Moms Make News: April 13 – April 24, 2020

Written by Sasha Tenenbaum

Moms Clean Air Force staff and members make news throughout the country!

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, as we are being assaulted by a virus that targets our lungs, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler is feverishly ramming through one rollback after another — all while halting any action to stop the carbon pollution that is so dangerously warming our planet. Luckily, we moms have been tireless in speaking up to the media about these outrages.


This was an Earth Day like no other. In honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, our co-founder and Senior Director Dominique Browning penned a powerful op-ed in the New York Times entitled Don’t Celebrate Earth Day. Fight For It. Dominique summoned our collective courage to fight for Earth Day while sending a strong message to those politicians who are remaining silent as EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler wreaks havoc on our health. “It’s no figure of speech to say that the E.P.A. of Mr. Trump and Mr. Wheeler will end up making more of us sick. Because of the pandemic, we cannot gather in body on Earth Day to protest, to make demands for a better America. We are suffering, we are mourning and we are fearful. But we are also furious.” Dominique outlines how this administration has trammeled the EPA mission and why—on Earth Day—she is not celebrating. Rather, she is in full-on “warrior mode,” fighting back against this administration’s dangerous agenda, and invites readers to join her in raising their voices and protesting “in the loudest way we can, against the perversion of the agency’s mission under Mr. Trump’s E.P.A.”


We are honored that the Sunday newspaper magazine Parade profiled Heather McTeer Toney as part of its annual Earth Day coverage. Heather says: “It’s critically important to be aware of how our children’s health is being greatly impacted just by the air we breathe. It’s one of those basic functions we take for granted, but it’s hugely impacted by the environment in which we live and the climate impacts taking place across the globe. Just think of the number of children who have asthma, or are impacted by climate-related health disparities. These are things that parents are staying up at night worrying about.” Also featured in the Parade photo gallery online of amazing people and projects are change-agent and Moms Clean Air Force member Rachel Heaton of the Muckleshoot Tribe of Auburn, Washington, who met on Capitol Hill last year with her Congresswoman Kim Schrier (WA-08).

Cronkite News spoke with Arizona field organizer Columba Sainz about how the coronavirus is changing her plans for Earth Day: “’I have three little ones. They’re five, three and one, so I definitely want them to be involved,’ she said. ‘In past years, we’ve been planting trees in our community. This time, we planted flowers at our house.’” Our Arizona chapter also got a shout-out in Public News Service for staying true to the spirit of Earth Day by taking their advocacy online through storytimes for children, art activities, and moderated discussions: “[While] the pandemic and social distancing have forced most of the events to go online […] organizers say their original intent – to spur people into action – has not changed.”

To help West Virginians mark Earth Day, field organizer Leah Barbor developed a toolkit of ideas to help busy parents engage with their children from home. Speaking to her local news outlet My Buckhannon, Leah summed up her hands-on activities: “I designed this toolkit [to be]… meaningful and accessible to all of us who are in a little bit more of a remote situation…I also included some continued action […] for people to keep the momentum going through the rest of the year.”


ABC News spoke to both our Houston-based field organizer Catherine Flowers and our national field director Heather McTeer Toney about the connection between air pollution and the respiratory virus COVID-19. In “Climate making air pollution worse, almost half of Americans exposed to unhealthy levels: Report,” Catherine expresses what it is like to experience unhealthy levels of air pollution and how COVID-19 has renewed her commitment to fighting for those most impacted by poor air quality: “I remember after Hurricane Katrina and even after Harvey, you know, the news and just community leaders recognize[d] that the storm pulled the veil off of what the issues were […] COVID once again demonstrates that we have real issues that need to be addressed. We can’t keep ignoring the problem.” For the article “Does air pollution increase risk from COVID-19? Here’s what we know,” Heather McTeer Toney did not mince words when discussing the threat posed by clean-air rollbacks: [“[The] EPA, even in the midst of COVID […] is continuing to push deregulation and continuing to sort of operate business as usual, to do things that inhibit the wellness of the American public. And creating worsening air pollution is something that we just can’t deal with right now.”


In response to the weakening of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, Dominique Browning, our co-founder and senior director, spoke with Energy & Environment about how the attack on mercury rules comes in the wake of other dangerous rollbacks. “Browning framed the rule in the context of Wheeler’s recent decisions to roll back long-term Obama-era fuel economy standards and to leave existing soot standards in place despite evidence they are too weak to protect public health: ‘This mercury attack is not isolated,’ Browning said, ‘and it’s really important for all of us to bear that in mind.’”

Dominique also spoke to Public News Service in North Carolina about the disproportionate burden that this mercury attack could have on vulnerable communities, including pregnant women, low-income communities, and communities of color. They are all more likely to live near industrial power plants: “Nearly 2 in 5 Latinx live within 30 miles of a power plant, and 68% of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant.” Click here to listen to the entire audio clip. Also in North Carolina, the policy watchdog “The Progressive Pulse” quoted Dominique on theenormous environmental injustice of this issue.

Pennsylvania’s Observer Reporter spoke to Philadelphia resident and Program Manager for Moms Clean Air Force, Mollie Michel, about mercury. Mollie said: “Even as Pennsylvanians are sick and dying from coronavirus – a lethal respiratory pandemic – (EPA administrator) Andrew Wheeler and the Trump administration ramp up their efforts to undermine life-saving pollution protections. To push forward this cynical giveaway to polluters at this moment in our nation’s history defies belief.”

Utah’s Desert newspaper quoted Dominique: “‘While America suffers devastating public health impacts of the coronavirus outbreak — a lethal respiratory pandemic — Andrew Wheeler and the Trump administration continue their cynical campaign to protect industrial polluters and undermine lifesaving pollution protections,” said co-founder Dominique Browning.’ The organization added that the EPA is gambling with the health of children by giving any sort of nod to coal-fired power plants.”

Washington, D.C. outlet Courthouse News also quoted Dominique: “We have been mystified as to why Trump’s EPA would cripple a rule that is a fully implemented, highly effective pollution standard that is protecting babies’ brains from mercury and other air toxics from coal plants.” The reporter also pointed to a hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives in February, 2020, in which Heather McTeer Toney testified that coal-fired plants were the largest source of mercury emissions in the country, according to a 2005 study: “That same research, [Heather] said, calculated the economic loss in intelligence and productivity to newborns with mercury poisoning at birth, at $1.3 billion, solely from toxins retraceable to coal-fired plants.”


In response to breaking news that Trump’s EPA refused to strengthen standards for deadly particulate pollution (commonly referred to as soot), endangering vulnerable Americans and defying scientific consensus, Heather McTeer Toney spoke to the Washington Post: “Taken together, these moves are ‘a death sentence to communities at the front lines of pollution,’ said Heather McTeer Toney, the former mayor of Greenville, Miss., a majority African American city, who is the national field director for the Moms Clean Air Force.”

Cronkite News spoke to Phoenix-based field organizer Columba Sainz about particulate pollution. In light of the coronavirus, Columba said that now is the time to focus on community health, especially for vulnerable communities hit hardest by poor air quality: “‘I don’t think it’s fair. And I don’t think the EPA is taking this into consideration. They’re not looking into the data, they’re not looking into what the public health experts are saying.’ She said she has seen firsthand how poor air quality impacts communities: She said high levels of pollutants in Arizona caused her 3-year-old daughter, with no history of respiratory issues, to begin having wheezing episodes. ‘It’s not time to ignore those who are the most vulnerable. And as a mother, I worry about my family, and I worry about other families.’”

Before this news broke, Energy & Environment reported that Moms Clean Air Force was one of two groups that had received emails abruptly cancelling tele-conference meetings with the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (part of the White House) on particulate matter. As the article makes clear, Trump’s EPA is charging ahead on far-reaching rulemakings without adequately listening to stakeholders, even though the White House had ordered agency chiefs to prioritize the pandemic response – an approach that “has been a pattern at the Trump White House and fits into their critics’ narrative about political appointees weaponizing the regulatory process.”

A photo show a general view of the downtown Phoenix skyline, April 7, 2020, as fewer motorists in Arizona are driving, following the state stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus, and it appears to be improving the air quality and decreasing the effects vehicle emissions have on the environment.Ross D. Franklin/AP


Writing for EcoWURD, a platform for reporting on how environmental issues uniquely impact Black communities, Tonya Howard Calhoun, who manages our Community Rx/Faith Force programs, wrote “Coronavirus reveals why environmental justice is still the critical issue of our time.” As a native of Louisiana who has lived in the highly-polluted metro-Atlanta area for almost three decades, Tonya opens up about the fault lines that the coronavirus pandemic lays bare: “The harsh reality is that both crises – COVID-19 and environmental injustice – exacerbate societal inequities that have always harmed low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.” For Tonya, who knows that “those in marginalized communities have been breathing in toxins from multiple sources and it has weakened their health, exacerbated their underlying health conditions and made COVID-19 that much more lethal,” the answer is to speak up and let elected officials know that the African American community “is under attack from more than just the coronavirus. We need air quality controls so that we are not paying the price with our health.”

In response to news that the EPA is giving industries the freedom to pollute during the coronavirus crisis, our Denver-based organizer Shaina Oliver, mother of four and member of the Dineh (Navajo) tribe, wrote an opinion in the Colorado Independent in which she shares how this could cause disproportionate harm to low-income communities, communities of color, and tribal communities, which are already more heavily exposed to pollution: “Our vulnerability [as indigenous people] to air pollution has a troubling significance today. Scientists have known for decades that air pollution is harmful to the respiratory system and reduces our body’s ability to fight infection. Air pollution is also one of the causes of the underlying heart and lung problems that may make people more vulnerable to the coronavirus. […] Giving industries the freedom to pollute during a respiratory pandemic, potentially compounding a public health crisis, is the height of irresponsibility. And my family is in the crosshairs.”