No part of the government has been untouched by the Trump revolution. Multiple Cabinet departments are headed by people opposed to their core missions, the judiciary is being transformed at an unprecedented pace, and thanks to the new tax cut, even the sacred cows of Medicare and Social Security are now in line for legislative slaughter.
But nowhere is the takeover clearer than at the Environmental Protection Agency , now headed by Scott Pruitt, who induced his name suing the watchdog on behalf of fossil-fuel interests. In one year, Pruitt has destroyed the foundations of the agency, firing scientists and replacing them with industry lobbyists; undoing critical regulations that protect our air and water; and favoring industry interests over public health.
The trajectory is clear: Prioritize polluters’ liberty over personal freedom, health, and environmental protection. Here are the top 10 worst actions Pruitt’s EPA has taken in 2017 😛 TAGEND
Pruitt is probably the most suspect member of the Trump administration, which is saying a lot. At his confirmation, he lied to Congress( a misdemeanour) about his private email account, which he used for communicating with industry representatives. When he served as Oklahoma’s us attorney general, Pruitt was discovered to have simply cut and pasted a letter written by oil giant Devon Energy onto his own stationery.
And then there’s the money. Since taking office, Pruitt racked up $58,000 in taxpayer-paid travel bills for flights to and from Oklahoma( where he is rumored to be mulling a Senate run in 2020 ), often on the flimsiest of pretext. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating.
Pruitt also spent $40,000 of taxpayer fund to fly to Morocco to promote fossil fuel.( How that counts as “environmental protection” is anyone’s guess .) And he retained a shady PR firm that has previously done “opposition research” on journalists, at the cost to taxpayers of $120,000 — a contract voided when the news of it transgressed.
9. Slashing the Budget to “Tidbits”
The EPA is, in big part, a law-enforcement agency. Yet are you able imagine any other law-enforcement department slashing its budget by more than 30 percentage in one year? The result is a deliberate anarchy as polluters know the EPA can’t( and doesn’t want to) do its chore. Enforcement actions have dropped by more than 30 percentage from Obama administration levels, and more than 20 percentage from George W. Bush levels. Demands that polluting factories clean up their act have plummeted nearly 90 percent. The cops are just not walking the beat.
For example, Superfund enforcement–i.e ., inducing polluters pay for cleaning up the toxic messes they’ve made–has been cut 37 percentage, causing many cleanups to simply stop wholly( PDF ). In 2017 alone, programs that have been completely eliminated include those that reduce radon in schools, control runoff pollution from roads, and certify lead-paint-removal contractors, among many others. And that’s by design: Candidate Trump promised to eliminate all of the EPA, leaving only “tidbits.” Pruitt is his hatchet man. But even these budget cuts don’t include the largest shrinking of the agency…
8. Hollowing Out the Agency
It’s not just EPA’s budget being cut–it’s the agency itself . More than 700 employees have left or been forced out. That’s just the start: Congress is set to appropriate $60 million to buy out the contracts of EPA staff, whose stances will be eliminated. Many high-level enforcement tasks remain vacant.
Other key posts have been filled by former industry shills, like Nancy Beck, a chemical-industry lobbyist who’s now ostensibly in charge of regulating toxic chemicals. Whistleblowers have reported a culture of dread and distrust, with longtime staffers assumed to be disloyal to the new regime.
Elgie Holstein, senior director for strategic planning at Environmental Defense Fund, told The Daily Beast these cuts are motivated not by budgetary concerns but by opposition to the EPA’s core mission.” It’s easy to think of it as reducing bureaucracy ,” Holstein said,” but when you consider the fact that EPA is such a small agency to begin with, with a budget that’s basically what it was in the 1970 s( adjusted to reflect inflation ), it’s pretty clear that further reductions in faculty is all part of a strategy to undermine and hollow out EPA as an effective public health agency .”
7. Disaster Failure
One of the most stark examples of the EPA’s incapacity came after Hurricane Harvey, when the unfolding cyclone calamity caused factories to release virtually 6 million pounds of pollution into the air. The EPA was slow to respond, but quick to issue a press release congratulating itself. In one case, a chemical plant exploded, triggering evacuations, and the EPA was found to have simply not shown up at the scene until after the explosion happened.
By coincidence, the EPA had just withdrawn the Chemical Disaster Rule, which would require companies to disclose which hazardous materials they had on site. That withdrawal didn’t affect the Houston response, but it indicated that the next such tragedy might be even worse; the EPA is not a disaster-response agency–its value comes from monitoring hazards over the long term, which now it won’t do as efficiently.
This will only get worse. Global climate disruption has already increased the frequency of extreme weather events. If the EPA’s budget is slashed by a third, and if climate change is not allowed to be spoken of, let alone factored into risk analysis and resource allocation, Harvey is just a tiny savour of what is to come.
You wouldn’t know the EPA is a public bureau from Pruitt’s unprecedented privacy. He has demanded that employees not take notes at sessions with him, ordered a denial of Freedom of Information Act petitions, and implemented gag rules that prohibition staffers from talking about a host of environmental issues. Until pressured, he refused to release his meeting calendar–not astonishingly, dedicated what it exposes( assure No. 5 ).
And once again, there’s the enormous garbage of money. Pruitt has retained his own round-the-clock security detail, costing taxpayers $830,000. No EPA administrator has ever said and done. He also installed a secure phone booth in his own office for $33,000, and special locks that expense $6,000.
The reason for all this secrecy is obvious…
5. The EPA Is Now an Industry Puppet
As he did in Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt is taking his orders from the polluters he’s meant to regulate. The New York Times recently tracked who Pruitt met with on a single day, April 26: top executives from a coal-burning utility, the board of a huge coal-mining company, and lobbyists from General Motors. No environmental or public health groups.
The remainder of the six-month period the Times examined was similar: chemical producers, Shell Oil, truck producers, the National Mining Association, Oklahoma oil lobbyists; not to mention the Koch brothers-funded American Legislative Exchange Council and CropLife America, a trade association run by pesticide manufacturers.
The effects of these close contacts have been obvious. Sometimes, they’ve been plums handed out to specific companies, like the aforementioned Devon Energy, which had agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties for illegally emitting 80 tons of toxic pollution each year–until Pruitt simply voided the settlement and let it go with a slap on the wrist.
More often, the effects are far broader…
4. Regulatory Rollback
Pruitt’s EPA has eliminated regulations that 😛 TAGEND Verified emissions from a company’s industrial expansion are what the company says they are.( Now the EPA will simply take estimates at face value .)( PDF) Blocked a potentially disastrous mining operation in Alaska’s Bristol Bay.( The mine will now go forward, though a single leak could devastate the world’s largest sockeye salmon population .) Involved the tracking of methane emissions( this decision was overturned by the Supreme Court ). Required data collected of emissions from oil and gas companies. Monitored fracking. Required companies to disclose which hazardous chemicals they’re storing. Protected tributaries of sensitive bodies of water( even though the EPA’s analysis presented it would cost less to prevent the pollution than to allow it ).( PDF) Set tighter emissions standards for trucks. Banned the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos.