Voices on the left have been protesting vociferously against Myron Ebell, Trump's pick to lead the EPA transition team. Here's the thing: Ebell also presents grave concerns from a pro-life perspective. Ebell pooh-poohs the substantial body of work linking environmental toxicants to human health effects -- which include fetal anomalies as well as increased rates of miscarriage and fetal demise. Here's the reality: increased toxin exposure is clearly associated with increased rates of fetal anomalies, and fetal anomalies are a primary driver of late abortions. The EPA is thus in a position to reduce the demand for abortions. Which is a goal deserving of bipartisan support, am I right?
You may already be aware that Ebell heads up the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Center for Energy and Environment. CEI runs a website called Safe Chemical Policy (no link love here), a site in which every single page contains more astonishing assertions. Honeybees aren't dying off in alarming numbers. Banning PBDEs will kill children -- they'll be burned alive, one assumes. Pesticide regulations present a greater threat to public health than pesticides themselves.
The impact of environmental toxicants on gestating babies has been a topic close to my heart since 2002, when I first encountered ecologist Sandra Steingraber's work while 6 months pregnant with Joe. It is impossible to read the history of now-regulated environmental toxins (lead and mercury, in particular) without being enraged by the blindness of industry to the avoidable sufferings of small children and their families. If we care about babies, born or unborn, we cannot have an industry apologist calling the shots at the EPA.
You guys, good science is hard. It is made harder by the myriad competing interests at work. If you google "atrazine miscarriage," one of the first results is a systematic review denying any link between atrazine and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Because I study breastfeeding, I've read enough industry-funded abstracts to spot them at a hundred yards. When I clicked on the "author info" link, I was unsurprised to learn that the paper was funded by a grant from Syngenta -- atrazine's maker. Let me say it again: good science is really hard, and the relationship between environmental toxins and fetal outcomes is multifaceted. We need to figure out how we can best manage Zika, for instance, while balancing the risks of the virus and the risks of insecticides. Someone whose entire approach to science is based on cherry-picking and hand-waving and, above all, industry-protecting -- that person is the wrong man for the job.
I cannot overstate how important it is for us to remember that our decisions about the environment in 2016 can cast a long shadow, affecting babies -- born and unborn -- into the next century. I live in a house built in 1923, the decade in which representatives of the lead industry lied to Congress about the impact of lead paint on children's brains. It's not that eating paint makes children stupid, they said; it's that stupid children eat lead paint. Ninety-three years later, I am still dealing with the fallout: getting preparation and cleanup protocols written into every contract with painters, policing footwear and hand-washing to minimize the impact of the lead-contaminated soil that surrounds my home. While scrubbing surfaces I have often wondered: how much damage could Congress have averted if they had done the right thing in the 1920s? Let's not be so foolish again.
The idea of the EPA director as a pro-life champion is an unusual one, I know, so let me sum up my logic once more: many environmental toxins disrupt embryonic development, and disrupted embryonic development is a significant contributor to late-term abortion rates. The pro-life choice is clear: not Myron Ebell.