My wife and I moved from New England to Tennessee last year because we fell in love with the state’s moderate nature, both in climate and in politics to open my small business in Memphis, Fantasy Flora. Yes, we were fed up with freezing in the winter, but we looked forward to living in a state where, besides fewer snowstorms, conservatives and liberals could sit around a dinner table and actually talk to each other about different policies that served in the best interest of Tennesseans.
Imagine our surprise when we recently discovered that those moderate political winds began to shift, and our heretofore middle-of-the-road senators seem to have jumped on President Trump’s extreme bandwagon when it comes to environmental policy. I strongly urge them to reconsider their support of the latest proposed cuts to EPA funding, announced on Monday in President Trump’s new budget. The fiscal 2019 budget blueprint would pare the E.P.A. by $2.8 billion or 34 percent from its current level.
Senator Lamar Alexander is well known for his devotion to our wilderness and outdoor spaces like The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Senator Bob Corker has shown unwavering support for research into environmental issues that drives some of the innovation we see from Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Both of our senators know that focusing on environmental protection and conservation is good for the people of our state and our economy. As President Trump proposes to gut the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – and cut its budget by roughly a third – the moderate positions of our two Senators appear to be in jeopardy. I say gut because the proposed cuts are deep enough that Tennessee’s share of environmental cleanup dollars is at serious risk.
One has to ask, why our Senators would move closer to supporting the Trump agenda when it has the potential to harm the health of our state and future Tennesseans?
It is possible that Tennessee folks are relatively silent on these proposed budget cuts and their impacts because they are unaware of the deal making happening on Capitol Hill, much of which happens hidden from view. If our members of Congress do not hear any opposition to EPA budget cuts proposed on Monday by President Trump’s budget, perhaps they interpret this silence as acquiescence to a new normal.
But those of us from the small business community are hardly resigned or complacent. You might even say we’re alarmed at the prospect of an increase in polluted air and dirtier water down the road, and question whether it is a matter of Tennesseans having a better understanding of how EPA helps keep our communities clean and healthy. For example, our state depends on federal EPA grants to support 30 percent of all air quality and monitoring programs that keep dangerous toxins out of our air and protect many adults and children who suffer from asthma across the state. Significant cuts at the EPA mean fewer resources for states like ours and that is a direct threat to our health and communities across the country. Who in their right mind would be against clean air and water?
And now we hear that almost two dozen utility districts across Tennessee violated safe drinking water standards in 2017. The contamination culprit is haloacetic acids. According to the EPA, consuming haloacetic acids at elevated levels above the legal limit, over many years, could increase the risk for cancer. Local and state authorities must be able to monitor for these violations and effectively combat the pollutant to restore public safety and mitigate against the health risk. Having the resources to enforce these standards and hold offenders accountable is critical to keeping our environment clean in the long run.
That’s why it was important to me to meet with Senators Alexander and Corker in their Washington offices. I wanted them to hear directly from a constituent who cares about our environment and loves this state as much as they do. We chose to live here, in part, because of the beauty of TN, and I’m counting on our Senators to continue to stand up for EPA funding.
As a nature photographer based in Memphis, the preservation of nature is very important to me personally, but clean air and water should be every citizen’s concern.
We need our Senators to support a federal budget that does not risk the health and safety of future generations. Tennesseans across the state cannot afford false and disingenuous talk about reforming the EPA, when it will lead to more communities affected by pollution, and they will not be fooled.
I urge Senators Alexander and Corker to vote against any budget that slashes EPA’s budget by millions of dollars or more. Cutting back on the EPA’s mission will have consequences, not right away, but in the future – our children’s future.