Here is something Alaska is not known for: polluted air. Yet nationally, the Fairbanks metro area is the fifth most ozone-polluted city in the United States. Anchorage is 14th.
As Alaskans, we love our home state for the unparalleled, natural wonders it has to offer. The crisp, clear air and water are so much of what make Alaska.
Now, that air and water — and even our land — are at risk, and cities like Fairbanks and Anchorage could be due for even greater pollution levels at a time when we should be doing all that we can to improve the air so that our communities can breathe without worry.
In Washington, D.C., the Trump administration and its allies in Congress have placed a target on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — the agency that works to keep Alaska’s air, water and soil clean and its families and communities healthy. By stripping the agency of 30 percent of its funding — much of which goes directly to states like Alaska — Trump’s allies will unleash even more pollution and endanger citizens.
Here is something you’ve likely heard before: U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, can stop them.
In the coming weeks, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee will begin work on the Senate’s EPA budget proposal. As a member of that Committee, Murkowski holds a critical vote in determining the EPA’s funding and whether it will be able to continue to support programs that our state and our communities have come to rely on.
As an Alaska Native person, I’ve seen firsthand the difference that these programs can make. From 2012-2016, the EPA awarded $345 million in funding to programs dedicated to supporting Native tribes and the environments they call home. $123.5 million of that went to Alaskan tribes. These programs help tribes establish environmental programs and develop and implement plans for handling hazardous waste. The programs play a crucial role in the health of our people and our lands and waters. But Trump has singled these programs out for cuts.
In total, Alaska as a whole has received more than $345 million in grants from the EPA over the last five years to protect the state’s environment and economy. Millions more have gone to support state and local environmental and public health efforts.
For many Alaskans nature is our livelihood. So much of our state relies on tourism to drive our economy, with our scenic landscapes attracting millions of visitors each year and our fisheries and wildlife depend upon uncontaminated spawning streams and lands. But if the EPA is defunded, our drinking water and recreational rivers and streams, could be more vulnerable to harmful runoff of pesticides and industrial chemicals. This could threaten the livelihood and food security of thousands of Alaskans. The air in communities like Fairbanks and Anchorage could become more polluted, leading to more Code Orange and Red days — days when it’s unsafe for children and others suffering respiratory problems to go outside. If the EPA budget is reduced, Alaskans stand to lose.
I often must remind myself how fortunate I am to call Alaska my home. It is truly unique. But the state also brings with it its own unique challenges and responsibilities, many of which the EPA has lent a hand in facing.
Now, we ask for a hand from one of our own: Sen. Murkowski. She has been bold in her determination to do what is right for Alaska. I hope that she will continue to stand up for Alaska — and the things that make Alaska what it is — by demanding that the EPA remain fully funded. And I urge my fellow Alaskans to reach out to Murkowski to help her make that decision — to tell her to support a full funded EPA — because anything less will jeopardize the state she loves and calls home.
• Jackie Qatalina Schaeffer is an Inupiaq Eskimo born and raised in Kotzebue. She has worked extensively in rural Alaska communities on rural planning, energy, housing and sanitation issues. She resides in Anchorage. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.