Oped by Mitch Colvin, Mayor of Fayetteville
Jul 25, 2020 published in The Fayetteville Observer
North Carolina, we have to pay attention.
As Mayor of Fayetteville, I have had the honor of leading through some tough challenges. In 2016 and 2018, respectively, Hurricanes Matthew and Florence hit North Carolina hard, particularly the citizens of Fayetteville. We saw lives ravaged by these natural disasters. They made us more keen, more aware of the dangers impacting our environment and the urgency we must have in addressing them.
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis is leading an effort that is putting lives in jeopardy.
While many of us are focused on COVID-19 and working toward racial justice, Sen. Tillis is instead urging the Trump administration to permanently dismantle vital environmental protections, which will harm our health and environment when we can least afford it.
Sen. Tillis’ actions find him responding to President Trump’s executive order that directs the federal government to cut regulations that “may inhibit economic recovery” in response to the pandemic. He joins four other senators who not only support this effort, but are urging the Trump administration to sunset all the standards waived during the COVID-19 crisis.
This paves the way for President Trump and his “Dirty Deputies” to eliminate safeguards that keep our water, air and public lands clean. What we know is that these actions to strip these safeguards away will disproportionately have a harmful impact on communities of color.
In fact, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has already walked off the field, announcing a landmark suspension of enforcement measures in the midst of this pandemic.
This decision reeks of complete disregard for the health of North Carolinians, especially communities like Fayetteville.
These actions are a slap in the face to the citizens of Fayetteville, who continue to pray that their families won’t develop cancer after discovering their well water was contaminated by chemicals spewed from plants located near rural communities in Cumberland County.
And, then there are the carcinogenic chemicals found in the Cape Fear River Basin.
In 2017, Sen. Tillis stood up for our community by refusing to support Michael Dourson as the EPA’s top chemical safety officer, citing his relationship to those Fayetteville contamination cases. Now, Tillis has done another flip-flop, supporting this effort to dismantle vital safeguards and refusing to speak out against the EPA’s reckless abandonment of its responsibility.
If Tillis gets his way, we would have a weak Clean Water Act. And, with the challenges we have all seen reported in communities like Flint, Michigan, this will threaten our access to safe, clean drinking water.
Communities of color, who disproportionately suffer the worst impacts of pollution and climate change, will suffer the most from these actions. Just ask the Black North Carolinians who say they have endured headaches, nausea and vomiting for decades from hog-waste lagoons. The threat of those lagoons flooding is something communities still fear every time it rains.
Is Sen. Tillis willing to put our lives on the line to try and please his dirty polluter allies?
Instead of supporting these attacks on public health, he should be taking action to protect our most vulnerable. The fight for clean water has never been more critical, and our state needs a leader who will speak for our health and environment. It’s time for Sen. Tillis to stop changing his position and take a strong stand to demonstrate his commitment to the health and well-being of North Carolina.
These are trying times. However, I firmly believe that in the face of adversity we must stand our tallest. This is the time for us to demand more of ourselves, our leaders and our community. Whether related to social justice, our environment, or this pandemic, we can come through this better and stronger than we were before.