency. EPA must listen to communities across the country that understand the threats and are changing their practices.

EPA’s responsibilities affect pandemics. Exposure to toxic chemicals—especially those affecting the respiratory, immune, and nervous systems—increases susceptibility to COVID-19. EPA lists disinfectants that can be used to destroy the virus on surfaces without information about their risks and the availability of safer materials.

Risk assessments contain a blatant example of systemic racism. In deciding on “acceptable” risks, exposure assessments inevitably discount the impact on workers, people of color, and others at risk. For example, EPA does not include workers in calculating aggregate exposure to pesticides. Risk assessments do not include exposures to multiple chemicals—which routinely affect fenceline communities, farmworkers, and factory workers.

I look forward to a new EPA Administrator who is a visionary with a holistic vision for a sustainable society and a livable future.

Thank you.

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One Response to “Tell President-elect Biden We Need an Environmental Leader to Head the EPA”

  1. 1
    Regina L DeFalco Lippert Says:

    We need a leader of the EPA who will truly safeguard the health of the people, the animals, and the environment!

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