March 27, 2000
The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton
The White House
I am writing to you on behalf of the millions of our fellow Americans whose health, homes, and quality of life would be in jeopardy if HR1000 were to become law. HR1000, otherwise known as The Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment & Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR-21), includes provisions that make available some $40 Billion for the construction and expansion of airport facilities across the United States, and would thereby induce a massive expansion of commercial aircraft operations nationwide. This would result in an environmental and human disaster of unprecedented proportions. I therefore urge you to veto this bill.
Numerous data support our position. Atmospheric scientists warn of aviation's significant and growing contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and possible other adverse effects on global weather. Academic studies demonstrate impaired cognitive development and severe motivational and stress problems from aircraft noise exposure to millions of American children living around airports. Other studies and data suggest a connection between elevated cancer rates and scores of other serious diseases and airport proximity. Our personal research has uncovered widespread, acute water pollution stemming from airport operations. Finally, the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) own studies show severe reductions in residential property values as a consequence of airport development. Though perhaps instructive, these examples nevertheless fail to convey the true essence of the unfolding human tragedy.
Consider, if you will, the case of Martin Smith. Mr. Smith is a longtime resident of Glen Burnie, Maryland, living not far from the Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) Airport. Sixty years ago, however, he was in a different place. A veteran of the Second World War, Mr. Smith served in the Philippines under General MacArthur at the war's outset. He is, in fact, one of America's few surviving veterans of Corregidor, having met the Japanese onslaught in the darkest days of 1942. Having survived the Pacific War, he now faces an onslaught of a different kind.
Some time after the War, Mr. Smith purchased his modest ranch-style home amid idyllic surroundings: fresh air, rolling orchards, and a clear stream teeming with life running through his backyard. Visit his home today, however, and you will encounter a starkly different scene. In the years since Mr. Smith moved into his home, BWI was built, and then expanded many times, especially over the last decade. Gone are the orchards, replaced by highways to and from the airport. The air is often thick with the smell of jet fuel. Commercial jets, in fact, frequently roar a mere 200 feet above his house, yet BWI claims he is "unaffected" by aircraft noise. His home is under constant threat of inundation by floodwaters issuing from BWI's runways and taxiways, located a mere half mile upstream, waters that are hideously polluted with fuels, oils, solvents, and toxic deicing chemicals. Moreover, these toxins are permitted to pour off airport property unchecked by either the Maryland Department of the Environment or the United States-Environmental Protection Agency.
Accustomed to bearing life's burdens with dignified stoicism, Mr. Smith is a quiet gentleman, by nature slow to complain. When asked, however, he responds simply that "[The airport] has damaged my quality of life immeasurably." Though Martin Smith defended his country, his country has not seen fit to defend him. He served as America's sentry, at the farthest outpost of Freedom, and at her hour of gravest peril, yet his reward seems more like the depredations of his Japanese attackers than the thanks of a grateful nation. This is how the FAA treats America's heroes and lesser citizens, alike. This is the FAA's dirty little secret. Rest assured; this scene is repeated countless thousands of times at practically every airport in this country. The damage continues to go uncorrected and unacknowledged, and is guaranteed to get much, much worse should you fail to veto HR1000.
When Air Force One, bearing its mighty cargo, next lumbers toward another landing in the wee hours of the morning, I ask that you consider America's forgotten sentry and the hundreds of thousands of other unfortunate souls suffering below. They deserve our protection as a debt of honor -- on which I trust you will not default. Before we spend so much as one dollar more to expand aviation, let us first resolve to rescue all of aviation's victims, and safeguard future generations against a similar fate.
cc: Erskine B. Bowles