GUEST POST: Keep on marching for clean air and for kids’ health

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The Navajo language doesn’t have a word for “cancer.” Instead, it’s called “the wound that does not heal.” 

Sadly, toxic pollution from mining and oil and gas drilling leaves too many people of color and low-income communities with wounds that do not heal. It did to my family.  Decades of uranium mining left my reservation poisoned. Companies piled radioactive dust that whipped in the desert air. The corporate polluters abandoned unmarked mines where children played. 

All of my great-grandparents died of cancer. But rather than increasing funding to clean-up these terribly toxic areas, President Donald Trump proposed massive cuts to the personnel and budget of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for 2018, asking to slash current programs that combat pollution and protect the health of Americans. Trump’s so-called energy agenda will only push marginalized communities further to the edge. 

Congress largely ignored Trump’s calls to cut spending for environmental protections in 2017, but the budget for 2018 remains under threat. The President has expressed a desire to cut funding for toxic clean-up, so-called Superfund sites, by a third. His previous calls to cut the EPA by 31 percent would mean less money to reduce pollution, protect drinking water, and prevent dangerous pesticides from poisoning our children’s food. All this from a president who is already going after communities of color and low-income communities who are already under-protected and overwhelmed.  

In March, the Trump administration released a memo outlining their plan to dismantle the EPA’s office of environmental justice, which is tasked with ensuring all communities, not just the rich and privileged few, are protected from pollution. The plan would also eliminate many grant programs that specifically help low-income communities and those disproportionately impacted by pollution. 

The president has called climate change a “hoax.” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt denied during a cable TV interview that humans drive climate change. The administration’s refusal to accept established science and to recognize the truth about climate change will endanger my family – and all American families. 

Why are Trump and Pruitt ignoring public health? They appear to be pandering to the fossil fuel companies, giving them the right to pollute, rather than the families who are suffering. It’s terrible, but maybe not surprising. When he was Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in political donations from corporate polluters. At the EPA, he seems to have forgotten me, my children and my community. But he apparently hasn’t forgotten his donors. 

This can’t continue. The Trump administration is endangering my family, Colorado and low-income communities across the country. Here in Colorado, our elected officials, especially Sen. Cory Gardner and Sen. Michael Bennet, must help. I urge them to oppose cuts to the EPA as we enter the budget fight ahead for fiscal year 2018 and to the rollbacks to vital public health protections. They must defend public health so everyone, truly everyone, can have clean air and water. 

While Trump and Pruitt are going after life-saving public health protections, their agenda has met resistance. They tried, for example, rolling back rules to methane pollution limits from natural gas drilling, but last week we were victorious — the Republican Senate couldn’t rally enough votes to pass the proposal. You can join me in thanking Sen. Bennet for his leadership by protecting taxpayers and voting for people, not polluters. 

When we stand up for clean air and for kids’ health, people listen. Politicians listen, too. They want your votes. Now, methane pollution from the oil and gas industry, the same pollution that triggers asthma attacks in children and causes cancer, will not see a sudden increase. This is but one reason why I march.  

We won’t let them ignore us or forget us. We need to continue to march. I marched for divestment for Standing Rock, I marched with thousands of mothers, daughters and granddaughters at the Women’s March.  I marched with concerned scientists and families at the Science March. I have marched for indigenous women’s rights and to remember those who have been lost. In the days and weeks ahead, we will continue to make our voices heard. 

For me, marching has become a way of life. Don’t let any notion of march fatigue slow you in your tracks. Let’s energize one another in this marathon fight for justice and freedom from dirty energy sources.  I invite you to join me in marching for a just transition to an economy that works for everyone – because to change everything, we need everyone. 

 There’s no other choice. Too many communities in Denver, in Colorado and across the country are hurting from pollution and dangerous toxins. The Navajo know too well the “wound that does not heal.” And if we don’t act, pollution will be the poison that does not stop. 

I’ll see you at the next march. 

Shaina Oliver, mother of four living in Denver, is a member of the Dinè/Navajo tribe. Shaina has long been outspoken on why Colorandans need their state lawmakers to reduce carbon and methane pollution in order to address climate change. As an infant while living on the Navajo reservation, Shaina developed asthma and had to stay indoors when the air quality was particularly bad. This early experience compelled her to want to fight for children’s health and the right to breathe clean air. Shaina hopes her advocacy ensures that indigenous voices are represented in advocacy efforts to clean up our air and safeguard our natural resources. As she has said: “I’ve seen the toll that toxic air pollution takes on families and on communities. It’s harmed many generations of Americans, but by speaking out, we can fight to make sure that our kids don’t suffer the same consequences.” Shaina currently serves as the Colorado field organizer for Moms Clean Air Force, a community of more than 43,000 Colorado moms and dads united against air pollution and committed to fighting to protect our children's health from air pollution and climate change.