Photo by Jong Marshes

The Environmental Protection Agency has been declawed, defanged, and neutered in the past two years, and while there are dozens of heart-breaking examples of how weak the EPA has become, the one takes the cake.

Maybe it’s because my home state, Michigan, is still reeling and dealing with the Flint Water crisis. Maybe it’s because we’ve seen PFAs contamination cropping up in every nook and cranny of the state, essentially surfacing everywhere authorities look. Maybe it’s because we still value our most valuable resource and our most revered natural element. Water is what we live for in Michigan, but we don’t take a drop of it for granted. That’s why you see outrage at Nestle and at Line 5; we take our waterways seriously.

Then it was understandably outrageous to hear that the Trump administration, who have spent the past two years in office crippling, defunding, and infesting the EPA, not just drop the ball on clean drinking water, but punt, and punt hard. A long-anticipated Safe Drinking Water Act has been in the works for months, and many experts hoped that it would include strong and specific language regarding PFAs, including establishing benchmarks on safe and unsafe levels for municipal use. While everyone would like to see those levels at zero, setting some benchmark not only gives families guidance of what is safe, it also helps focus efforts on clean-ups and prosecution of polluters.

Instead, the new legislation does nothing to change how PFAs are handled by the federal government, leaving state and county governments to fend for themselves. These smaller governments have already begun establishing their own guidelines, although they remain inconsistent from state to state. In Michigan, the level is set at 12 parts per trillion. The EPA’s latest advisory limit is nearly seven times higher at 70 parts per trillion. Experts say that the number may not allow for ‘significant margin of safety’. Without casting doubt on very well-meaning experts, it’s hard not to feel as though that guideline is something hardly short of a shot in the dark.

We have so much to be thankful for in Michigan, and it’s the things we’re thankful for that we’ll fight for. Michiganders understand that the environment isn’t some abstract thing; it’s what we live in, work in, play in. We feel connected to both our natural spaces and urban communities; we understand that everything we make, build, and use interacts with natural elements. Right now, we need to protect the environment and ourselves from the contamination and pollution of the past by establishing actionable legislation for the future. We’ll do what we can in our state, but we need more, and likely a lot more, than what this administration has so irresponsibly failed to deliver in two year. The EPA needs competent, science-based leadership to fulfill its mission. This certainly isn’t it.