Late last month, Americans were panicked by COVID-19 claiming the lives of hundreds of people per day (it’s now more than 1,000 per day), and consumed by the fear of sickness, job loss, financial distress and the anxiety caused by our entire way of life being cast into uncertainty. President Trump seized on that very moment of intense national distraction to have his EPA decide to stop enforcing environmental laws altogether. This means that polluters will no longer face penalties for failing to monitor or report their pollution, or for spewing and dumping toxic chemicals into our air and water.
In the nearly 50 year history of the EPA, this is the first time that the agency has ever just flatly refused to do its job.
Trump’s EPA offered only phony reasons for this license to endanger American lives:
- They claim it was a necessary response to the pandemic, that polluters could no longer afford the personnel necessary to obey environmental laws. But there is no evidence for this. Plus, other industries are hurting, many worse than the pollution industry, but they’ve not been relieved of the obligation to follow the law. Nor should they be. For example, the many companies who continue to supply us food should not be told that they may now freely poison Americans because health and safety regulations no longer apply.
- EPA also says that the states are still free to enforce environmental laws, even if the federal government won’t. But Trump knows very well that the states can’t do that, in large part because he has cut so drastically the grants to the states that have paid for the enforcement of environmental laws.
The most sinister part of the EPA’s unprecedented invitation to polluters to ignore the law is that there is no end date for it. There is no date, or even event—such as the expiration of the current “stay at home” orders—that Trump’s EPA has set for the resumption of environmental law enforcement. So, the bottom line here is that environmental laws will be enforced when Trump feels like it. Which may not be for the duration of his presidency.
Don’t think so? Tell me who’s going to stop him.
As thorough and malicious as Trump has been in finding every way possible to disable the agencies, like the EPA, that protect American lives, he is far from the only American president in our recent past who has allowed that to happen. Just last week, the EPA’s Inspector General published a report showing that President GW Bush, and even President Obama, also presided over the stripping of the EPA funds and staff necessary to enforce environmental laws. The report shows these grim statistics on environmental enforcement during the years 2007-2018 (Bush to Obama to Trump):
- Environmental inspections dropped 23%
- The number of new enforcement cases dropped 52%
- The number of enforcement actions compelling polluters to clean up dropped 58%
- Enforcement actions with polluter penalties dropped 53%
- EPA enforcement staff dropped by 21%
Anyone think this is because our air and water are cleaner today than they were in 2007?
What politically powerful polluters understand is that an environmental law that is not enforced is the same as having no law at all. And history—and the statistics above—show that polluters get their way. For, while many believe that, environmentally-speaking, Obama’s heart was “in the right place”—after all, he passed carbon fuel emission limits and committed the U.S. to the Climate Change Accord—the truth is that a huge chunk of EPA’s diminished enforcement of environmental laws happened on his watch.
If you are living–or raising a child–in one of America’s highly- polluted cities, it matters little to you whether the EPA is “looking the other way” on the poisoning of your air and water despite your president’s reluctance (Obama) or because of his blessing and enthusiasm (Trump). Either way, your life is in danger.
And the government that is supposed to protect you has decided that it is not going to do its job.