The Trump administration’s one area of consistency is its determination to lay waste to large areas of American government. Consumer protections have been hollowed out; the Department of Education favors for-profit private schools over the needs of public ones; public lands are being exploited and despoiled; the Department of Justice has been turned into a Presidential lapdog; and decades of diplomacy have been upended.
But arguably, the greatest damage has been to environmental regulation, as the administration has waged a relentless war on science and the EPA. Now, according to the Guardian, at least some scientists are fighting back.
An advisory panel of air pollution scientists disbanded by the Trump administration plans to continue their work with or without the US government.
The researchers – from a group that reviewed the latest studies about how tiny particles of air pollution from fossil fuels make people sick – will assemble next month, a year from the day they were fired.
They’ll gather in the same hotel in Washington DC and even have the same former staffer running the public meeting.
A spokesperson for the group said that Trump’s EPA has significantly weakened its science review process, and that the group intended to meet “as a public service” and “tap our expertise and develop advice which we will share with EPA.”
It’s a noble effort. But…they are fighting people in a position to do substantial harm.
The Trump administration is accused by at least half a dozen whistleblowers of muzzling climate and pollution science.
The air pollution experts follow in the footsteps of a separate group that reassembled to call for the government to better prepare for climate disasters. Their advice will come as EPA conducts a scheduled review of its standards for particle pollution, the tiny specks that enter the lungs and cause breathing and heart problems that can kill.
Gretchen Goldman, research director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, called the regulation the “holy grail” for industry, and she said that’s why the Trump administration wants to weaken it by the end of 2020, before a new president might enter the White House.
Trump officials evidently plan to argue that particle pollution isn’t as bad as previously thought. That would allow the administration to accede to industry arguments and roll back environmental and health protections.
Trump’s EPA ended the particulate matter advisory board nearly a year ago. The agency also replaced many of the academic scientists on a broader science panel with scientists from industry and conservative states.
Earlier this month, EPA chief Andrew Wheeler selected a new group of “non-member consultants” to assist that panel with work on both particle pollution and smog. About half of the new consultants are linked with industry. Their recommendations to the panel will happen behind the scenes, rather than in public meetings.
“Behind the scenes,” environmental protections are being gutted, and respected, non-ideological scientists are being replaced by industry hacks.
Kudos to the scientists who are fighting back by meeting–at their own expense– in defiance of the administration’s willingness to fatten the bottom lines of fossil fuel companies at the expense of the people who breathe polluted air. It is a valiant effort to hold the EPA accountable to its mission, but it’s unlikely to persuade the bottom-feeders who currently run the agency, and whose “mission” is to render it toothless.
Unless the 2020 election returns governance to people who actually believe in governing rather than looting, resistance is probably futile.