Imagine a governor of a large state deciding to cut costs and appointing a staff of bureaucrats who change the water supply for 100,000 people to save money but don’t bother to have it treated properly for contaminants. For more than a year, the people drink dangerous water without knowing it.
When doctors start seeing signs of lead poisoning, which causes behavioral problems and learning disabilities in children and kidney disease in adults — problems that can last for generations — questions begin to be asked. At first, the state officials ignore the results and deny there’s a problem.
Local churches and charities trying to supply bottled water to terrified parents who can’t afford to buy it run out. People who can afford to buy bottled water can’t find it.
For a while, the governor hopes it will just all go away. But then the national media swoops in and finds chaos. Finally, the National Guard begins distributing free water and filters. And, finally, the governor takes his head out of the sand, requests aid from the federal government he despises and admits that the state, which caused the problem, can’t fix it. And even then, people are having a hard time finding and getting the water, filters and lead-testing kits they need.
Michigan. Flint. Gov. Rick Snyder. Ongoing crisis.
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The cows were acting crazy, losing hair, showing grotesque malformations and dying, and nobody could figure out why. And then people began putting two and two together, and they realized that a huge chemical company had bought land nearby for a landfill for its factory. The company and government studies said the farmers didn’t know how to take care of cows. Only after a courageous lawyer pursued the case did he learn that a little-known and dangerous chemical — perfluorooctanoic acid, often called C8 — had been dumped in the landfill and was being improperly dumped into local water tables providing drinking water for 70,000 people. For 40 years, secret research had shown damage to and cancer in animals and had found that high levels of C8 infected local factory workers.
Parkersburg, W. Va. DuPont. Lawyer Rob Bilott.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) charged DuPont with concealing knowledge of C8’s toxicity and presence in the environment. DuPont was fined $16.5 million but did not admit liability. Eventually, the EPA learned that C8 was showing up in the general public through Teflon-coated pans and in the air and water. C8 is now found all over the world, and 60,000 similar chemicals remain unregulated.
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In Porter Ranch, Calif., residents fear a gas leak from a Southern California Gas Co. well is making them sick. Movie-famous activist Erin Brockovich insists that after being in a home in the area for 10 minutes, she got a case of chemically induced bronchitis. Lawsuits are pending. House values are said to be plummeting. At this point, there are only questions, no answers.
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Every state and nearly every community confronts controversies over environmental protection and jobs and dangers to health and habitat. Sometimes the hysteria is unfounded. But environmental activists are no longer widely ridiculed as “tree-huggers” and “bunny counters.”
Nonetheless, Republican presidential candidates are on a different page:
• Donald Trump wants to cut the EPA. “What they do is a disgrace.” He says climate change is a hoax.
• Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush wants to repeal the EPA’s strictures on clean air and clean power.
• Texas Sen. Ted Cruz voted against protecting ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems. He said climate change is a pseudoscientific theory.
• Carly Fiorina wants to weaken the EPA.
• Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee thinks climate change is unproven.
• Ohio Gov. John Kasich says environmental policymaking should be left to the states and local communities.
• Florida Sen. Marco Rubio wants to leave environmental protection up to businesses, not the government.
Votes have consequences.