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Articles Tagged with EPA

high-angle-shot-of-suburban-neighborhood-1546168-1024x576Last week, the EPA’s Inspector General issued a report slamming his own agency for failing to alert Americans living near plants using a chemical known as ethylene oxide (EtO) that their health is in danger because EtO is such a potent cancer-causer. The report concludes that:  “The EPA needs to inform residents who live near facilities with significant [EtO] emissions about their elevated estimated cancer risks so they can manage their health risks.”   

A bit of background:  In 2016, the EPA finally joined other health agencies in classifying EtO as “known” to cause cancer in humans–specifically breast cancer, lymphomas, and leukemias.  In fact, the EPA found that EtO is 30 times more dangerous to human health than the agency had previously recognized.  Case in point:  for the community of Willowbrook, IL, a Chicago suburb, EtO concentrations measured in 2018 testing resulted in a cancer risk 6,400 times the 1 in 1 million risk that the EPA considers “acceptable”.  I and other lawyers represent dozens of Willowbrook area residents who have filed lawsuits claiming that exposure to EtO emitted for decades by a local plant known as “Sterigenics” caused their, or a deceased loved one’s, cancer.  

With this 2016 finding, the EPA had committed to warning the residents living near the nation’s 25 plants using ethylene oxide.  These residents are in danger because, after the EtO is used in those plants to kill bacteria during the process of sterilizing medical equipment, the potentially lethal chemical is then released from the plant through vents or stacks (and sometimes doors and windows), where air currents often push it into the nearby homes, school, churches, parks, and businesses of adjacent residential communities. 

Pollution-global-warming-2370285_1920-1024x682Late 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:

From pandemic under-preparedness to environmental deregulation, Donald Trump’s federal government is out of the business of protecting lives and health.

coronavirus-4957673_1920-1-1024x683As I write this, more than 55,000 Americans have tested positive for COVID-19.  More than 800 of them have died.  More than 200 died yesterday.  In many parts of the country, the number of detected infections, and death, are doubling every 3 days.  By this weekend, more than 100,000 will have tested positive.  Likely more than 1,500 will have died.  The rampage of this virus is on a frightening trajectory; we are likely to see days in the month of April where 500 or more, perhaps even 1000, Americans die in a single day.

Unmoved by the carnage mounting all around him, Donald Trump now enlists Americans to “pack the churches” for Easter in 18 days, in the craven hope that they will literally risk their lives in massive congregations, all to provide the photo op he believes will bolster his chances at re-election.  Most scientists predict that COVID-19 will be at its most savage right about that time.

trump-2546104_1920-1The Trump administration’s “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” rule will severely limit the scientific studies used by the federal government to create new regulations. Environmental attorney Shawn Collins says the rule requires data to be publicly available, including confidential medical records and sensitive personal information and will be a major impediment for clean air and water rules. Continue reading…

 

nature-3374583_1920-300x199Not only has President Trump failed to clean up any swamps in Washington or elsewhere, but his new budget—if passed—will ensure that there are toxic swamps all over the country.

Trump’s new budget slashes the EPA’s budget by 26%, at the same time as his toadies at the agency cynically claim that the EPA will focus on its “core mission—providing Americans with clean air, clean water and ensuring chemical safety”. That’s a bald-faced lie. It’s impossible for the EPA to guarantee that with 26% less staff and $2.4 billion less in funding—the cuts proposed by Trump.

The most telling piece of the president’s budget is the cut to the EPA’s Superfund program. Trump’s disdain for people suffering from toxic pollution is evident in his proposed 10% cut of a program that currently has the longest backlog of toxic waste cleanup in 15 years. For lack of enough Superfund money, children are being exposed to the nastiest, most carcinogenic, toxic chemicals in their air and water while waiting for the government to clean up their neighborhoods and towns. If Trump actually cared about people—or clean air and water for that matter– he would beef up this program instead of letting regular folks twist in the wind.

trump-2546104_1920-300x211Since taking over, the Trump Administration has wreaked havoc on the environment, destroying environmental protections left and right. Trump has targeted rules that he thinks are burdensome to big business, even though environmental protections are generally good for the economy. Closing his eyes to this fact, Trump issued the “Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.” This Order directs the heads of agencies, like the EPA, to review all existing regulations “that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources, with particular attention to oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources.”

Trump’s Executive Order has certainly been efficient at endangering the earth. As of June 2019, the Trump Administration has rolled back or is in the process of rolling back over 80 environmental rules and regulations. These rollbacks and proposed rollbacks reach every aspect of the environment, from emissions to endangered species. Rollbacks currently in effect include:

  • Lowering fines for automakers who do not meet average fuel efficiency standards

chimney-3705424_1920-1024x646Talk about federal government overreach! The EPA is planning to weaken rules that allow local communities to have a say in deciding how much pollution in their backyard is too much.  If the agency’s proposed changes go into effect, local individuals and community advocates would no longer be able to appeal to a panel of judges EPA-issued pollution permits that they oppose. More precisely, the new rule would allow the industrial polluter to appeal to the panel to INCREASE its allowed pollution, but the affected community could not appeal to REDUCE the pollution! The proposed rule change is so bad that even industry lawyers seemed surprised by its inequity.

This outrage is just the latest act of environmental sabotage by the EPA since Donald Trump took office.  Other efforts to roll back environmental regulations that protect public health include a rule weakening regulations of greenhouse pollution from power plants (hello, climate change), a coming plan to weaken rules on tailpipe pollution, and a proposal to open most of the US coastline to oil drilling.

Environmental law experts say the proposed rule change will give polluters an even stronger influence over the EPA and could lead to more lenient pollution permits which would hurt poor and minority communities who tend to live closer to polluters than more affluent citizens. The end result for many communities would be that they would no longer have a voice in decisions–made by the pro-pollution EPA– that would affect their homes and their health.

EPA’s Air Pollution Chief, Bill Wehrum, recently announced his plans to resign. This announcement comes just two months after the sam-bark-R1GWSOJ9cng-unsplash-300x200House Committee on Energy & Commerce started investigating him for potential federal ethics rules violations. Wehrum’s conduct came into question when Wehrum allegedly provided conflicting information to Congress about his ties to his old law firm and the Utility Air Regulatory Group, a lobbyist group that fights Clean Air Act regulations.

Before joining EPA, Wehrum worked as a lawyer and lobbyist for power companies seeking to scale back air pollution rules. His client list included the Utility Air Regulatory Group. In his position at EPA, Wehrum met with some of the Utility Air Regulatory Group’s members, which might be a violation of the federal ethics rules that require that he recuse himself if they were his former clients. Given his “industry-first” attitude that has loosened air pollution rules, it’s not a surprise that people question Wehrum’s motives.

Wehrum’s departure is definitely something to celebrate. He looked out for industry to the detriment of human health and the environment by wreaking havoc on environmental regulations. During his one and a half years at EPA, Wehrum championed industry, rolling back the Obama Administration’s farthest-reaching air policies. Most recently, he finalized the so-called Affordable Clean Energy rule, which helps the coal industry by reducing carbon emissions by less than half of what experts say is necessary to avoid a climate change catastrophe. Wehrum also played a role in relaxing tailpipe emission standards and changing how EPA measures the health effects of air pollution. In the Chicago-area, he showed a complete disregard for the health of communities affected by ethylene oxide emissions from Sterigenics by agreeing that it is possible for Sterigenics to reopen if they implement stricter pollution controls. It’s certainly not a shame to see Wehrum leave!

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 aboutUS-EPA-1-300x300 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.

Thumbnail image for EPA 2428323462_b1d7b53238_o.jpgAccording to a recent Washington Post article, the EPA has lost a tenth of its criminal investigators since Trump has been in office.

The reason this is good news to polluters is that the special agents in the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division are responsible for investigating the most serious criminal violations of the nation’s anti-pollution laws–violations which can result in prison time for those convicted.

The result is fewer investigators and fewer referrals to the Justice Department for prosecution. In 2017, only 206 criminal cases were referred to the Justice Department compared to 228 during the previous 12 month period under President Obama. Not surprisingly, the number of referrals in 2018 is on pace to drop even lower.

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