Commentary: Drinking poison

Op-ed by Richard Hyman. Published May 18, 2017 in The Weston Forum.

What if you couldn’t drink your well water because a business upstream dumped toxic chemicals into the aquifer? Or an aircraft negligently sprayed pesticides into your water supply?

For years now, pesticide manufacturers have lobbied Congress to eliminate Clean Water Act (CWA) protections. Industry groups throw around words like “burdensome” and “duplicative” when describing the application process for applying pesticides near and around our rivers, lakes and streams. The culmination of that effort came to a head on Wednesday, May 24, when the U.S. House of Representatives advanced a bill to gut Clean Water Act protections — the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act — to the U.S. Senate for further consideration.

Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is charged with registering all pesticides that are used and sold in the United States. But FIFRA failed to account for the fact that when, where, and how pesticides are applied matters. Applying a pesticide to cropland has a dramatically different consequence to the environment than when it is sprayed directly into bodies of water. That’s why the EPA stepped in to require Pesticide General Permits (PGPs).

Cutting red tape makes for a great talking point, but never at the expense of ensuring clean water or protecting our public health. Passage of the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act would eliminate the Pesticide General Permit, effectively giving carte blanche to industries to dump chemicals into our water supply.

As a member of the Water Resources and Environment subcommittee, Rep. Elizabeth Esty (CT-5th Dist.) offered an amendment on the House floor to the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act. She urged her colleagues to support the amendment because all industries should be held accountable for dumping toxic chemicals, such as turpentine, sulfuric acid, copper, propane, chlorine, chlordane, benzene, toluene, and vinyl chloride, into our nation’s waterways. Unfortunately, her amendment failed by a vote of 229 to 191.

I thought our representatives’ responsibilities included enacting laws to protect our nation’s water supply and public health.

I guess they think that water stops flowing at district and state lines.

According to the Connecticut Department of Public Health, pesticide contamination in residential drinking water has been a statewide problem for some time now.

Some residents have gone years living with stomach pain, hair loss, body numbness, and skin rashes, not knowing the cause of their ailments. They spent thousands of dollars on biopsies, CAT scans, blood tests, and even brain scans to figure out what was wrong. Test results revealed that pesticides were often the cause of their pain and suffering.

And here in Connecticut our waters flow to Long Island Sound, Connecticut’s largest and most important natural resource. Boating, fishing, tourism, swimming, and other activities that take place on and along the Sound enhance our quality of life and contribute $17 billion to the regional economy.

Clean drinking water is essential for life and health. It’s in our best interest to ensure water quality and the ecological integrity of our unique, precious bodies of water, both above and below the ground.

Drink up! And write, call or visit Congress. Did your representative support HR 953, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act? Did he or she support Rep. Esty’s amendment? Now it’s on to the Senate! Contact your senators.

Richard Hyman is a Weston businessman, author and conservation leader.

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Commentary: Being good stewards for America’s future generations

Richard-Hyman-Stewards

At the Blue Vision Summit, from left, Richard Hyman, Emily Smith, legislative aide to Sen. Chris Murphy, Mary Horrigan and Tom Robben.

Reflections on the Blue Vision Summit (Op-ed by Richard Hyman. Published May 18, 2017 in The Weston Forum.)

It’s almost Memorial Day and time for the beach. What if your beach washed away or was covered in plastic or oil? You couldn’t go swimming, fishing or boating.

Those were some of the issues that I and ocean champions from 25 coastal and inland states discussed at the Blue Vision Summit in Washington, D.C., from May 9 to 11.

We worked on solutions for climate disruption, rising and acidifying seas, overfishing, plastic and other forms or marine pollution, and loss of habitat — all threats to our blue planet.

We also lobbied Congress, focusing on:

  1. Protecting marine habitats and coastal communities from destructive offshore oil drilling. Advocating legislation that prohibits offshore drilling in the Atlantic and elsewhere, the issuance of new oil and gas leases off the Atlantic coast, and destructive seismic activities.
  2. Opposing state and federal “pre-emption” of local plastic pollution legislation. Can you believe that some communities have enacted bans on single-use plastics, such as bags and foam foodware, but industry lobbyists silenced them by convincing state legislatures to prohibit municipalities from adopting such local ordinances? New York City passed a bag fee, but the day before it was to go into effect, the state passed A.4883/S.4158, a pre-emption bill that specifically blocked the city. This also happened in Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, and Wisconsin. Pre-emption could happen in Connecticut or even at the federal level. Westport has an ordinance that bans plastic bags.
  3. Supporting strategic coastal resilience programs to ensure smart ecosystem-based planning. Instead of just reacting to the next Sandy, let’s enable federal agencies and coastal state governments to continue to work together and proactively prepare. We asked members of Congress to fully fund NOAA and the EPA, including the Coastal Zone Management Program, National Sea Grant Program, Beach Grants Program, and National Estuary Program. We met with the offices of Sens. Blumenthal and Murphy and Reps. Himes, Esty and Larson.

In general they all supported our agenda and requests. Did you know Sen. Blumenthal was an outspoken voice in calling for the designation of the Northeast Coral Canyons and Seamounts area as a marine national monument? This is one of the 27 Antiquities Act monuments under review by the Department of the Interior.

Your voice matters! Write, call or visit Congress. Ask if your legislator is a member of the Ocean Caucus.

If so, thank the person. If not, ask why. Does the legislator support fully funding the EPA and NOAA? Say where you stand and ask where your representatives stand on S 999, S 985, S 756, HR 2158, HR 728, and other related bills.

So enjoy the beach! Be relentless, proactive and, as Jacques Cousteau said, “Protect what you love.”

Note: Upon returning to Weston I had the privilege to mentor eighth graders at Weston Middle School’s Career Day. I told them about the summit, that dozens of students attended, and invited them to join me at the next Blue Vision Summit.

Richard Hyman is a Weston native, businessman and conservation leader. After graduating from Weston High School, he became a diver aboard Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s famed research vessel Calypso. He is the author of Frogmen, a personal account of his expeditions. He is also member of the Marine Biology Hall of Fame and serves on the board of Fabien Cousteau’s Ocean Learning Center. Visit richardehyman.com to learn more.

Follow Richard @frogmenwww.richardehyman.com

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