Day after day these days, we see expressions of clueless bewilderment from government officials: “Why are the people so mad at us?” “Why do they hate us?” “Why are they so anxious to throw us out of office?”
There are, of course, a thousand reasons, but none more revealing of what’s broken about our government than this: While every branch of our government—Executive, Congressional, Judicial—has been working overtime to deny basic environmental protections to American citizens, when these same officials are threatened by contamination in their environment, protection for them arrives swiftly and surely.
Cases in point:
- The lead-infested water of Flint, Michigan. The State of Michigan tried to save a few bucks by taking Flint families off of their safe water supply, and connecting them to a water system whose pipes were badly corroded, and spewed dangerous levels of lead into the families’ drinking water. Even though Congress has the money to protect Flint from the lead, it has again and again refused to do so, threatening many more months and possibly years of lead poisoning of the children of Flint.
- TCE contamination at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. Lawyers dispatched by the Obama administration went to court, and successfully argued that military families and their children who had been poisoned by the TCE and PCE-laced water at the Camp LeJeune military base would not be allowed to sue for their injuries.1
- The fatal pollution from coal-burning plants. The United States Supreme Court halted enforcement of new environmental standards for coal-burning plants, with the majority of the court refusing even to consider that the new standards would have saved thousands of lives every year, mostly in poor minority communities.2
Now, keep these stories in mind as you consider this: when, just last week, members of Congress learned that the water in one of their office buildings contained concentrations of lead exceeding the actions levels set by the EPA, they:
- Arranged immediately to make blood testing—free blood testing– available for them and their staffs, to see if they had been exposed to the lead. And if lead is found in their blood, no doubt additional, cost-free medical testing and treatment will be at their immediate disposal.
- Ensured prompt testing throughout all buildings in which members of Congress work, to see if the lead contamination has spread.
- Made it a priority to find the source of the lead contamination, and fix it. 3
So when it comes to protecting the lives and health of the poor living in the shadows of coal plants; minorities living in our rotting, third-world caliber industrial cities; or even dedicated service people living on military bases, government officials invoke “cost” and dozens of other reasons to use their power to deprive these citizens of the protection of the very laws the officials have sworn to uphold. But when it is the lives and health of these same officials that may have been even momentarily threatened, then no expense is to be spared to protect them.
The inescapable message to us from our government officials is this: “Our lives mean more than your lives”.
No wonder the people are so angry.