The limiting factor in Trump’s economic plan? Public health.
“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.” – Gary Snyder
It’s hard for me to think of this word and not consider its root: eco. Eco originates from the Ancient Greek word oikos, meaning house or dwelling.
For the vast majority of people, ‘jobs’ and ‘GDP’ are what come to mind in the face of the economy. We have become so far disconnected from the production of the goods we purchase, we rarely think about the raw materials that go into them. Let alone, the processes involved with their production. For example, we use electronics without putting much thought into how the electricity was generated. It’s easy for all of us to do, and at one point or another, we have all been guilty of this. Yet we continue to ignore the impact that our daily actions are having on our home with the goal of reducing unemployment and selling more products in mind.
One thing that has been very clear from Donald Trump’s economic plan is that he intends to cut environmental regulations to revitalize the fossil fuel industry and create thousands of jobs for Americans. Trump has wasted no time trying to dismantle water regulations such as the Stream Protection Rule, which specifically protects streams and wetlands from contamination caused by surface mining waste, as well as the Clean Water Act – clearly defining and protecting small streams that are apart of watersheds supplying water to 117 million Americans.1 He claims that he will protect clean water sources, but his executive actions are indicating that he will strive to expand the coal industry at any cost. The irony behind this is: water is the single most important thing supporting life on our planet and by not protecting it for the Americans that depend on it; he is intentionally harming the people he expects to stimulate his economy.
To take a look at how not properly caring for watersheds has negatively impacted American lives and the economics of a community, let’s take a look at what happened in the case of Flint, Michigan after they switched their water supply from the City of Detroit’s to the Flint River in 2014. When switching water supplies, they chose against adding a corrosive inhibitor to the water, which caused the system’s iron pipes to corrode and leach lead into the water. In August of 2016, Time magazine reported that a study by Peter Muennig, a professor of public health at Columbia University, calculated that the elevated blood lead levels found in more than 8,000 Flint children since 2014 will lead to $395 million in social costs based on likelihood of lower IQ levels of those exposed, leading to lost economic productivity, reliance on welfare, and costs to the criminal justice system.2 The Michigan Department of Environmental Control wasn’t able to report that Flint residents had safe levels of lead in their drinking water until January of this year,3 so it is safe to say that number has gone up from $395 million. This, of course, does not account for the staggering costs associated with the immediate health effects caused by lead contaminated water and the cost of replacing an estimated 20,000 compromised lead and galvanized pipes; which may take up to three years to complete according to Flint’s Mayor Karen Weaver speaking at the Water Infrastructure Conference in March of 2017.4
And this is only possible if funding is available.
Still, Trump pushes to bring coal production back to a place it was in America before Obama’s tenure, despite global demand for coal being lower than it was then because of the recent boom in natural gas production. This subject remains incredibly controversial, even for the folks that would be gaining jobs in coal mines. Many miners are desperate to get their jobs back but are also concerned that their black lung disease benefits, which are a provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), will be stripped as the administration dismantles the ACA. Here lies another instance when Trump’s goal of reducing unemployment will likely have negative social and health effects on his labor force.
In its short time in power, the Trump administration has paved the way for massive changes to be made in the environmental regulatory sector. These changes will focus on regulations which Trump referred to as being “burdensome and harmful to the economy and therefore harmful to the creation of jobs and business.” The rhetoric Trump uses when talking about these issues makes it clear: Trump values the economy more than the lives of Americans. He is not using environmental policies to protect American citizens, as they are intended to do. He is not being proactive to ensure that Americans will have clean water to drink and safe air to breathe. He is not treating our Earth like the home that it is. Rather, he is gambling on the future of our country with the lives of the American people at stake.
I want to close this article with a quick analogy: If we think of Earth as a home, regulations are the doormat that we wipe our feet with when we get home from work every day. Without them, we will continue to drag pollutants into our home and damage the beautiful place we inhabit.