We are in the middle of an historic (and historically contentious) Presidential election. Aside from the mainstream issues that bombard us every day, there are some less “splashy” issues that all parents should consider. In order to shed some light on a few of the top concerns that affect parents today, we sat down with Gretchen Dahlkemper, Director of Clean Air Moms Action, to get the facts on what’s at stake in this election, both at the top of the ticket, and in the Senate race in Pennsylvania between incumbent Pat Toomey and his challenger, Katie McGinty.
First, Gretchen, can you tell us a little bit about the issues that Clean Air Moms Action focusses on? Clean Air Moms Action focuses on three core issues that impact families in our city, our state and our country: clean air, climate change, and toxic chemicals.
Let’s start with clean air; why is this issue important for moms and families, particularly in Philadelphia? Pennsylvania pays $9.4 billion in pollution-related health care costs every year, including health care for more than 300,000 kids who suffer from asthma. Philadelphia specifically receives an F from American Lung Association for air quality in their annual State of the Air Report.
What about climate change? Climate Change is expected to bring more extreme weather events like heat waves, major droughts, hurricanes, and significant floods across the globe, threatening food and water supply and causing social upheaval. Intense heat waves can exacerbate heart and lung conditions such as asthma. Minority and low-income communities suffer greater rates of health problems like asthma, cancer, and premature birth. They are also more vulnerable to extreme weather events like flooding and extreme heat.
Toxic Chemicals seem to be an issue that many parents don’t know very much about. Can you tell us more about recent legislation that was passed and how it can be implemented? This year, the biggest environmental legislation in nearly 40 years was passed in an effort to protect our citizens from toxic chemicals that have not been evaluated or regulated by the government. The existing legislation, outlined in 1976’s Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), does not protect us from the use of toxic chemicals in every day household items like car seats, strollers, couches, sidewalk chalk and more. However, the new legislation would give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to evaluate whether they should remain on the market. This legislation was a bipartisan effort, unanimously approved in the Senate and with only 12 votes against it in the House. If you’re paying attention to politics these days, this is pretty impressive. However, in order to implement this legislation and protect families, the EPA must be fully funded, which is why this election is important to the success of the new bill. Our Republican presidential candidate has vowed to de-fund the EPA, which would be devastating to the implementation of this bipartisan effort.
So, in the meantime, when I add a stroller to my baby registry, how can I check to see if any of the toxic chemicals identified as dangerous are not used? While the federal government’s hands have been tied to implement TSCA, advocates have worked hard to identify toxics in items we use every day and the potential harm they can cause. As a parent I often use Women’s Voices for the Earth as a resource, along with the Environmental Working Group. The EPA recently released a “Safer Choice” label that you can find on cleaning products in the store – look for that when buying products to clean your home.
“Our citizenship doesn’t start and end in the voting booth. We need to be engaged every day.” —Gretchen Dahlkemper
Ok, what can moms (and dads) like us do to help? You can knock on doors, make phone calls and share more information about these issues on social media to help raise awareness about what’s at stake in this election.
In an election year as important as this one, the first (and easiest) thing for you to do is make a commitment to vote on November 8, and share that on social media and via email to help mobilize your friends and family to do the same.
We strive to make advocacy easy for moms, and one way we do this is by providing opportunities for we like to call Naptime Activism. There are lots of effective and impactful ways to advocate on these issues without leaving your home, including doing your own phone banking from the comfort of your couch while your little one is sleeping or nursing! Sign up for more information here.
We also have close to 100 moms in the Philadelphia area who are mobilized around this issue and the election, and we would welcome more people to join the effort in any way they can. It’s important to elect leaders who are thinking about solutions to these problems and not continuing to fight about the causes.
In closing, tell us a little bit about the Senate race in Pennsylvania and the differences in our candidates and their commitment to finding solutions to these issues? As a parent living in Philadelphia, this senate race in PA is pivotal. Toomey led the Senate in fighting the Mercury in Air Toxic Standards. Katie McGinty, on the other hand, has worked on public health issues and reducing air pollution as head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the Clinton administration and as the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, so the differences in these candidates and their commitment and knowledge about what’s at stake for our families when it comes to climate change, air quality, and toxic chemicals, is huge.
Gretchen Dahlkemper directs national strategy for both Moms Clean Air Force and Clean Air Moms Action. Prior to becoming the National Field Director for Moms Clean Air Force, she served as Moms Clean Air Force’s Pennsylvania field organizer. Raised in Erie, PA Gretchen has worked across the state on environmental education and activism. Gretchen is mom to three small children and lives with her chef husband in Philadelphia.