You would think that any smart — to say nothing of compassionate — Michigan politician would think twice about toxic pollution these days. The entire country has watched, in shock, as heartbroken parents talk about children who have been damaged for life by elevated levels of lead in Flint’s water.
We know what Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, an elected official, was doing during the years that Flint’s lead horror unfolded: he was devoting public resources to protecting polluters — especially those emitting the most toxic air pollutants: mercury, arsenic, and acid gases. Schuette recently filed a motion asking the Supreme Court to “stay”, or stop, EPA’s mercury regulation — the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, clean air standards that were signed into the books in April, 2012, after decades of political and legal battles.
What’s worse, Schuette convinced nineteen other state Attorneys General to join him, including those representing Texas, Missouri, Arizona, Iowa, Ohio, South Carolina, and Utah.
Fortunately for our children’s lungs, hearts, and brains, Chief Justice Roberts denied Schuette’s “emergency application” to halt limits on this pollution — neurotoxins that harm the developing fetal brain.
But we would be naive to think that Schuette and his cronies are going to end their battle to protect polluters. Their goal is to cripple our environmental protections, keeping them under continual legal and budgetary assault. They are working for polluters who do not care about health protections.
Millions of parents around the country, along with the American Association of Pediatrics, the American Heart Association, the NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens, businesses and major power companies, as well as Evangelical Environmental Network, supported strong protections against mercury, with good reason. Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin, a toxic metal. Coal-fired power plants are the country’s single largest source of mercury pollution, while also discharging massive volumes of arsenic, lead and acid gases. And let’s not kid ourselves. While coal use is down, coal is not gone — not by a long shot. Texas and Missouri are among the country’s heaviest coal consumers.
Mercury easily crosses the placenta. It settles in a developing fetus’s blood and organs — especially in the brain, where it can disrupt the developing architecture of the precious organ. Mercury can also get into breast milk. Mercury also affects the brains of toddlers and young children, for whom we pack those tuna fish sandwiches, for years. In adults, high-level mercury exposure can harm the brain heart, kidneys, lungs and immune system.
When did the Attorney General’s office become a tool to undo law, rather than uphold it — especially laws that protect people from dangerous poisons? Schuette swept into office after a $4 million campaign — one of the larges in the country’s attorney general elections. Among his larger contributors are Dow Chemical and DTW Energy, but much of the money that launched him is untraceable: an unfortunate result of the Citizens United decision allowing unlimited corporate funding to be hidden.
In 2014, the non-profit Centre for Media and Democracy obtained notes from a conference call with members of the notorious American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC, discussing ways of “reaching out to attorneys generals and other officials to consolidate opposition to EPA regulations.” ALEC is a right-wing lobbying group funded in part by petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch — polluters on a large scale.
It is important to note that encouraging and training AGs in lawsuits against EPA, using them to advocate for the coal industry, was in 2014 an entirely new tactic for ALEC, one that seems now to be bearing fruit.
This recent attempt to highjack protections is clearly the handiwork of lawyers emboldened by the recent Supreme Court decision to stay America’s Clean Power Plan to cut carbon pollution.
On it goes — attorneys general fighting to protect polluters, while hundreds of thousands of children continue to be born with unacceptably high levels of mercury in their blood.
The ONLY way to stop this outrageous political gamesmanship is to refuse to elect attorneys general, and governors, and other officials, who do not make the protection of our children’s health their highest level of concern.
And the ONLY way to make that happen is for voters to make their voice heard. I hope you’ll share this message with your friends and family, especially those in the states whose Attorneys General have wasted so much taxpayer money and time.