Lisa Wozniak is executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters
Michigan’s leadership and the resiliency of our state has been on full display since the coronavirus first hit on March 10. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has taken numerous critical executive actions, including closing schools, working to restore running water in thousands of homes, requesting disaster relief from the federal government and ordering us to “shelter in place”. We’ve all had to take drastic measures recognizing that public health and safety is the top priority.
While we try to understand the national holistic mishandling of the pandemic, there is no doubt at this point that our country is under siege. That’s why we are deeply alarmed by President Trump's efforts to use the coronavirus crisis as cover to announce sweeping orders suspending enforcement of environmental protection laws.
Trump’s actions hinder Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforcement of drinking water and air quality protections, as well as cleanup of contaminated sites. These critical environmental policies have been put in place over many years; they were protecting us well before COVID-19 and they must remain in place as we move through and past this pandemic.
As reported, the administration's suspension of environmental and public health protections was done at the request of the oil and gas industries. These orders give the green light to pollute with little oversight and no enforcement at a time when many in Michigan don’t even have clean water to wash their hands, and more than 1 million of us have toxic PFAS chemicals contaminating the water coming from our taps.
A move as far-reaching and paralyzing to environmental protections like this is unprecedented.
What happens when critical air and water quality monitoring lapse during these difficult times? What happens when no one is continuing to test and enforce cleanup of contaminated sites?
As we battle COVID-19, toxic PFAS and lead remain in our drinking water, and the number of contaminated sites across our state keeps growing. Heavily impacted communities, like Detroit, are grappling with water access, as well as high rates of asthma and other respiratory issues due to the toxic legacy of big polluters spewing dangerous toxins into the air.
This is not the time to grant polluters free rein to do as they wish.
The impact of throwing environmental rules out the window will stretch far beyond COVID-19. We can’t let the progress we have been making on drinking water protections grind to a halt due to the coronavirus — and we certainly can’t let bedrock clean air and water protections slide backward.
Fortunately, the order from the federal government leaves much of the decision making and follow through to the states. Governor Whitmer made clear the day after she was elected that addressing Michigan’s water crisis was a top priority. She, like all of us who live in this beautiful state, recognizes that the health of our people, our communities and our economy is directly tied to the grand waters that surround us.
There is no doubt that the number one thing we all need to do right now is work to curb the spread of this terrible virus. We must do everything we can to protect public health. It is mind boggling that the Trump administration would use this public health crisis to rationalize the rollback of critical environmental protections all of which are in place to protect human health and our natural world.
Given the actions on the part of the federal government, we call on local and state leaders to stand strong and do everything in their power to ensure continued enforcement of the critical protections that keep our communities safe. Together, we must tackle this pandemic head-on while continuing to enforce laws that protect the health and well-being of our families.