Every day in America, hundreds of millions of people do two essential things: breathe air and drink water. These life-sustaining practices are two things that unite every human being across the world. Despite their critical nature to our survival, here in the U.S. they grow more endangered with every passing day. Case in point: the Trump administration has proposed a 31 percent budget cut for the Environmental Protection Agency, this country’s first line of defense in the effort to protect the quality of our air and water.
Problems with our air and water quality are problems we can see before our eyes. We can see the increased smog in our air. We can see the industrial water contamination in our lakes and rivers. This threat is real – especially in the desert of Arizona – where the natural water supply is scarce and the Phoenix area ranks fifth worst in air quality among all U.S. cities.
The quality of our air and water in Arizona is being directly threatened by the proposed cuts. According to the 2017 State of Risk report published by the Environmental Defense Fund, over the past five years the EPA has provided Arizona with $315 million in grants that help protect resources we use every day. The Trump administration’s proposed EPA budget cuts would result in a loss of $61.8 million for our state over a similar period. This means eliminating crucial programs that clean up pollution and toxic waste, protection for our rivers and lakes, and other crucial efforts to keep our air and water safe.
The Environmental Defense Fund report also states that 486,357 adults and 175,556 children in Arizona have been diagnosed with asthma. Asthma attacks were the cause of 15,910 pediatric emergency room visits and over $1.3 billion in associated medical costs in Arizona in 2008 alone. EPA grants cover almost 30 percent of state and local air quality monitoring. Almost a third of those EPA grants would disappear under the Trump budget.
Additionally, 3.3 million Arizonans rely on headwater, rain-fed, and seasonal streams for their drinking water. Grants from the EPA help the state address “runoff” pollution – including excess fertilizers and insecticides, grease and toxic chemicals from urban streets and energy production, acid drainage from abandoned mines, and bacteria and nutrients from livestock, pet wastes and faulty septic systems – that drains into our waterways. The EPA provided Arizona with $2.7 million to help protect Arizona’s water in FY 2016, a program Trump’s budget proposes to eliminate completely.
In Arizona, the EPA also works to reduce the amount of “Code Red” days – days with such high pollution that children and seniors are advised to stay indoors. Here in the Valley, young children and infants are especially at risk, as studies have proven a direct correlation between densely polluted areas and asthma-related emergency room visits. The elimination of these programs would mean more asthma attacks, toxic pollution in our communities, and unsafe drinking water.
Defend Our Future, the nonpartisan, student-led organization I intern for, is working to inform our community about the problems we’re facing and encourage Arizonans to tell their representatives that we will not stand for budget cuts to the EPA. Through my work with this organization, I have not only seen first-hand the issues affecting our air and water, but also how individual members of the community can have a real, positive effect on finding policy solutions to these problems.
The power is in our hands as citizens to influence change, and if we use it to contact our elected officials and voice our opposition, we can work toward a future where our health and safety are adequately protected. The beauty of Arizona, and the health of its residents, is being severely threatened. It’s up to us to take a stand. Please join us in this fight and call today.
— Tristan Cox is an Arizona State University student and intern with Defend Our Future, a nonpartisan, student-led organization that gets young people engaged in climate change action.
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.