By Josie Cowles and May Young, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
As young people, we’re often told we are responsible for the future, even though we can’t vote yet. We are teenagers, and because we will inherit this planet, healthy or not, we’re expected to clean up the messes left by those who came before us. That’s why in September, we traveled from Belfast to Washington, D.C., to talk to our elected officials about President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Trump’s proposed cuts to the EPA pose a grave threat to the health of Maine’s young people and threaten the future of the planet we call home. It’s really simple: We need a strong EPA to fight climate change, protect public health and ensure we inherit a healthy planet.
In Washington, we met Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King. During our meetings, we talked about the importance of protecting the EPA from harmful budget cuts and taking action to fight climate change. We hope our elected officials learned from our stories about how climate change impacts our lives.
Underfunding the EPA will weaken enforcement of clean air rules, which is expected to result in nearly half a million more asthma attacks per year. Maine already has one of the highest asthma rates in the United States. More than 9 percent of Maine children, nearly 22,000, have asthma, and one of us, Josie, is among them. Sometimes after a day out on the harbor, I will find myself wheezing and not know why. When I go online to check the air quality, I find that the air has an “F” rating, and this will happen at least once a month. But instead of helping, Trump wants to retreat from Obama-era clean air protections that the EPA estimates would prevent up to 34,000 premature deaths per year.
The president wants to ignore climate change, too — he’s called it a “ hoax,” and his budget would zero out almost all funding for climate change research and mitigation. But, unlike the president, we can’t so easily ignore climate change when the livelihoods of the people in our community depend on a stable climate. It is no secret that the lobsters for which the midcoast is so famous are moving further north to colder waters and our agricultural seasons are shifting. Belfast’s economy, from lobstermen to farmers to us, who work at the local farmers market, will be devastated by climate change. Ignoring climate change now will just leave our generation with all the impacts.
Instead of climate denial, Americans need an EPA that’s able to combat and mitigate the effects of climate change. We can’t abandon the health and economy of our communities to this impending devastation.
Climate change action is a very divisive issue in Washington. Thankfully, Collins and King understand how vulnerable Maine is to the threat of climate change and have been champions to make sure we can have a healthier future — especially regarding Trump’s proposed budget cuts. The young people of Maine are counting on them to stay strong.
Ultimately, budgets reflect values. Sadly, Trump’s and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s priorities clearly lie with big corporate polluters, not with the young people of this country. But Congress can and must break with the president and oppose any cuts to the EPA. We must ask ourselves these questions: Does cutting funding for clean air and water reflect our values? Do we want to live in a world with more asthma and health problems? Do we want to see more storms like Irma and Harvey?
We know the answer: no. These aren’t our values or Maine’s values — and certainly not those of our country. Our health is on the line. We must fight these harmful budget cuts to this key federal agency in charge of protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink.
The future of the planet belongs to us, even if we’re not responsible for how we got here. We have the opportunity and the responsibility to step up and protect our community and our planet. That is exactly why it’s so important for all Americans — especially young people — to get involved, and why met with our senators to discuss these important issues. We have to speak up and tell our elected officials to say no to the “dirty budget” and yes to clean air and a healthy planet.
It is everyone’s planet, and we cannot afford to be shortsighted about how actions today will impact us tomorrow.
Josie Cowles is from Belfast. May Young is from Brooks.