This week we drown in the sorrowful organization that used to be the Environmental Protection Agency (and is now Every Polluters Ally).
In a scathing article in Rolling Stone, Jeff Goodell writes, “While the rest of the Trump administration has been mired in scandal or incompetence (or both)….Pruitt has been quietly tearing down decades of environmental progress.” There is no regulation that seems safe from Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. We think that a more appropriate title for him would be administrator of Commerce and Fossil Fuels, as his main interests lie squarely in the pro-fossil fuel and pro-chemical corner. We are crossing our fingers (and toes) that Pruitt goes in the same direction as Anne Gorsuch. The Reagan administration forced Gorsuch (the mother of Trump-appointed Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch) to step down amid allegations of mismanagement of the Superfund program and for her massive unpopularity within the organization. But Pruitt seems to be using his position to pivot toward a greater political office—perhaps governor or senator of Oklahoma. If there is an environmental disaster along the lines of BP that reveals Pruitt’s incompetence—that could force him out. Al Franken opposed Pruitt’s confirmation and said that “having a guy like Pruitt in charge of the EPA is evidence of the dangerous, bizarro world we now live in.”
Among the many things that Pruitt and his team are dismantling at the EPA, the EPA Museum is undergoing some “updates.” The one room exhibit features the history and mission of the EPA over the past 40-50 years. The current displays about the Paris Climate Accord and the Clean Power Plan—both of which are at odds with Trump’s policies—will likely be replaced with an exhibit on coal and more information about the Superfund Program that is a priority for Pruitt. As an aside, the Superfund program “priority” is curious– Pruitt wants to clean up superfund sites, but at the same time is defending the White House annual budget cuts of $333 million for the cleanup programs. The EPA Museum is located in the Ronald Reagan International Trade Building and is free and open during the weekdays – visit while you still can!
The EPA’s “so-called” scientific integrity committee gave Scott Pruitt the clearance to lie. In a panel convened by the committee, they decided that Pruitt did not violate any scientific integrity policy with his claim that there is no connection between CO2 emissions and climate change. The committee’s decision was that, “the freedom to express one’s opinion is fundamental to EPA’s Scientific Integrity Policy, even (and especially) when that point of view might be controversial.” In an article for ThinkProgress, Joe Romm noted that this committee misinterpreted the statutes of EPA. The committee cherry-picked sentences from the statutes and used a section of the policy that was intended to apply to internal disagreements; furthermore, the “opinions” expressed needed to be backed up by rationale submitted internally, preferably in writing. If the opinion is expressed externally, the scientists and managers of the EPA must clarify that they are presenting personal views and not the views of the EPA. A plain reading of the EPA statutes makes it clear that Pruitt violated EPA policy when he denied the factual connection between CO2 and climate. Apparently, scientific integrity is another entity that has been corrupted by the Trump Administration.
As reported in ThinkProgress, the EPA must enforce the methane rule for oil and gas drillers. US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled this week that the EPA needs to do its job (!) and enforce Obama era restrictions on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. The D.C. Circuit courts struck down the EPA’s efforts to vacate the methane restrictions for the oil and gas industry, and therefore the rule is now in effect. Pruitt was trying to delay the implementation of this ruling as long as possible. The court said that Pruitt had not offered any support for the proposition that compliance would cause significant hardship to regulated entities that had a year’s time to prepare. It will be interesting to see if this will be bumped up to the U.S. Supreme Court. We are glad to see Pruitt get the legal admonition he deserves. This highlights the importance of who gets on the D.C. Circuit courts.
Understandably, many dedicated EPA officials are leaving the EPA. Notably, Elizabeth Southerland resigned today, citing Trump and Pruitt as problematic. Elizabeth worked at the EPA for 30 years and was Director for the Office of Science and Technology for the Agency’s Water Office when she submitted her resignation. Her farewell letter is posted publicly by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). It is a stirring letter, but the sad element of the resignation is that all of these veteran EPA officials who have the knowledge, passion, and commitment to the EPA’s mission are essentially being chased out by the Trump administration. In her letter, Elizabeth writes, “Today the environmental field is suffering from the temporary triumph of myth over truth…The truth is there is NO war on coal, there is NO economic crisis caused by environmental protection, and climate change IS caused by man’s activities.” She mentioned that the current repeal two regulations for every new regulation implemented creates a kind of “Sophie’s Choice” situation. Should the EPA repeal the laws protecting infants from neurotoxins so that a new rule designed to protect adults from a newly discovered liver toxin can be put in place? Who health matters more? Southerland paints a stark picture for future generations, suggesting that they will have to pay polluters bills via increased taxes, or worse, they will have to live with a degraded environment and increased public health and safety risks.