I didn't do much for Independence Day this year. On top of the ridiculously hot and humid weather, I just wasn't feeling it. It has been over 1500 days since the people of Flint, MI have had clean drinking water; there wasn't much to celebrate. Beyond the search for a good cookout, I was at home watching The Handmaid's Tale, the cautionary Hulu original series about a dystopic American society that feels more like every day under this current administration.
But, as the good book says: “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalms 30: 1-5) And what a morning it was. Who could have guessed that only a day after the federal holiday, we would be celebrating our liberation from Scott Pruitt?!
I am floored. The number of federal inquiries against Pruitt during his time at the EPA kept adding up. Public pressure was mounting for him to resign, but still it seemed unlikely given that either Trump would have to fire his own pick for EPA, or Pruitt would have to quit himself.
In fact, when Green For All joined forces with a coalition of national partners to launch the #BootPruitt campaign, there were definitely people who doubted us. But alas, I am amazed how the coordinated efforts of so many to shine light on Pruitt’s seedy ways has finally come to a victorious end.
Our coalition published a full page ad in the New York Times calling for Pruitt’s resignation, garnered nearly 1 million petition signatures, and worked tirelessly to amplify in the press how Pruitt’s actions were hurting communities.
Right now, I’m dancing. And, we must not lose sight of who will replace Scott Pruitt. Andrew Wheeler will be the acting Administrator of the EPA, and though he might not be running around town trying to get his hands on a Trump hotel mattress or figuring out how to get his wife a Chick Fil-A franchise, he is still very aligned with the same groups as Pruitt. Wheeler is a lawyer and former lobbyist for the coal industry. He lobbied on behalf of Murray Energy, the nation's largest privately owned coal company run by vocal climate change denier Robert Murray. Before becoming a coal lobbyist, Wheeler was a longtime staffer for one the biggest climate deniers on Capitol Hill, Senator James Inhofe (IA). That's right, the same Senator who took a snowball on to the Senate floor as “proof” that climate change isn't real.
So while the name at the head of the EPA has changed, the same kind of destructive policies are in place and will continue. The same EPA that has been working diligently to roll back over 67 rules protecting our water, air, you name it.
The same EPA that dismissed a civil rights claim of an all black town in Alabama who is dealing with toxic coal ash that was moved away from a town 90% white into their backyards. Many of the residents are experiencing health problems affecting their nervous and reproductive systems. This EPA found no “causal connection.”
The same EPA that wants to roll back fuel efficiency standards that determine how much pollution vehicles can emit. The very same standard that, if rolled back, the federal agencies themselves acknowledge “would result in increased adverse health impacts (mortality, acute bronchitis, respiratory emergency room visits, and work-loss days) nationwide.” Countless studies have found that people of color are the most heavily impacted by the pollution from cars and trucks. Rolling back clean car standards will also have a negative impact on families’ pockets. The current fuel economy standards are on track to save families an average of $3,200 per car and $4,800 per truck over the lifetimes of model year 2025 vehicles.
So again, this victory feels good. Scott Pruitt had no business being over the EPA. And, our work must go on.
Acting Administrator Anthony Wheeler is a Washington insider who definitely understands the political landscape. We will need to duplicate our efforts.
Moms must continue to show up and demanded a fully funded EPA . We must not be afraid to respectfully confront our public servants. The rallies must continue and the support for the EPA career professionals who genuinely care about our environment must also go on. Now, more than ever, we must also register all eligible Americans to vote and vote for representatives who care about protecting our environment.
Because if there’s anything to take away from our successes this year -- securing a FY 2018 federal budget that protected critical funding for environmental programs, and booting Pruitt out of office -- it’s this: In both scenarios the likelihood of success was a long shot, but we rose up anyway because it was the right thing to do. It took all of us lifting our voices and standing together to win against an administration that has intently sought to divide us. And winning, we proved, is possible.
We need to share our stories of how we are being impacted by climate change every single day. Our stories matter. They make a difference. They can change hearts and minds. They can weaken divides. And they can heal our country.
So, dance a little and get some rest today. Tomorrow is a new day to resist, unite, and continue protecting this future worth fighting for. Green For All will be releasing a new platform for sharing your story with us later this month. Stay tuned.
Kerene Tayloe is the policy director at Green For All, based in Washington D.C.