A toxic class of synthetic chemicals known as PFAS has contaminated drinking water across the country including here in Colorado. Under immense pressure from the public and both sides of the political aisle to address this contamination, Acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler recently presented his so-called “action plan” this week.
In reality, Andrew Wheeler’s plan is a thinly veiled attempt to buy him and his polluting industry allies more time before concrete action is taken on these dangerous chemicals. It’s a blatant public relations stunt, and Wheeler’s toxic agenda should make Colorado U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner think twice about whether a former coal industry lobbyist is fit to run the EPA.
What Wheeler proposes amounts to a work plan—not the decisive action Coloradans desperately need. Instead, we and all Americans were told that we must wait until the end of the year for a decision on whether a limit is needed for two PFAS chemicals, a totally unnecessary delay in protecting our families from these dangerous “forever chemicals” that persist in our environment and our bodies. Even at low levels, studies have shown certain PFAS are linked to cancer, thyroid disease, weakened childhood immunity, and other serious health problems.
Wheeler’s plan must be cold comfort to the more than 50,000 residents in the north metro Denver area whose drinking-water system tested high for contamination last year. And I imagine that communities in Fountain, Colorado Springs and west of Boulder that depend on municipal and private wells aren’t happy with this so-called “action plan” either given that they may be drawing contaminated groundwater.
To give cover for his foot-dragging, Wheeler tried to mollify us with these words: “we’ve been on top of all these issues,” as he said during his live-streamed press conference. As a mother of two who is devoted to children’s health, I’m calling foul on behalf of all our children who deserve better.
What we need in Colorado is an EPA administrator who will uphold the agency’s mission to protect our health and environment. The only thing Wheeler is really on top of is helping companies pollute with no consequences at our kids' expense. Case in point: New analysis finds that EPA’s enforcement fines for polluters are down to their lowest level in a decade.
Beyond PFAS, there are so many other reasons why Gardner should question Wheeler’s fitness to be EPA administrator. Take mercury. One of Wheeler’s latest moves poses an especially ominous danger for our children: more mercury exposure from coal-fired power plants. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can cause brain damage in infants, affecting a child’s ability to walk, talk and learn. Wheeler’s efforts to gut the underpinning of these protections will leave our kids unprotected from this danger.
Then there’s air pollution and climate change. Wheeler is making it easier for polluters to make our air dirtier, and for temperatures to get hotter in Colorado due to unmitigated climate change, putting pressure on already limited water supplies and creating a year-round wildfire season. Yet, Wheeler did not seem concerned about these dire impacts on our kids when he rolled back EPA’s climate pollution standards for power plants, cars, oil and gas facilities, and more.
It’s no surprise that Wheeler’s public relations stunt comes mere weeks before the full Senate votes on his fitness to permanently run the EPA. Wheeler has already faced a chorus of Senators demanding action on PFAS, but the biggest face-off will be when Gardner weighs in on Wheeler’s agenda during his confirmation vote.
Gardner has already acted on this issue, co-sponsoring a bipartisan amendment to an appropriations bill to address PFAS water contamination near military bases. Coloradoans value safe drinking water protections, and he is right to fight for them. But when it comes time to vote for Wheeler, will Gardner consider Wheeler’s non-action on PFAS a disqualification? Will he consider all the ways Wheeler is a walking conflict of interest when it comes to protecting human health?
As the former mayor of Lafayette, I understand the severity of the climate crisis and how municipalities like mine are stepping up to address it. Lafayette has an audacious goal to utilize 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, but municipalities like mine can’t fight the climate crisis alone. Wheeler is moving us toward the brink of a climate catastrophe with every deregulation that makes it easier to put more heat-trapping gases into our air.
When the Senate holds its high-stakes vote on Wheeler’s nomination, I urge Gardner to do two things. First, don’t be fooled by Wheeler’s empty promises. Second, channel your passion for what makes our state so wondrous: our people and the place we all call home. Senator: vote no on Wheeler to protect our families and communities from harm.
Christine Berg is the former mayor of Lafayette and the Colorado organizer for Moms Clean Air Force with more than 43,000 members in the state.