Environmental Champions Stand Up to Trump

As the president and his administration try to destroy our health and environment, there are still civil servants who are rising to the challenge to stand up for our country’s—and planet’s—future.
Credit: KellyBDC/Flickr

As the president and his administration try to destroy our health and environment, these three senators are rising to the challenge to stand up for our country’s—and planet’s—future.

Times of challenge call us into a deeper appreciation for champions, even as tough times show us who’s willing to stand up and bring their best in the face of adversity.

Any way you cut it, these are difficult times for our environment and health, both of which have come under a relentless assault by President Trump, his administration, and his Republican allies in Congress.

That’s why it was so heartening to visit Washington, D.C., this week and hear directly from three champions who are standing up to this attack where it matters most: in the halls of the U.S. Senate.

Senator Kamala Harris at the Linking Together: March to Save Our Care rally
Credit: Flickr

For each of them, the fight is personal, because it’s about our families, our children, our people. And for each, it’s a battle we can’t afford to lose. “The fight couldn’t be more severe, more certain, or more imminent,” said Kamala Harris, of California, one of the three senators who addressed NRDC trustees. “It is about fighting for all our people; it is about fighting for the best of who we are as a country. The stakes are really high.”

New Jersey senator Cory Booker spoke of traveling around the nation to understand what’s at stake. “If this country does not break your heart,” he said, “you don’t love her enough.” Booker was brought to tears by the stories of low-income African Americans living hard by the industrial feedlots of North Carolina, where a slurry of pig waste and contaminated water is literally sprayed into the air, eventually settling on nearby homes, farms, and backyards. His heart was broken when he traveled to the notorious “cancer alley” where refineries line the banks of the Mississippi River, sickening residents with toxic pollution in the water and air between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Senator Cory Booker at the Linking Together: March to Save Our Care rally
Credit: Flickr

His heart was broken, too, when he visited Lowndes County, Alabama—scene of some of the worst racial violence in the nation’s history—and spoke with doctors mystified by the presence of tropical diseases largely unknown elsewhere around the country, sickness linked to a lack of septic systems to deal with waste. It was broken again when, in towns and cities in his native New Jersey, he confronted soil too degraded by industrial operations for families to plant vegetables in as well as air pollution that drives up the rate of asthma attacks for low-income communities and people of color.

“This was overt racism,” Booker said on the litany of environmental ills falling most harshly on low-income communities and people of color, those most likely to live near the source of life-threatening pollution and least able to access the political power and public voice needed to fight it. “When you have kids of color who are 10 times more likely to die from asthma than their white peers, then you know you have a crisis. You cannot have good health in a nation that has such places of environmental injustice.”

And we can’t address that injustice without standing up to protect our people―all our people―from the growing dangers of fossil fuel pollution that is disrupting the climate and threatening our future.

Senator Al Franken at a #WeThePeople event
Credit: Senate Democrats/Flickr

Climate change is an existential threat, and what we do now will fundamentally change the shape of the way we live on this planet,” said Minnesota senator Al Franken. “I have three grandchildren, and I don’t want them to say to me in 50 years, ‘You were a senator. You knew climate change was happening and you didn’t do anything.’ I want to know that, when we had the opportunity to put the climate on a safer path, we seized the moment.”

All these senators are doing their part. They’ve spoken out and voted against Trump’s efforts to gut the budget and staff of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the national steward we all depend on to protect clean water, fresh air, and public health.

They’ve opposed Trump appointees like Scott Pruitt, who, as Oklahoma’s attorney general, sued the EPA more than a dozen times to try to block it from doing its job and is now, thanks to Trump, in charge of running the agency into the ground.

And they’ve stood up to Trump’s attempts to roll back the progress we’re making fighting climate change through his efforts to withdraw U.S. participation from the Paris climate agreement; expose more public waters and lands to the risks of drilling and mining for oil, gas, and coal; and eliminate or weaken rules to clean up our dirty power plants, cars, and trucks.

Just this week, in fact, Franken introduced legislation that can create well-paying jobs by helping to modernize the country’s aging electricity transmission and distribution grid. It’s important that we upgrade this system to make it more reliable, enable it to better accommodate the boom in clean power from the wind and sun, and strike a blow against global climate change. “If we make the investments today,” said Franken, “we can beat this.”

We appreciate our environmental champions―these three senators and so many others―especially during challenging times, even as times like these help to define the spirit of a champion in all of us.

“NRDC’s fight is about love of the country,” said Harris. “We will fight every day for the ideals of the country. Chin up, shoulders back. This is about love of the country.”


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