Earth Day 2020: The EPA can’t use the pandemic as an excuse for weakening oversight

(WikiMedia Commons Art)

By Mike Molesevich

Fifty years ago, was the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, an event organized by Dennis Hayes and many volunteers to raise awareness, knowledge and political action to solve major environmental problems at that time.

There was significant air pollution (the smog was so thick it blocked the sun and street lights came on during the day), water pollution so bad that rivers caught fire from industrial waste, and the pesticide DDT put our American symbol, the Bald Eagle, close to extinction.

In Pennsylvania, there was inadequate or non-existent sewerage treatment, the mine fire in Centralia was underway after burning garbage on a coal seam. Mining and oil/gas laws were weak; there was no land reclamation.

It was not uncommon to see dead fish floating in Pennsylvania’s rivers when coal mining companies regularly released their acidic coal waste sludge.

In 1970, President Richard M. Nixon supported and signed many important environmental laws from which we benefit today.

Nixon and his fellow Republicans then supported environmental laws. They did not call burning rivers or smog a hoax, criticize scientists, degrade colleagues, distort facts, or blame others.

Hayes and others developed the Dirty Dozen list who were 12 federal legislators with bad voting records on the environment. Most of the 12 were voted out of office with the post-Earth Day movement.

President Nixon also established the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and appointed the first administrator, Bill Ruckelshaus, who believed in the mission and purpose of the Environmental “Protection” Agency. The EPA banned lead in gasoline, DDT, and lead-based paint, cleaned up air and waterways, increased mileage in cars and trucks, and more.

Pa. officials reject Trump EPA move to ease enforcement during pandemic

According to Dennis Hayes, writing in the Seattle Times, “In the 10 years following Earth Day, bold new laws changed the direction of the United States economy more profoundly than any other period in history, except perhaps the New Deal. And the New Deal was pushed by a wildly popular president whose party controlled both houses of Congress. The environmental revolution came from the grassroots up.”

Thank those officials and the grassroots environmental movement – people like you – for those laws that enable us to see many bald eagles again.

Also, in the 1970s, former state Sen. Franklin L. Kury, of Dauphin County, was instrumental in improving the state’s ineffective Clean Streams Law, and introduced legislation for an environmental amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution:

“The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.” Article 1, Section 27 PA Constitution.

In the 1970s the concern for climate change was not evident.

Is there now a correlation with epidemics, illness and climate change? Is the coronavirus a larger warning? Even as we all endure the coronavirus battle, this current president and his EPA administrator want to weaken environmental laws, which protect our health.

Last week, 14 state attorneys general wrote a letter to EPA demanding that they not use the virus as an excuse to not enforce existing environmental laws that protect our health. We are in a severe health crisis and President Donald Trump’s EPA administrator wants weaken environmental laws to further endanger our health.

They wrote: “In light of these concerns, we call on EPA to rescind the policy.  EPA can provide guidance to companies without putting the health of our communities at even greater risk than they are already facing. In the meantime, we will continue to enforce our state environmental laws in a reasonable manner, and stand ready to hold regulated entities accountable under critical federal environmental laws if EPA will not.”

Where are Pennsylvania Republican U.S. Reps. Fred Keller, Dan Meuser, and other Republicans on weakening our environmental laws in a time of crisis?

If Keller and Meuser are pro-life, then they should support a clean environment on which, all life depends. If elected officials continue to blindly support this misguided president, then hold them accountable.

Hold all state, county, township and borough officials, accountable for more, not less, support of our environment.  Climate change is here, it is real, and threatening the earth.

If you cannot lead, support clean efficient and renewable energy, or lend a hand, then get out of the way.

As Dennis Hayes concluded his Earth Day article, “This November 3, vote for the Earth.”

Mike Molesevich is an energy and environmental consultant from Lewisburg, Pa.