Home > Uncategorized > An Unprecedented Record of Environmental Pollution – posted 5/17/2020

An Unprecedented Record of Environmental Pollution – posted 5/17/2020

Being over three years into the Trump Administration, it is a good time to do an accounting of how our environment has fared. The results are not pretty: fifty years of progress are being trashed. We are now going backward on clean air, clean water, endangered species and protected wilderness and habitat.

As a climate change denier, President Trump made the grievous mistake of withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. Still, I think the Trump Administration’s most tangible harm has been in the multiple rule changes of his EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency.

The cumulative picture is dark. Does anyone remember the Cayahuaga River on fire? Welcome back! This is the de-regulatory agenda to in the words of Grover Norquist shrink the federal government to “drown it in a bathtub”.

The Environmental Protection Network, a group of EPA alumni working to preserve the nations’s bipartisan progress on the environment, put together a long list of the Trump EPA’s rule changes and I wanted to highlight the most egregious:

  • Repeal of Obama clean power plan. In 2018, the EPA repealed a rule that limited harmful emissions from power plants. The new rule, the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, weakened air quality protection by increasing exposure to fine particles and ozone in the air. The rule change will hurt those with asthma and respiratory illness.
  • Mercury emissions. In April, the EPA withdrew findings by previous administrations that regulating emissions of mercury and other air pollutants was “appropriate and necessary”. Power plants are the largest source of mercury emissions in the U.S.. Mercury is a neurotoxin that damages the brain of developing fetuses. It also increases risk of heart attack for adults.
  • Methane. EPA proposed roll back of 2016 regulations that limited emissions for methane during oil and gas production and processing. They actually propose to entirely remove methane transmission and storage from regulation. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas worsening climate change.
  • Hydrofluorocarbons. In February, the EPA relieved businesses of the requirement to conduct leak inspection, repair leaks and keep records for refrigerator and air conditioning equipment containing hydrofluorocarbons or other “climate super pollutants”. Hydrofluorocarbons previously damaged the ozone layer and even by the EPA’s own analysis, the new rule will significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Vehicle Fuel Efficiency. On March 31, the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rolled back successful clean air regulations and fuel economy standards that reduced greenhouse gas emissions, improved air quality and increased fuel economy. The Obama fuel economy target was 54 miles per gallon by 2025 while the Trump EPA capped that target at 34 miles per gallon by 2021. The roll back worsens climate change and increases air pollution.
  • PFAS. In February 2019, the EPA proposed a wholly inadequate plan to prevent toxic PFAS or Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances from continuing to contaminate drinking water. The agency released a groundwater cleanup guidance that failed to set an emergency removal level and it has refused to develop drinking water health advisories for PFAS chemicals, leaving it up to the states.
  • Lead in drinking water. Flint, Michigan highlighted this problem and you might have expected progress. Unfortunately, in November 2019, the EPA proposed a rule that failed to lower the action level for lead in drinking water that triggers corrosion control and lead line replacement. Lead can damage the central nervous system, cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems and lower IQs in children.
  • Superfund clean-up. Rather than increasing clean-ups at Superfund sites, the EPA has focused on the paperwork exercise of deleting previously cleaned-up sites from the Superfund National Priorities List.
  • Federal infrastructure projects. The National Environmental Policy Act had previously forced all federal infrastructure projects to take into account effects on the environment. Under new rules, builders of highways, pipelines (think Keystone XL) and other major infrastructure projects would no longer have to consider climate change.
  • Endangered species. New rules change the way the EPA will implement the Endangered Species Act, weakening protection for threatened species and critical habitat and making it harder to take future risks from climate change into effect.The EPA can now consider economic interests when deciding whether to list a species. This was previously forbidden.
  • Pesticide risk. New EPA rules released in March revised methods for assessing pesticide risks that will allow widespread harm to many of the nation’s most endangered plants and animals. The rules, requested by the pesticide industry, overlook and ignore many of the common ways that protected species are killed by pesticides such as downstream impacts of pesticides that runoff into streams and rivers.
  • EPA criminal enforcement. The EPA has turned into a toothless tiger that looks the other way at environmental violations. Criminal prosecutions are at a 30 year low and many violations that would have been prosecuted in the past are now negotiated with violating companies.
  • Pandemic. The EPA has weakened pollution reporting and compliance rules during the COVID-19 pandemic. Polluters can now operate against existing regulation and evade reporting their pollution levels. Nine states have filed suit to stop this. Self-reporting effectively de-claws oversight.

This partial list tells only part of the story. Each year since 2017, the Trump Administration has proposed major cuts in funding for EPA programs and the money it provides the states for grants and loans. The Trump budget requests in fiscal years 2017, 2018 and 2019 either zeroed out or greatly reduced all EPA programs. Congress has repeatedly ignored these budget requests but the requests send an unmistakeable message.

The Trump Administration has also used executive orders to achieve its anti-environmental goals. Trump issued an executive order that called for a 30 percent increase in logging on public lands. He also used an executive order to dramatically downsize two national monuments in Utah, the Bears Ear and Grand Staircase-Escalante.

When you add it up, there is a common thread. The Trump EPA has replaced any notion of a public interest with subservience to the private interests it was created to regulate. This is the very definition of corruption.

We all have an interest in a clean environment, regardless of political perspective. Clean air and water are not optional. We are so going the wrong way.

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