Here’s what’s transpiring as the full Senate prepares to vote on whether Scott Pruitt should be allowed to run the Environmental Pollution Agency – woops, I mean Protection Agency.
Last Friday, U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz (a Florida Republican) introduced legislation that would abolish the EPA by the end of 2018, leaving it up to local governments “to protect their environmental assets in the absence of federal overreach.” For the record, the co-sponsors of HR 861 are three Southern Congressmen – Thomas Massie from Kentucky, Steven Palazzo from Mississippi, and Barry Loudermilk from Georgia. Let their offices hear from us!
Meantime, Texas Representative Lamar Smith – who chairs the House Science, Space and Technology Committee – has a hearing scheduled for Tuesday that he’s calling “Making EPA Great Again.” For Smith, this likely means reintroducing his Secret Science Reform Act, which failed to clear the Senate in 2015. It would require EPA scientific studies to be “transparent or reproducible,” which means they could be double-checked by so-called independent experts. Smith is one of Congress’ leading climate-change deniers.
The House Rules Committee is busy dumping several vital Obama administration regulations – the Bureau of Land Management’s venting and flaring rule to curb emissions of methane, the worst greenhouse gas; the Department of Interior’s Stream Protection Rule, and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s requirement that publicly-traded resource extraction companies report any payments to foreign governments.
On Monday, a letter signed by almost 450 career EPA employees urged the rejection of Scott Pruitt, who at Oklahoma’s Attorney General has spearheaded state efforts to gut environmental regulations. “Our perspective is not partisan,” the group wrote. Pruitt “has gone to disturbing lengths to advance the views and interests of business. By contrast, there is little or no evidence of Mr. Pruitt taking initiative to protect and advance public health and environmental protection in his state.”
At the same time, in Chicago, employees in EPA’s Region 5 office took part in a downtown rally seeking a turn-down of Pruitt and also all attempts to roll back the agency’s authority. Unfortunately, that has already begun. Trump signed an executive order last week stating that any new regulation has to be offset by eliminating at least two others. This is “a big one,” the president said. And it even “goes way beyond that,” though he was not specific.
Reportedly Trump has over $800 million in budget cuts planned for the EPA. According to EPA transition team chief Myron Ebell, the 15,000 employee staff will be slashed by 50 percent. “Let’s aim for half and see how it works out, and then maybe we’ll want to go further,” he told the Associated Press.
Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, had this response: “The inevitable consequence of budget cuts of that magnitude would be a reversal of about the last 50 years of improvements in air quality, improvements in water quality and greater safety from chemicals that cause diseases in people. There is no way of soft-pedaling this or sugar coating it: A cut of that magnitude would mean dirtier air and dirtier water for the American public.”
Trump’s EPA has already withdrawn the Mercury Effluent Rule, without any public notice or chance to comment. The rule requires dental offices to reduce mercury discharges into the environment. The Natural Resources Defense Council responded with a lawsuit on February 1, saying: “Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that is especially dangerous to babies, young children, and pregnant women – even in miniscule amounts – and is acknowledged as tied to learning disabilities after prenatal exposure. It can enter the food chain in our rivers and streams through wastewater disposal….NRDC sees this action by the new administration as the first of an expected barrage of attacks on important health protections….with this lawsuit, we have demonstrated our intent to act immediately to take on such threats.”
The NRDC, and other advocates for our environment, are going to need all the support we can muster.