As a consultant for Moms Clean Air Force, Christine Dolle’s job included urging Congress to support environmental legislation. She has experienced her share of successes as well as fruitless efforts with legislators who won’t oppose even the most extreme anti-environmental measures.
So, in fall 2017, when she heard about the nomination of Michael Dourson to become the Environmental Protection Agency’s top chemical safety official, she stood with Moms Clean Air Force to advocate for his defeat.
Dourson had a record of minimizing the perceived risk of chemicals, citing research funded by major industry players such as DuPont, Monsanto and the American Chemistry Council. He worked on behalf of DuPont to examine the chemical PFOA, which was later implicated in contaminated drinking water in areas surrounding military bases, including North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune and locally at the former Willow Grove Naval Air Station and Warminster Naval Air Warfare Center.
North Carolina’s two Republican senators publicly opposed Dourson’s nomination, and Dolle remembered that when the local PFOA contamination was in the news, Sen. Pat Toomey had been part of a bipartisan effort to address it. This was one of the few times he appeared to support the environment and public health—and Dolle wanted to leverage that.
“After trying to find common ground with him for years on environmental and public health issues, we had finally found this hook,” she says.
Moms Clean Air Force had already posted a petition to senators but Dolle wanted to amplify the pressure. She posted calls to action on social media and delivered a folder of information to Toomey’s Philadelphia office.
She got a meeting with the senator’s press secretary and regional manager. While staff meetings are not uncommon, this meeting was requested by the highest-level person from Toomey’s office.
As she prepared for her Dec. 8 meeting, she reached out to friends (like me!) to ask for help putting pressure on the senator. She posted a call to action on social media with Toomey’s office numbers, which got more than a dozen shares and posts on activist groups. The press secretary told her the office had received calls on this issue.
Dolle said Sen. Toomey seemed sympathetic and interested—which she doesn’t often see when discussing divisive issues with opposing parties. He confirmed the importance of personal stories, and the vocal advocates from Moms Clean Air Force had plenty to tell.
“I left feeling fantastic about the meeting,” she says. “Knowing what we knew, I just couldn’t see a way through for him to OK this nomination.”
Less than a week later, Dourson withdrew after it became clear that the Senate was unlikely to confirm him.
Toomey never made public his views on Dourson, and any number of circumstances could have led to the nominee’s withdrawal. Perhaps Dolle’s actions assisted in tipping the scale.
“I’m proud of the work I did, and I feel energized and encouraged by even the possibility that I may have played a part,” she says.
My 8-year-old son and I have had the chance to meet with representatives in Pennsylvania and D.C.—all you have to do is sign up with Moms Clean Air Force for information on upcoming opportunities.
By partnering with organizations that connect you directly with your government, maybe you can help tip the scale toward a victory for public health.
Paige Wolf is the author of “Spit That Out!: The Overly Informed Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy Kids in the Age of Environmental Guilt.” Follow @paigewolf on Twitter.