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In Hot Water: Will New Docs Help Save the E.P.A.; Renew Climate Change Debate?

In Hot Water: Will New Docs Help Save the E.P.A.; Renew Climate Change Debate?

Five years after “An Inconvenient Truth” became the fifth highest-grossing documentary ever and made “climate change” a household word, little effectively has been done to stem the rising tide of global warming and environmental catastrophe (with the exception, perhaps, of increased sales of energy-saving lightbulbs).

In fact, Republicans are currently working harder than ever to sabotage the Environmental Protection Agency–according to a weekend New York Times editorial, Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, plans to delay two new E.P.A. rules limiting toxic mercury emissions and smog-forming pollutants and put forward measures killing off rules governing toxic coal ash and life-threatening ozone. This, coupled with President Obama’s recent backtracking on smog regulations, suggests Americans have very little memory of Al Gore’s 2006 movie lecture.

Into this highly tense political climate, one documentary, “Semper Fi – Always Faithful,” currently in release, and two new high-profile docs premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival (Jessica Yu’s “Last Call at the Oasis” and John Shenk’s “The Island President,” pictured) aim to stir up the pot on environmental regulations, specifically those relating to issues surrounding water.

Despite its military-sounding title, “Semper Fi” is ostensibly about water pollution, and the U.S. military’s horrible record of not regulating chemicals at their bases, leading to groundwater pollution and the tragic health effects of the soldiers and staff who live on them. When a woman testifies about her two children, born one after the other with birth defects and dying soon afterward, it’s a heartbreaking reminder of the human cost of deregulation.

Coupled with the persuasive arguments in “Last Call at the Oasis” (backed by social campaign powerhouse Participant Media) and “The Island President” (about the leader of the Maldives, who campaigns to keep global warming regulations intact and enforced, because his entire country’s existence literally depends on it, more urgently with each passing year), there should be a growing wave of media attention and increased debate around issues of water, pollution, and the regulation of contaminants.

When I spoke to Jessica Yu for this WSJ.com article about “Last Call,” she told me: “Under the Toxic Substances Act, there are only 5 chemicals [regulated]. And we don’t know the impact these chemicals have in getting into our groundwater. Whether you think it’s anti-industry or not, I think our country is stepping out blindly in terms of progress and I think that needs to be looked at.”

A shocking scene in “Semper Fi” gives viewers a sneak peak at the process of determining which chemicals are deemed toxic in our country: the forceful presence of chemical lobbyists during a scientific hearing should give anyone pause.

It’s difficult to justify Republicans’ attempts to destroy the health of Americans, but their appalling political acts haven’t stopped people from voting for them in the past. Hopefully these docs might make a difference.

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