In my years of research in the field of chemistry, most of my studies have been related to water quality. Clean water and clean air are paramount to life, and I have difficulty understanding why society does not pay more attention to the problems of polluted air and water and freshwater scarcity. Over the past few years, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been removing environmental protections or regulations, which were put in place over the years in accordance with scientific knowledge for the protection of environmental and public health. Recently, deregulation of surface water was announced and described by the agency’s own science board in this way: “the revised rule decreases protection for our Nation’s waters and does not support the objective of restoring and maintaining ‘the chemical, physical and biological integrity’ of these waters.” As part of a democratic government, people should expect that decisions made by elected officials will reflect the voice of the people, society, the greater good.
The head of the EPA and others in favor of deregulation argue that they benefit certain industries, including the building and agriculture industries; officials say the changes to loosen and remove environmental protection laws save more than $3.5 billion, indicating the motivation for deregulation is largely an economic one. Is it more important to increase industry profits or protect the gifts of Creation, which are absolute necessities for life? Does society value clean water and clean air for the greater good and future generations or short-term financial gains on behalf of only certain people? Environmental injustice is a real problem in the United States, and the removal of environmental protections exasperates these injustices.
The lyrics of Marty Haugens’ song taken from 1 Corinthians 12 are “We are many parts, we are all one body. And the gifts we have, we were given to share. May the spirit of love, make us one indeed.” As the world’s population continues to grow, the sharing and caring of gifts are more important than ever. We all add chemicals to the water and air, directly or indirectly. Unmetabolized medication, pesticides and insecticides, plastics, personal care products, fossil fuel emissions and more. We cannot just point to the many industries on which we rely, but we can require them to be just stewards of the earth and society through the regulatory system. We all have a part, on the individual level and collectively via public representatives. The good news is that science can be used to improve air and water quality if we decide as a society to make this a priority if we care enough for all people. There really is no life without clean water. From my professional perspective, similar to the EPA’s science board, we need stronger protections for freshwater, not weaker ones.
Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~5 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work.