Congressman Harley Rouda represents California’s 48th District, which encompasses parts of Orange County. He is also Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Environment Subcommittee and a member of the bipartisan PFAS Task Force.
Rep. Rouda introduced the PFAS User Fee Act of 2019 to hold PFAS polluters accountable for their role in the nationwide contamination crisis. The bill “would require PFAS manufacturers to pay a fee into a trust fund that would be used to provide grants to communities and water systems dealing with contamination issues,” according to the bill’s press release.
“There’s over 5,000 variations of these chemicals, and they have been proven to have extremely adverse effects on all living beings, including humans,” Rep. Rouda said. “And basically it is a chemical that is used in a variety of different products: Everything from styrofoam packaging to certain clothing to firefighting foam. It gets into the environment through emissions by the burning of the chemicals as well as through seeping into our soil in our water system.”
Rouda said 99 percent of all humans have forever chemicals in their bodies.
“Unfortunately, the accumulation of those chemicals in your body causes a greater susceptance to outcomes from other diseases and inflammations,” Rep. Rouda said. “And so when you overlay COVID-19 on that on top of people who have a higher than recommended exposure to PFAS chemicals, you can see that you’ve got a recipe for significant challenges for that individual.”
In Orange County, cases of coronavirus are continuing to rise. As of this week, Orange County had reported 651 cumulative COVID-19 deaths to date. Despite that, the O.C. Board of Education wants children to go back to school without masks or physical distancing and is now suing California Gov. Gavin Newsom for requiring that classes be held online this fall.
Rep. Rouda said he’s “frustrated” with the O.C. Board of Education for pushing so hard for schools to reopen without safety precautions.
“Hey listen, I understand from a parent’s perspective. I’ve got four kids. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to raise them under these circumstances while you’re trying to maintain your jobs as well,” he said. “But we also have to make sure that when we move back into schooling, on site, that we are properly protecting not just the kids but the staff and the teachers as well, and not creating a situation where we are by increasing the spread of the disease in our respective communities.”
Rep. Rouda thinks that children wouldn’t have problems wearing masks in the classroom. Still, he doesn’t believe O.C. can reopen schools safely this fall.
“Kids go to school with expectations of being properly prepared, properly dressed, properly having your backpack ready, having your homework ready, and the idea of adding a mask to it… I think kids are capable of doing that,” he said. “And couple that with proper social distancing and physical distancing, I’m confident we can do this right. But we can’t do it right as long as you have a significant contingent of elected officials pushing against what is the obvious rational logical thing to do to keep people safe and get back to school sooner.”
COVID-19 made its way to the United States in January. Rep. Rouda said between January and August, elected officials should have worked harder to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“We did not have to be in this position,” he said. “Orange County families stayed at home, they lost their jobs, they shuttered their businesses in many cases, they put their lives on hold. And all during that time was when the county and our president and his administration should have been focused on providing appropriate testing, tracing, and tracking of the spread of this disease, working to have appropriate action plans in place to make sure that we could stop or slow the spread best we could, and after all that hard work by all of these people in Orange County, to have leaders disregard the CDC guidelines and put us at risk as well as the risk of opening up the schools is a shame.”
In early May, Rep. Rouda was pushing for beaches to reopen. Now that they are, large church services are being held in Huntington Beach, and people are seen with no masks and no physical distancing. Rep. Rouda said church services could be safe if people would just adhere to the COVID-19 guidelines of wearing face coverings and staying six feet away from others.
“It doesn’t need to be all in or all out,” he said. “Let’s use common sense and common ground and find the way that people can have freedom to worship and the ability to go to the great outdoors and enjoy it.”
Rep. Rouda said more freedoms will come when Southern Californians wear masks regularly, physically distance from one another, and wash their hands.
“These are simple things that would allow us to open up our economy and get back to normal sooner,” he said. “Unfortunately we have too many people who are disregarding those basic concepts of protecting yourself and your fellow residents and your fellow neighbors. And unfortunately we have leaders who are also failing that test, everyone from the President of the United States to leadership at the county who have failed to make masks and social distancing an important component.”
Rouda says it’s confusing for people to know what to do when elected leaders don’t have consistent messaging.
“When you have elected leaders giving contradictory information, contradictory directions, not setting a good example… then you’re always going to have folks that are going to follow that behavior,” he said. “That’s unfortunate because the fastest way for us to open up our economy, the fastest way for us to get back to normal, is the simple idea of wearing a mask when you are in public.”
Rep. Rouda said it’s unfortunate that not all elected leaders are advocating for people to wear face coverings and distance from one another when the scientific research has proven that both actions slow the spread of COVID-19.
“To have elected officials supporting those who are fighting that topic, at the same time suggesting we should open up faster, is perplexing because you would think we would all be on the same page here trying to stimulate businesses recovering and economic activity while maintaining the health and safety of our population,” he said. “But for some, that’s not part of the narrative and or the calculus in what they are pushing.”
Let Inside the Issues know your thoughts and watch Monday through Friday at 8 and 11 p.m. on Spectrum News 1.
Follow Charlotte Scott on Twitter.