Boxer Op-Ed: Fight against Mecca odor shows why we need the EPA
By Barbara Boxer - Featured in The Desert Sun
June 19, 2011
Two weeks ago, I visited with children, teachers and parents in Mecca who have been struggling with harmful pollution from a local waste recycling plant. That day, as I sat at a table talking to officials from federal, state, local and tribal governments, as well as representatives from the community, I realized that Mecca serves as a shining example to the nation of working together for the good of all our families.
Those who were present at the meeting at the elementary school, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), had the shared goal of resolving this environmental threat in a way that would protect the health and safety of the residents of Mecca.
Last month, EPA acted under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to order a waste recycling plant operated by Western Environmental Inc. to eliminate noxious odors that people complained were making them sick, particularly students and teachers at the two nearby schools. California also took steps to safeguard the community by ensuring that hazardous waste is not handled at the site.
Like all Americans, the residents of Mecca have the right to expect that the air they breathe is clean, and that the federal and state government will enforce the nation's environmental laws to protect them from dangerous pollution. However, the incident in Mecca revealed that some waste sites require more scrutiny and oversight. It also demonstrated the importance of community involvement and the need for people to take action on vital issues that affect them.
I became involved because citizens in Mecca, including teachers and students at the two elementary schools, spoke out about a public health threat that needed to be addressed immediately. The entire community should be commended for not giving up and for saying “no more.” The Desert Sun and the media also deserve credit for bringing unrelenting attention to this serious matter.
As chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, I recently held a hearing to review one of the most successful and significant public health statutes in our nation's history, the Clean Air Act. At the hearing, I shared the real life example in Mecca of the important role that EPA plays in enforcing our federal environmental laws.
Recently, laws such as the Clean Air Act, which had strong bipartisan support when enacted, have come under attack. Special interests want to prevent EPA from doing its job to ensure that dangerous pollution does not threaten the health and safety of the American people.
The situation in Mecca underscores the need to fight against those who want to repeal our public health laws and drastically cut EPA's funding. We cannot afford to slash resources for EPA, because it is an agency we count on to enforce our environmental laws, and to protect the health and safety of the American people.
Our environmental laws have a 40-year record of success. In fact, a recent study ordered by Congress shows that the Clean Air Act's overwhelming health benefits are working even better than expected. In 2010 alone, the Clean Air Act prevented 160,000 cases of premature deaths, 86,000 emergency room visits, 13 million lost work days and 3.2 million lost school days.
I am committed to ensuring that Californians have clean air to breathe. For those who point out it costs money to fund EPA, I say, of course it does. But I also say, if you can't breathe, you can't work. And if a child can't breathe they can't go to school. So, clean air is essential to our daily lives.
U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat who lives in Rancho Mirage, is chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
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