New President Trump’s hostility for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and, really, for environmental protection in general, is well-documented. He thinks global warming/climate change is a “hoax”. He thinks that the EPA’s regulations providing clean water for us to drink and clean air to breathe are hurting the ability of American businesses to turn a profit. So, Trump wants to get rid of them, or of the EPA’s ability to enforce them. He also thinks that EPA scientists are a bunch of left-wingers, who rig science to make trouble for corporations.
So, it’s not surprising that recent news reports tell us how Trump plans to neuter the EPA into irrelevance. For example:
·Huge cuts. Myron Ebell was appointed by Trump to head his EPA transition team. Ebell is the director of an organization called the “Center for Energy and the Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute”, a business think tank challenging the science behind global warming, and trying to do away with the EPA. Ebell says that global warming is “a fad” and “alarmist”, and that no one should be concerned about historically-unprecedented rises in global temperatures and ocean levels, because “warmer climates are more pleasant and healthier.” Ebell recommends cutting EPA staff by 67%–from 15,000 to 5,000-and its budget by 50%. 1 It’s too early to know what the cuts will actually be, but that kind of recommendation from Trump’s hand-picked representative has a pretty obvious goal in mind: the EPA can’t very well protect the environment if it doesn’t have any money or people to do it with.
·Put politicians in charge of science. Time Magazine reports that Trump “is mandating that any studies or data from scientists at [EPA] undergo review by political appointees before they can be released to the public.” This is an in-your-face repudiation of the long-term EPA policy on “scientific integrity”, which had required that EPA’s scientific studies be “uncompromised by political or other interference.” 1 The new Trump mandate putting politicians in charge forbids EPA scientists from issuing press releases; using social media; blogging; or appearing at webinars or speaking engagements-from doing anything to tell the public about their scientific conclusions– without the approval of the new in-charge politicians. 3 No mistaking what this means: science which does not agree with Trump’s political agenda will not be recognized as science.
·Sophomoric “Two for One” Rule: The President just signed an executive order demanding that, if the EPA (and any other agency) wants to propose a new regulation, it has to cut two regulations. Simple, right? Appealingly simple. But really dangerous. As Kenneth Kimmell, the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, puts it: “If, for example, EPA wants to issue a new rule to protect kids from mercury exposure, will it need to get rid of [the rules] limiting the lead in drinking water and cutting pollution from school buses?” 4 Other than to grand stand, why have a rule like this? If a regulation is truly unnecessary, why not just get rid of it now, rather than risk having to sacrifice necessary regulations just to put a new one on the books?
·The New EPA Chief hates the EPA: Trump nominated to be the new EPA chief the Attorney General of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt. As AG, Pruitt has devoted himself to suing the EPA (14 times) to try to force a rollback of its environmental regulations; questioning the validity of climate science; and pledging to cut EPA-enforced regulations aimed at curbing carbon emissions from coal-fired plants. 5 Pruitt obviously believes the EPA has no right to be trying to protect the environment against the petroleum industry, perhaps the world’s biggest polluter. In other words, Pruitt evidently believes that the EPA shouldn’t be doing much of anything. Which appears to be why Trump wants him there.
All of these Trump moves have a common aim: to stop the EPA from forcing polluters to obey the laws that protect human health and the environment. Because it’s cheaper to disobey those laws, especially if you’re confident that you can get away with it.
In my 17 plus years suing polluters on behalf of the families who were their victims, I have witnessed the EPA play a vital role in protecting Americans. EPA has often been the one to force the polluter to actually test to see if a neighborhood’s water, air or soil is contaminated. Sometimes, the EPA has even done this testing itself, if the polluter won’t, or isn’t around any longer.
And those test results are usually how the people find out that they have a problem. Only then can they begin to protect themselves, and demand a clean-up. The polluter and its army of consultants and lawyers often operate on a simple but powerful principle: if you never test for contamination, you won’t find it. Until the test result comes back proving a family’s water, air or soil is actually contaminated, the polluter can deny it.
As long as the family is ignorant, it is in danger. EPA has saved lives, by forcing the testing that tells people the truth, and by forcing the polluter to clean up its contamination that has put the family in danger.
Yet it is precisely this noble and necessary work of the EPA that Trump (and Ebell and Pruitt) apparently intend to dramatically curtail, or do away with altogether. If they are successful, it will no doubt help BP Amoco and Exxon Mobil’s bottom line. But American lives and health will be its casualties.