It started with a letter to Congress.
Seven past EPA chiefs, appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents, wrote to Congress in April. They were concerned about the direction of the current EPA and offered to help Congress use its oversight to put a halt to Trump’s misguided deregulatory push and the dismissal of science in favor of politics at the agency.
The seven EPA leaders signing the letter had served under Obama, Reagan, and both Bushes, so the current administration could not blame the letter on partisan politics.
In response, House Democrats invited the former officials to the Capitol. On Tuesday, four of the seven EPA chiefs testified before Congress, saying that the EPA under Trump has moved away from its core mission to protect the environment and public health while ignoring the threat of climate change.
Christine Todd Whitman told lawmakers that she was “deeply concerned that five decades of environmental progress are at risk because of the attitude and approach of the current administration.” She continued by stating that “Climate change is real and the administration is abdicating its responsibility by denying it.”
William Reilly spoke of his uneasiness with the pro-industry direction the agency has taken and asserted that “the environment and health” must come first.
Lee Thomas compared the current EPA to the agency under Anne Gorsuch Buford, who resigned after a scandal with the Superfund cleanup program, and who threw the EPA into turmoil amid a push to deregulate and attack science.
These were harsh words from the former chiefs, but they were well deserved by the current EPA.
According to research from the Harvard Law School, Columbia Law School, and other sources, 83 environmental rules have already been rolled back or are in the process of being rolled back by an EPA that seems hell-bent on taking the country back to a time when pollution was out of control.
These rollbacks could contribute to thousands of unnecessary deaths each year and significantly increase greenhouse gas emission according to the New York University Law School’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center.
A small sampling of the rollbacks include:
- loosening a rule limiting toxic emissions from industrial polluters;
- challenging state’s rights to set more stringent standards for fuel economy for cars;
- weakening a rule limiting mercury emissions at coal power plants;
- Rescinding water pollution regulations for fracking on federal land;
- Proposing opening most of America’s coastal waters to offshore oil and gas drilling;
- Withdrawing a requirement that Gulf Oil rig owners prove they can pay for removing rigs once they are done producing;
- Opening 9 million acres of Western land to oil and gas drilling;
- Narrowing the scope of a law mandating safety assessments for potentially toxic chemicals;
- Rejecting a ban on chlorpyrifos, a potentially neurotoxic pesticide;
- Revoking a rule preventing coal companies from dumping mining debris into streams;
- Weakening federal rules regulating the disposal and storage of potentially toxic coal ash waste;
- Withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate agreement;
- Proposing to repeal the Clean Power Plan; and
- Proposing changing rules meant to cut methane emissions from landfills.
None of the completed or proposed rollbacks are good for the country. They may make it easier for certain industries to operate, but they will also certainly make it easier for those industries to pollute. The EPA seems to think that once we have trashed the planet we can have a “do over”. As Trump himself likes to tweet, you don’t get a “do over”.
Once you’ve polluted the earth, the atmosphere, the air and the water beyond recognition, that’s it.
The ex EPA chiefs get this.
Why can’t Trump’s EPA? The agency has abdicated its core mission to protect the environment and public health. Moreover, it is callously ignoring the wishes of the public, most of whom support pollution control measures and believe climate change is a significant threat.
It is time for this agency to change course before it is too late. As ex EPA Chief Gina McCarthy put it, we need to “remind the political leadership at the EPA that what they do matters, and it’s time for them to step up and do their jobs.”