Equality Demands Environmental Protection

05/01/2017 09:54 am ET Updated May 01, 2017

From the first days of his first Presidential campaign, to his farewell address, President Obama made clear a paradigm for public service that motivated him, and indeed, should motivate us all: equal opportunity.

That message still resonates deeply with me. I believed in the change Barack Obama spoke of as a candidate, because I believe in the power of government’s duty to protect our most basic rights and dignity regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status.

My work in public service began with equality, not environmentalism, in mind. But the enduring fight for equality is not separate from our environmental protection - it’s the very reason we do it. That’s what I learned from my service in the Obama Administration at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Lasting prosperity can only be but on a sturdy foundation of basic rights: shelter, education, healthcare ― and yes ― clean air, clean water, and healthy land on which to live.

Under President Obama’s leadership, I’m proud of what we accomplished at EPA to protect people from environmental harm. We promoted cleaner air; we safeguarded our water; we defended farmworkers’ rights; we did it all with everyone at the table, from manufacturers and medical professionals to organized moms. EPA is a special place, because partisanship can never overtake what unites us in its mission: a basic desire for a safe environment in which to live life and raise our kids.

That’s why so many people are organizing and pushing for action today more than ever, as we see national, state, and local conservative leaders irresponsibly cast aside real harms to badmouth EPA just to win elections.

And as the Trump Administration continues its rollback of essential public health protections under false pretenses, we must not forget that it’s the most vulnerable among us that will suffer the most: communities living in the shadow of industrial polluters, our elderly and infirmed, and our children.

It may be a potent political play for the Trump administration to paint a bullseye on EPA ― but it’s not the government that suffers from their irresponsibility; it’s families, children, and everyday people who depend on public health protections to live their lives.

As someone who’s worked at EPA, alongside honorable public servants and scientists doing difficult and unheralded work, I can say the current Administration has a dangerously short memory.

Just in the past few years, it was EPA who held accountable law-breaking auto companies who lied to consumers about gas mileage. When communities in Flint, MI and Toledo, OH faced serious health risks from contaminated drinking water (and still do), it’s EPA who those cities and states called for help.

And it was EPA, under President Obama’s bold leadership, who spearheaded world-leading action to address our climate crisis ― which poses ever-increasing risks to our economy, security, and health.

It’s true that as a government and society we can always do better ― but to claim public health protections are a burden to score political points is more than incorrect, it’s dangerous.

But I’m hopeful because I spent time working with those good people at EPA, who, every day, across the country ― from scientists to social workers and everything in between ― devote their lives to defending our families’ health and safety.

I’m hopeful because, as tumultuous as today’s times are, history reminds us that EPA is democracy in action. EPA was born from a popular demand for change - a demand to protect our right to clean air, clean water, and healthy land.

I’m hopeful because I’ve seen personally that people don’t just depend on EPA’s existence - they will demand it.

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Rosemary Enobakhare was a political appointee in the Obama Administration, serving as the Deputy Associate Administrator for Public Engagement and Environmental Education at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency where she led EPA’s strategic plan around community engagement.

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