Imagine for a moment living in a country where the government was actively poisoning its citizens. For decades it denied any involvement, until they got caught red handed and were forced to admit it. Even after they got caught, they continued to intentionally poison their people. Perhaps, this sounds like something that would happen in a third-world dictatorship, but in fact, it happens right here in the United States year after year.
Once the tourists and wealthy seasonal residents leave Florida for the summer, the working class people left on Florida’s east and west coasts become a dumping ground for toxic water. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers knowingly discharges hundreds of billions of gallons of poison out of a lake in the center of the state and into our communities—killing animals and putting lives at risk.
Anybody who has lived through one of these lost summers, as we call them, can viscerally remember the look of blue-green algae so thick that birds could walk on it and dead fish were suspended in it. Instead of a serene blue, the waves on the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico are neon green. Dead sea life washes up on the shores by the hundreds. If you are forced to step outside your home, you are met by a horrid stench of rotten eggs mixed with the decaying carcasses of the algae’s victims. As a result, restaurants close, summer camps for kids are canceled, fishing charters end, home sales fall through, and people who have to work in it are poisoned. The liability is too high. Nobody dares to go in the water.
Move past the sight and smell, though, and something even more dangerous is lurking beneath the surface. At my urging, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that the water discharged into our community by the Army Corps was in many cases dozens of times too toxic for human contact. According to their scientists, exposure to the toxins in our waterways can cause serious illness, liver or kidney failure, and even death. Dolphins, manatees, dogs and too many other sea creatures to count have already been killed, and to make matters worse, the toxins have become airborne, impacting people miles away from the water.
There can be justice. The Army Corps’ own data shows that it is possible for them to eliminate these toxic discharges into the St. Lucie River while also benefiting Florida’s other communities around the lake as well as the Florida Everglades. In other words, they have no excuse. How can the federal government justify poisoning its own citizens? The answer is they can’t.
Right now, the Army Corps is determining if this abuse will continue for another decade, and it would be unconscionable if the government selects a new management plan that does not eliminate these discharges. With this once in a decade opportunity in front of us, the government must not settle for anything less than an end to this preventable polluting.
Whether you’ve ever been to Florida or not, we all have a stake in this fight. Every American, regardless of how much money they have or where they grew up, deserves to know their government did not contaminate their air or land or water. If the government can deprive any of us of this right, they can deprive all of us of this right. If the government can get away with poisoning even one of its citizens, any of us could be next.
So, as Congress and the President put together their long-awaited infrastructure bill, the very first section should make clear that the federal government will no longer poison Americans, and Congress must reject any plan that prioritizes a far-left wishlist of unrelated proposals while failing infrastructure and bad policy means Americans are still being willfully poisoned by their own government.
• U.S. Representative Brian Mast, Florida Republican, is in his third term representing the 18th Congressional District. He serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee. Before his election to Congress, he followed in his father’s footsteps by serving in the U.S. Army for more than 12 years, earning medals including The Bronze Star Medal, The Army Commendation Medal for Valor, The Purple Heart Medal, and The Defense Meritorious Service Medal.
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