Momentum seems to be building among many in Congress, including many Kentucky legislators, and with some in state governments to weaken regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency.
These elected officials need to be reminded of why we have regulations in the first place: Environmental pollution and chemical contaminants have been under-regulated and, in some instances, unregulated, on a collision course with growing rates of pollution-related illnesses.
We wouldn't need regulations if industries conducted themselves in a fashion that doesn't hurt the communities, the health of their workers, and the consumers of their products. Unfortunately, corporate greed has trumped protecting our environmental health, and that's why we need commonsense regulations.
Here in Kentucky, research and health data show that levels of soot from power plants, which cause asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other lung and heart disease, are some of the worst in the country. All of our major waterways carry fish consumption advisories for mercury, which is linked to learning and developmental disabilities.
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Exposure to chemical contamination from old dump sites and ongoing emissions from manufacturing facilities from Paducah to Louisville to Ashland and everywhere in between, contributes to increased rates of cancer, birth defects and reproductive problems. Genetics alone doesn't account for the sharp increases in chronic disease; there is an undeniable link with exposure to toxic contamination.
As someone in my 20s who has already seen too many of my peers stricken by these illnesses, I'd like to see fewer of them. Wouldn't we all?
Yet in October, Gov. Steve Beshear decided to sue the EPA for enforcing more protective mining standards that could preserve water quality and prevent the exposure of Kentuckians to harmful water pollution. In his State of the Commonwealth Address, he shouted for the federal government to "Get off our backs!"
U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, now chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Power of the full House Energy and Commerce Committee, the first stop for toxic chemical policies, said he wants to delay EPA action designed to clear up air quality that would prevent the illness and premature death of hundreds of Kentuckians each year.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul said recently that he wants Congress to repeal these regulations until each is examined by Congress, exposing his constituents to dangerous pollutants as he and his colleagues prevent the EPA from doing the job it was intended to do.
They all say EPA's actions could harm Kentucky industries. But it is industry's shirking of its responsibilities to its workers and local communities that created the environmental and health problems we now face. Plus, environmental cleanup, innovation and action in the areas of clean energy, "green" chemistry and manufacturing can increase the number of jobs for Kentuckians.
Nobody wants unnecessarily big government, but we should all strive for effective and accountable government. Inflammatory threats against EPA and environmental regulations won't stop cancer, asthma and other diseases on the rise that are related to pollution. It's high time that all of our elected officials put aside the vitriol and hyperbole that scare folks to the polls.
It's time that they look soberly at the facts and embody our highest urges to "have life, and have it abundantly." These illnesses are our true common enemies and legislators should work together to make public health an urgent national priority.