Friday, November 16 , 2018, 12:54 pm | Fair 67º


Karen Telleen-Lawton: Burning Hen House

Terns and gulls enjoy a perfect Pacific morning.
Terns and gulls enjoy a perfect Pacific morning. (Karen Telleen-Lawton)

Scott Pruitt now leads the Environmental Protection Agency, despite (or because of) his record suing the agency 14 times as Oklahoma’s attorney general.

If the administration’s proposed budget goes into effect, this fox will have a 20 percent smaller hen house to “guard.”

What might that mean for us chickens turned guinea pigs?

President Richard Nixon formed the EPA in December 1970. The first director, William Ruckelshaus, declared the agency’s mission as encouraging an environmental ethic in the American people.

Ruckelshaus saw his task as trying to change the way people saw our relationship to nature.

The EPA’s goals have remained true to this ethic.

The 2014-18 strategic plan includes addressing climate change and improving air quality as the top goal.

Protecting America’s water, cleaning up communities, and advancing sustainable development are the other top goals.

Ensuring the safety of chemicals, preventing pollution, and protecting human health and the environment round out the current strategic plan.

It’s impossible to predict what might result from Pruitt’s leadership and potential budget razing. However, what the EPA has accomplished since its founding is testament to its importance in our daily lives and health.

Acting sometimes as the creative change agent and sometimes following the lead of environmental advocates, the EPA has protected us and our planet in dramatic ways.

The Aspen Institute came up with this list of accomplishments for the EPA’s 40th anniversary back in 2010:

» Lead in gasoline. After medical studies showed that exposure to high concentrations of lead could damage children’s central nervous systems and high blood pressure in adults, the EPA gradually eliminated lead in gas.

» Second-hand smoke. It’s hard to remember how it used to smell and feel inside a public building shared with more than 40 carcinogens emitted by cigarettes, cigars and pipes.

» DDT and other toxins. Bald eagles, peregrine falcons, brown pelicans, and ospreys were our canaries in the coal mine. Their recovery is a recovery sign for the health of our environment — and us.

» Reduce, reuse, recycle. The EPA, along with state and local governments, promoted thinking about the lifecycle of waste starting in 1976.

Waste management companies now help the public safely handle hazardous waste and have redesigned environmental protection systems to stay sustainable.

» Clean water. In 1970 more than two-thirds of America’s water resources were deemed unsafe for fishing or swimming. The Clean Water Act established a national commitment to restore and maintain water resources.

» Cleaner environment for all. The EPA promotes equitable environmental protection for minority and low-income citizens.

» Vehicle efficiency and emissions controls. EPA studies show that today’s cars emit 75-90 percent less pollution than in the mid-1970s.

» Removing the acid from rain.

» Community right-to-know laws. Overseen by EPA, guides plan local responses to accidental releases of chemicals, and how to provide important information to the public.

No less than in the last century, we require a healthy environment for a healthy economy. Oil spills, toxic waste and sewage in water are not a thing of the past.

A reduced ability to respond to these will damage the vital organs of our economy as well as our bodies.

What can you do to ameliorate the stripping of the EPA? Online petitions can’t hurt; phone calls are better.

Or call your favorite local environmental organization (try Channel Islands Restoration, CEC, Environmental Defense Center, Channelkeeper, or Heal the Ocean) to donate time — once or regularly.

When it comes to our health, we’re all environmentalists. Let’s not play chicken — or guinea pig — with our future.

— Karen Telleen-Lawton serves seniors and pre-seniors as the principal of Decisive Path Fee-Only Financial Advisory in Santa Barbara. You can reach her with your financial planning questions at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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