Water is life, so don’t mess with it

Tuesday, September 15, 2020 - 12:38pm

–

Design courtesy of Madison Grosvenor

Three minutes without air, three hours without shelter, three days without water and three weeks without food. These are the rules of survival in the wilderness. The rule of three makes President Donald Trump’s most recent attack even more sinister, as he continues to spend his time in office trying to undo Former President Barack Obama’s legacy. Hidden by distractions of a global pandemic, nationwide protests and an economic decline, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency removed coal plant regulation that revised the Clean Water Act passed in 1972 and will have catastrophic results on public health. This move was completed with the purpose of maximizing profits without any regard for the environment and the detrimental effects on health that will follow. 

Proving once again that his “drain the swamp” campaign slogan was a complete and utter lie, Trump nominated ex-coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to run the EPA. Throughout both his 2016 and 2020 campaigns, Trump has put an emphasis on saving the dying coal industry. In Trump’s most recent attempt to revive coal, Wheeler revisited the adjustments made by the Obama administration in 2015 requiring coal-fired plants to invest in treatment technology that keeps toxic wastewater out of the waterways, therefore protecting drinking water. The new revision cut out the requirement for state-of-the-art water treatment technology. This move would save the plants money in the short term but would no longer require them to protect their neighboring waterways, likely causing more costly health problems and expenses down the road. Over two and a half million people have died from unclean water and the corresponding diseases that result from it. Depending on the type of chemical pollution, polluted water can cause liver damage, skin cancer, Dysentery and Malaria. Possibly the most disturbing and horrifying aspect of the new rule is that it will not require coal plants closing by 2028 to follow any of the wastewater regulations, setting up potentially disastrous health and ecological effects on the surrounding community. 

Coal-powered plants leave behind wastewater filled with arsenic, lead and selenium which, if leaked into drinking water, can lead to cancerreproductive problems and even neurological problems. Unfortunately, the residents of Flint, Michigan know just how devastating tainted water can be when water protection isn’t taken seriously. Insufficient water treatment and testing, paired with a slow, sometimes nonexistent, government response left Flint residents with health issues that could plague them the rest of their lives. 

In an attempt to close a $25 million budget, former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder appointed an emergency manager in 2011 to help balance the budget. Two years later, that manager decided to temporarily pump water from the Flint River, where the water was highly contaminated, through aging water pipes where lead found its way into the drinking, bathing and cooking water. This led to developmental and growth damage, skin rashes and an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, a rare form of pneumonia that took the lives of 12 people. At the same time, Nestlé was paying $200 a year to pump hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, just two hours away from where Flint residents were struggling to find clean water to drink and cook with. 

Trump’s EPA has continued with the principles we saw showcased in Flint by putting profits over the health and safety of communities. Following in the spirit of Ayn Rand, Trump has continued to roll back corporate and industry regulations, including nearly 100 regarding the environment. So far, four water protection orders have been overturned with seven more in the process of being erased. In an attempt to save the coal industry money, Trump has cut through the bureaucratic red tape that requires the plants to look out for the environment they currently occupy. On paper, the recent EPA deregulation would save the coal industry $140 million every year but not without putting the health of over 1 million Americans who live within three miles of a coal plant at risk.

Environmental deregulation puts millions of lives at risk in exchange for short-term economic gains. This forces us to talk about how we value human and ecological life. Is a short-term bump in stock dividends worth adversely hurting so many people? The answer to this question should be extremely clear. Human life is priceless and should be treated as such. Every single person needs clean water to survive, so it must be seen as what it is: a necessity. We need to reevaluate our relationship with the environment and how we interact with it. As a country and global community, we must stop putting the profits of the few before the health and safety of many. Most importantly, we must remember that water is life.

Alexander Nobel can be reached at anobel@umich.edu.