Tag Archives: EPA

Ethics Are So Last Administration…

It has been difficult–sometimes nearly impossible–to find policy consistency in the Trump administration. Certainly, looking to His Craziness for anything remotely like an ongoing strategy (other than enriching himself and bragging) is a lost cause. But there has been one exception to the chaos rule.

The environment.

From its first day, the Trump administration has waged war on the EPA. Scientists have been summarily dismissed. Enforcement has been dramatically reduced. Years of solid research have been ignored. Rules put in place based upon considerable evidence have been rolled back. Controls on mercury? Gone.  Regulation of toxic substances in consumer goods? Gone. Safeguards against repeats of the disastrous BT spill? Gone.

Publications like National Geographic and Scientific Amerrican have kept running lists of the protections that this administration has gutted. Last December, the New York Times had an article focused on “95 Environmental Rules Being Rolled Back Under Trump.”

Clean air, potable water–clearly not as important as the bottom lines of friends of the administration.

That this administration has no ethical core will come as no surprise to anyone even casually following the news. The cabinet members appointed by Trump seem uniformly chosen for their willingness to destroy the agencies they are supposed to serve. As damaging as this has been in other agencies, it has been most destructive–and most incomprehensible–at the EPA.

Who doesn’t want drinkable water? Who wants to encourage use of chemicals that are demonstrably cancer-producing? How much lobbyist money in the pockets of GOP officials is enough to make them unconcerned about the air their grandchildren will breathe?

I find these questions baffling.

Back in January, The Hill ran a story about the “ethics” of the people Trump was appointing to the EPA.

A House Oversight and Reform Committee review found the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) let political appointees take months to sign required ethics pledges and compile recusal lists, allowing leaders to work on issues where they had substantial conflicts of interest, the panel argued.

An executive order signed during President Trump’s second week in office requires federal employees to avoid working with former clients for their first two years.

“These documents indicate that EPA allowed senior agency officials to avoid or delay completing required ethics forms and that EPA was missing forms entirely for some officials,” committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and subcommittee Chairman Harley Rouda (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter to the agency.

“The Committee identified multiple instances in which EPA officials failed to complete required ethics documents or sign ethics pledges required by Executive Order 13770.  EPA also allowed officials to delay the finalization of critical ethics agreements for significant periods of time after joining the agency.”

In one case–labeled  “egregious,” in the analysis– an EPA employee took 300 days to finalize his recusal statement–and in the interim, took the lead on a number of air regulations “beneficial to former clients from his days as a coal, oil and gas lobbyist”.

The EPA has been staffed with numerous former lobbyists at the same time that it has been divested of scientists. The attacks on environmental regulations have been consistent–despite the demonstrable success of those regulations in cleaning the air and water, and reducing deaths attributable to pollution.

Again, my question is: why? We all have to occupy this planet. We all have to breathe the same air and drink the same water. What political or monetary advantage is more important than the lives and health of our children and grandchildren?

Are these–and others like them– just people who reject science and evidence?

Are the people dismantling the EPA all bought and paid for possessions of fossil fuel interests? Or are they members of the pseudo-religious “God will take care of us, no need to do our part” cult?

Have they identified another habitable planet, and found a way to get there?

I really don’t understand.

 

 

 

 

This Is Why “Blue No Matter Who” Is So Important

Experts are warning that the Trump administration’s jettisoning of scientific expertise–not to mention the president’s constant spreading of misinformation– has put the US in a much weaker position when dealing with the coronavirus.

It has been impossible to miss the  Administration’s constant assault on science and fact. In the midst of the daily evidence of official malfeasance, however, it can be easy to overlook the very real consequences of that assault. A pandemic tends to focus public attention on the dangers of an anti-science administration, but those dangers go far beyond coronavirus.

An investigative report from Reveal is a reminder of what is at stake.

TCE is a chemical that has been used widely for decades; it removes grease from electronics, medical devices, metal parts and aircraft, and it is used by dry cleaners. It is also often dumped and leaked, contaminating soil and groundwater in residential neighborhoods, military bases and industrial parks across the country.

Scientific studies have established that exposure to TCE, even at trace levels, is highly toxic to developing embryos. Toward the end of the Obama administration, the EPA had begun the process of banning several of its more common uses.

The Reveal reporters found that the Trump administration had recruited a “scientist” named DeSesso, known for his work on behalf of chemical companies (and for multiple conflicts of interest), to rebut the original study–the Johnson Report– and the fourteen subsequent studies, all of which had found that TCE was highly toxic.

Trump appointee Scott Pruitt halted the regulatory process, quietly dropping the proposed rule from its schedule of pending regulatory actions. The regulatory process would start over from scratch. No new restrictions would be announced until the EPA completed a fresh scientific evaluation.

That official evaluation was released for public comment last week, and it appears to show the influence of DeSesso and his chemical company sponsors. Dismissing the findings of the Johnson study and decades of scientific research, the published evaluation rejects fetal heart malformations as a benchmark for unsafe exposure levels to TCE.

“This decision is grave,” said Jennifer McPartland, a senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund. “It not only underestimates the lifelong risks of the chemical, especially to the developing fetus, it also presents yet another example of this administration bowing to polluters’ interests over public health.”

EPA scientists had reviewed copious research and had concluded that even trace exposure to TCE is unsafe. The White House nevertheless directed the EPA to override the findings of its own scientists. TCE continues to be widely used–it has a $350-million-a-year global market, a quarter of which is in the United States, according to the EPA.

As the reporters note,

Even without new regulations, cleanup costs for manufacturers and users, including the U.S. government, could run into the billions of dollars. Workers and residents exposed to the chemical already have won multimillion-dollar settlements, including a cluster of men from the same part of Tucson who were all diagnosed with a rare testicular cancer.

Several high-profile lawsuits are pending, including two by former employees of Brookhaven National Laboratory, a federal lab in New York, who suffered from TCE-related kidney damage. Lawyers in Minnesota are gathering clients to sue Water Gremlin after the fishing sinker manufacturer was fined $7 million for violating air pollution limits for TCE. Residents’ complaints include neurological diseases and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, another cancer linked to TCE exposure….

The sheer scale of the liability risk has put TCE and the science linking it to fetal heart damage at the center of the chemical industry’s efforts to block regulation of its most toxic products since the early 2000s.

Reveal obtained an internal document issued by the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. Dated Dec. 20, 2019, it’s titled “Risk Evaluation for Trichloroethylene.” Each page is stamped “Interagency draft – do not cite or quote.”

This sort of document is a routine part of the EPA’s mission to protect the environment and human health and to regulate human exposure to toxic chemicals. Before proposing any new chemical regulations, the agency deploys a team of staff scientists to conduct a rigorous evaluation of the scientific literature to establish unsafe exposure levels. The process, designed to be impartial, has been subjected to intense political interference by the Trump administration, according to the agency’s own Science Advisory Board. But the internal draft of this TCE evaluation, when compared with the published one, provides evidence of extensive, detailed and thoroughgoing edits that have not been documented in other cases.

I strongly encourage readers to click through and read the entire, extensive and horrifying article.

In addition to all the other damage being done by this criminal administration, it is clear that what Trump’s EPA is protecting are the wallets of polluters–not the environment, and most definitely not the lives or health of the American people.

Vote blue no matter who. Lives depend upon it.

 

Don’t Drink The Water

The mismatch between science, reason and the Trump Administration grows wider every day, especially–but certainly not exclusively– when it comes to the environment.

Our Buffoon-in-Chief was just at Davos, where attendees identified climate change as the most significant challenge facing humans. That followed a speech by Trump in which he dismissed climate science as a “hoax.”

For the past three years, this administration has been dismantling the EPA and ridding the federal government of those pesky scolds we call scientists. Meanwhile, recent discoveries suggest previous estimates of the extent to which our waterways have been dangerously polluted were unrealistically low.

The contamination of US drinking water with manmade “forever chemicals” is far worse than previously estimated with some of the highest levels found in Miami, Philadelphia and New Orleans, said a report on Wednesday by an environmental watchdog group.

The chemicals, resistant to breaking down in the environment, are known as perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. Some have been linked to cancers, liver damage, low birth weight and other health problems.

The findings here by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) show the group’s previous estimate in 2018, based on unpublished US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, that 110 million Americans may be contaminated with PFAS, could be far too low.

Worse still, scientists tell us that it is nearly impossible for Americans to avoid drinking water that has been contaminated with these chemicals, which were used in manufacturing products like Teflon and Scotchguard.

So where is the EPA?

The EPA has known since at least 2001 about the problem of PFAS in drinking water but has so far failed to set an enforceable, nationwide legal limit. The EPA said early last year it would begin the process to set limits on two of the chemicals, PFOA and PFOS….

In 2018 a draft report from an office of the US Department of Health and Human Services said the risk level for exposure to the chemicals should be up to 10 times lower than the 70 PPT threshold the EPA recommends. The White House and the EPA had tried to stop the report from being published.

Far from protecting the millions of Americans who are imbibing contaminants, Trump’s EPA is rolling back federal protections of the nation’s waters. According to NPR,

The Environmental Protection Agency is dramatically reducing federal pollution protections for rivers, streams and wetlands – a move welcomed by many farmers, builders and mining companies but opposed even by the agency’s own science advisers.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who announced the repeal of an earlier Obama-era rule in September, chose to make the long-anticipated announcement Thursday in Las Vegas, at the National Association of Home Builders International Builders’ Show.

The biggest change is a controversial move to roll back government limits on pollution in wetlands and smaller waterways that were introduced less than five years ago by President Barack Obama.

The Obama executive action, which broadened the definition of “waters of the United States,” applied to about 60% of U.S. waterways. It aimed to bring clarity to decades of political and legal debate over which waters should qualify.

Well, if there is one fight the Trump administration has clearly won, it’s the fight against clarity. But I digress…

In a draft letter posted online late last month, the 41-member EPA Science Advisory Board, which is made up largely of Trump administration appointees, said the revised definition rule “decreases protection for our Nation’s waters and does not support the objective of restoring and maintaining ‘the chemical, physical and biological integrity’ of these waters.”

Fourteen states have sued over the rollback, arguing that by returning the U.S. to standards of 1986, the EPA is ignoring subsequent studies demonstrating how smaller bodies of water connect with and impact the larger ones that are more typically targeted for regulation.

“This regressive rule ignores science and the law and strips our waters of basic protections under the Clean Water Act. Attorneys general across this nation will not stand by as the Trump Administration seeks to reverse decades of progress we’ve made in fighting water pollution,” New York Attorney General Letitia James, who spearheaded the suit, said in a statement.

We can only hope the suit isn’t heard by one of Trump’s new judges…..

 

Mourning The Loss Of Republicans Like Bill Ruckelshaus

Back when I was a Republican, the party included statesmen like Bill Hudnut, Dick Lugar and Bill Ruckelshaus, all of whom I was privileged to know. With the death of Ruckelshaus last week, all are now gone, along with the intelligent, ethical service they exemplified.

A couple of days ago, a friend sent me a column from Counterpunch,  in which a reporter who had interviewed Ruckelshaus in 2006 reprinted the questions and answers from that interview.

“Ruck” is best known for his principled refusal as a Deputy A.G. to follow Nixon’s orders and dismiss the then-Special Prosecutor (in what has come to be known as the “Saturday Night Massacre”), but he was also the first administrator of Nixon’s EPA. (Yes, the EPA was established by a Republican President…How times have changed…)

For that reason, this particular interview focused upon environmental issues. From his answers, it was obvious that Ruckelshaus was scientifically knowledgable and passionate about the environment. He also displayed enormous insight into the policy process.

The first question asked by the reporter was “What is the greatest obstacle to implementing effective environmental policies?’

Ruckelshaus: Public distrust of the federal government. Unless the people can place some minimal degree of trust in their governmental institutions, free societies don’t work very well. To me, this is the central ugly fact confronting the government of the United States. The more mistrust by the public, the less effective government becomes at delivering what people want and need.

This is an important insight. The lack of public trust in governance is a significant reason for America’s current polarization. I’ve done some research on the trust issue–in 2009, I wrote a book, Distrust, American Style, in which I described some of the negative social consequences attributable to a pervasive lack of trust in government and other social institutions. (I also noted that “Fish rot from the head”…)

Particularly refreshing was Ruckelshaus’ answer to the question “What specifically do you think the U.S. should be doing in the area of environmental protection that it isn’t doing?”

I think we should adopt a Policy #1 that global warming is a real problem, and we are a major contributor to carbon in the atmosphere and we need to take serious steps to reduce it.

We should have some kind of Manhattan-style Project to find out how to a generate energy using less carbon and every form of energy should be open, including nuclear. Nuclear power is not economical right now and it also scares people to death, even though we have generated 20 percent of our electrical energy in this country using nuclear power for a long time and are likely to be generating something like that over the next 15 to 20 years when these plants are scheduled to phase out. But other alternative forms of energy, including really getting serious about conservation, can all be done within economic good sense.

Several other answers were notable both for their directness and Ruckelshaus’ obvious depth of knowledge. He described “politics” as the predictable reaction to regulations that threatened to diminish an existing benefit valued by a lawmaker’s “constituency.” (Constituency, in this case, is “special interest” i.e., clean air versus oil subsidies…)

In his last response, Ruckelshaus returned to the issue of trust. Asked whether he would consider a hypothetical offer to return to the top position at the EPA, he said probably not–that

in order to get constructive change in either our environmental laws or the way they’re administered, you have to have a fairly high degree of public trust. But if the public didn’t believe you and thought your decisions were favoring some constituency that the president had, it’s very hard to make any progress.

That, of course, is a perfectly accurate description of where we find ourselves today.

No one in his right mind believes that Trump gives a rat’s hindquarters about the environment–or, for that matter, that he knows anything at all about science or climate change or the government’s responsibility to safeguard the air and water.  The EPA is currently being run by a former coal lobbyist, and there is plenty of reason to believe that, in this administration, rules are only being made–or more accurately, relaxed and repealed–to “favor some constituency.”

The contrast between Republicans like Ruckelshaus and today’s Trump sycophants is sobering. If you care about America, it’s heartbreaking.

 

 

Air We Shouldn’t Breathe, Water We Shouldn’t Drink

Yesterday, I posted about the shorter-and-longer term consequences of Trump’s assault on various policies and norms. I noted in passing that the next administration–assuming it is Democratic (if it isn’t, the America we grew up in is gone)–will need to reinstate numerous environmental safeguards before it can address the critical threat posed by climate change.

Paul Krugman has laid out the dimensions of the Trump administration’s assault on basic environmental protections. Here’s his lede:

Given what we’ve seen in the impeachment hearings so far, there is literally no crime, no abuse of power, that would induce Republicans to turn on President Trump. So if you’re waiting for some dramatic political turn, don’t hold your breath.

On second thought, however, maybe you should hold your breath. For air quality has deteriorated significantly over the past few years — a deterioration that has already cost thousands of American lives. And if Trump remains in power, the air will get much worse, and the death toll rise dramatically, in the years ahead.

Krugman clarifies that, in referring to air pollution, he isn’t talking about the greenhouse gases driving climate change. He is addressing the issue of pollutants with a much more immediate effect. That includes, as he points out,  “fine particulate matter,” the small particles that make the air hazy.  Those particulates pose a significant health hazard, because they penetrate deep into the respiratory tract.

The good news until a few years ago was that thanks to environmental regulation the concentration of fine particulates was in fairly rapid decline. The bad news is that since 2016 this kind of pollution has been on the rise again, reversing around a fifth of the gains since 2009.

That may not seem like a big problem, but estimates are that even this relatively small rise  led to almost 10,000 extra deaths last year.

If deaths don’t concern you (!), perhaps the economic cost of rising pollution will. A study Krugman cites puts it at $89 billion a year. As he notes, even in an economy as large as America’s, $89 billion is a pretty big number.

And things are poised to get much worse. The Trump administration is working on new rules that would effectively prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from making use of much of the scientific evidence on adverse health effects of pollution. This would cripple environmental regulation, almost surely leading to sharply worsening air and water quality over time….

Why is this happening? As many observers have pointed out, failing to act on climate change, although it’s an indefensible crime against humanity, is also in some ways understandable. Greenhouse gas emissions are invisible, and the harm they do is global and very long-term, making denialism relatively easy.

Particulates, however, are visible, and the harm they do is both relatively localized and fairly quick. So you might have thought that the fight against dirty air would have widespread, bipartisan support. Indeed, modern environmental protection began under none other than Richard Nixon, and retired E.P.A. officials I’ve talked to describe the Nixon era as a golden age.

Krugman says the GOP has become the party of pollution.

Why? Follow the money. There’s huge variation among industries in how much environmental damage they do per dollar of production. And the super-polluting industries have basically put all their chips on the Republicans. In 2016, for example, coal mining gave 97 percent of its political contributions to Republican candidates and causes. And polluters are getting what they paid for….If Trump doesn’t succeed in destroying our democracy (a big if), his most damaging legacy will be the vast environmental destruction he leaves behind.

Krugman’s column centered on air quality; recent EPA rollbacks pose an equally serious threat to the nation’s water supply.

How corrupt do you have to be to value your bottom line over the health of your children and grandchildren?