A Conversation with Susan Lamontagne

Susan Lamontagne is an advocate for children's health and environmental protection. Courtesy photo
Susan Lamontagne is a school board member and advocate for children’s health and environmental protection. Courtesy photo

By Christine Sampson

Many in the village know Susan Lamontagne as a Sag Harbor School Board member who has been outspoken in opposition to the now-defeated synthetic turf athletic field project at Pierson Middle-High School. Ms. Lamontagne is an advocate for environmental issues on many fronts, particularly as they affect children’s health, and she was recently part of a group that brought together national experts last week from the Children’s Environmental Health Network, the University of California at San Francisco and other entities to lobby for the preservation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

I understand you had about 90 people attend. Tell us a little more about the Congressional legislative briefing you helped put together on Capitol Hill.

A lot of Congressional staff were there, which was great. This was a group of scientists from across the country, and they’re backed by many, many more, who are all working together to highlight the issue of the importance of EPA rules. There has been a lot of talk, obviously, in the media and by political folks about regulations being bad. What people forget is that these protections have gone into place for a reason. … There is a list of regulations being targeted for removal. If you go through their list, it’s fascinating. They have listed, “Here’s this rule, this is what’s wrong with it, this is what it costs, this is why it has to go.” Boom. Never do they mention the benefits of any of these. That’s what this briefing was about – to underscore what these protections have done since 1970 and why we have to keep them in place.

What did it take to pull together this panel of experts?

Oh boy. It was a lot of logistical work. We were very fortunate that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and her staff were willing to help us get a room on the Hill. You get the room, you have partners involved, scientists from a number of different institutions. It was very exciting to bring them all together and have the same mission of helping the staff understand what these policy decisions mean for children’s health. I was one of the people pulling it all together with a huge team. It was pretty cool.

How important was their collective message in this particular political climate?

I think incredibly important because I think people really need to understand how these rules and changing these rules can jeopardize not only their children’s health but their grandchildren’s health. A lot of health issues and conditions are linked to air pollution, unhealthy water, lead poisoning, things like that. If you roll back clean air standards, that means you’re increasing the amount of air pollution that kids get exposed to. People assume air pollution means asthma and respiratory disease, but it’s also linked to cardiovascular disease, autism, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder and lower IQ.

Is there any indication yet that their words and evidence have made an impact?

We still need to get the message out. We still have our work cut out for us.

Are there any lessons that local officials here on the South Fork can pull from these national experts’ conversations with Congress?

The thing I think is important for people to think about is sometimes we think of the environment as a local issue and we hear about things like the state saying, “Leave cleanups to the communities.” Water moves. Air moves. The west coast of our country is getting hit by air pollution that is being generated in China. We have officials who have supported environmental issues locally when it comes to the Peconic Bay, but if you look at the voting record on a broader array of issues, you can’t say you are for clean water because you want to protect the Peconic, but you vote to allow coal miners to dump their waste in rivers and streams. It just doesn’t add up.

The briefing, sponsored by UCSF’s Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment and the Children’s Environmental Health Network, will be posted at http://prhe.ucsf.edu for public viewing.

Susan Lamontagne of Sag Harbor, right, with colleagues who teamed up to organize a Congressional legislative briefing meant to preserve the EPA. Courtesy photo