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Sunday, March 12, 2017

The endangered EPA

It’s been a big week for climate change deniers and polluters. First Scott Pruitt, the new leader of the Environmental Protection Agency, opined that carbon dioxide from human activity isn’t causing global warming. Then Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz sponsored a bill to eliminate the EPA altogether. Meanwhile, the Trump administration proposes to cut EPA funding by 25 percent.

    Where would we be if the EPA hadn’t been at work since 1970? Without it, gardens would be in poor shape for so many reasons.

As spring flowers open, I'm grateful to the EPA for protecting the garden environment

    Remember acid rain? Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from Midwest power plants used to drift eastward, damaging northeastern forests. The big oak tree that anchors my garden would likely have succumbed to this toxic mix, along with many of its fellows. Instead, thanks to air pollution standards, New England forests rebounded. 

    Back when America was “great,” lead from gasoline routinely accumulated in garden soil. Our lot is small; no part of it is far from roads and car exhaust. If it weren’t for the EPA’s phase-out of leaded gas, we might not be able to eat vegetables from our own yard without risking brain damage from lead poisoning.

With lead in soil from exhaust, we'd have to skip the home-grown tomatoes

    I can thank the EPA for keeping me in shape to garden. Mental health used to be a smoky job, with many of our patients chain-smoking. EPA insisted on the link between secondhand smoke and cancer, lung and heart disease. Clinical encounters are now smoke-free. If I’d breathed secondhand smoke for 40 years, would I still be able to wield a shovel or a rake?

    The EPA has banned or restricted toxic chemicals we formerly used in our landscapes, starting with DDT. In 1972, many bird populations were dangerously low, poisoned by DDT as it concentrated up the food chain. Now bald eagles are back, and healthy native birds visit my yard.

Bald eagles chicks, safe without DDT

    Businesses chafe at EPA regulations that prevent them from exploiting our natural resources and sticking the rest of us with the externalized costs in money, health, and environmental damage. That seems to be the motivation for Pruitt’s long career of suing the EPA and his current mission to destroy it.

     Now more than ever, we need the government scientists who’ve been supplying the data on climate change that the Trump team plans to ignore or shred. I can only imagine how sad and infuriating it would be to see your life’s work heading for the electronic recycle bin.

Berkeley data hack saving NASA and DOE research--photo by Jamie Lyons

Because of that data and much more from climate scientists around the world, the previous administration forged ahead on regulations like the Clean Power Plan, which restricted carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, directing us toward renewable energy sources. 

     If climate change continues to accelerate, gardeners can expect more extreme weather and increases in flooding and drought. For the sake of our gardens and our life on Earth, I hope we’ll benefit from the EPA’s protection for many years to come.