By fulfilling his campaign promise to cut regulations and turn the nation into a cesspool, Donald Trump is following through on his pledge to all of his corporate donors. With Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director Scott Pruitt, Trump is rolling back decades of protections designed to prevent water, air, and soil pollution, and preserve Americans’ health.
Trump Presidency: A Toxic Prescription
A recent article in the New York Times pointed out that while Trump won sections of Ohio known for industry during the election, one such area he won —East Liverpool — has recently voted to send a letter of protest to the Pruitt-led EPA.
For a number of years, a hazardous waste incinerator in the area has been violating environmental regulations and releasing dangerous chemicals into the air. In 2013 the plant spewed ash from boilers, which fell on surrounding homes. The gray material contained toxic chemicals like arsenic and lead, and residents note that the air often smells like “rotten eggs” or “an electrical fire.”
While these problems were documented during Obama’s term in office, the company responsible for the incinerator has not been forced to comply with the Clean Air Act, and the complaint filed by Chicago EPA office has stalled. Many companies received letters like these near the end of Obama’s administration, but they have yet to pay for their negligence.
While the EPA under Trump and Pruitt has done nothing to stop the noxious pollution, people in East Liverpool fear for the health of their children. Many in this town do not have the money to move to a safer location, which has lead them to feel hopeless.
EPA Director Scott Pruitt claims that polluters cannot do anything they please under his EPA, however he has done precious little to enforce regulations. The New York Times analyzed the number of cases investigated by the EPA under the last 3 presidents, and found that the EPA has begun 1,900 cases since Pruitt took office, which is a third fewer than Obama’s EPA director, and a quarter fewer than George W Bush’s director over an identical span of months.
Under Trump and Pruitt there has also been a steep decline in the number of companies asked to adapt their facilities to fit current environmental regulations. Further, Pruitt’s EPA has filed for $50.4 Million in financial penalties for companies, which is only 39 percent of what the Obama EPA asked for, and 70 percent of what Bush’s EPA requested.
The pattern is resoundingly clear: under Republican guidance, often in favor of industry, big corporate polluters simply pay less; while Democrats tend to hold these companies more accountable through stiffer penalties.
An Inside Job
The Times also reported that internal EPA documents they obtained suggested this slowdown was part of Pruitt’s overall trajectory for the EPA, based on lobbying efforts by oil and gas companies.
Additionally, EPA officers across the country must now get permission from the federal office before doing any environmental testing, further mummifying protections in a wad of red tape. And let’s not forget: Over 700 employees have left the EPA since Trump was elected, drastically decreasing the number of people looking out for our health and safety.
Meanwhile, those still working in the EPA at regional offices feel unsupported, especially since they understand the local threats to public health so keenly. Yet the Trump administration is only listening to industry executives who complain that the tests they have been asked to perform cost too much, and are “burdensome.”
But who will hear the mother in East Liverpool who worries how chemical ash may affect her child?
See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Inhale No Evil?
Adding harmful insult to injury, the EPA under Trump and Pruitt has also revised the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which was signed into law at the end of Obama’s presidency. Trump’s EPA was allowed to write the “framework” for the law and explain how it would evaluate chemicals. The Obama administration had a proposed draft that the Trump administration drastically altered. Through this “revision,” the EPA will now only examine how chemicals are used currently, ignoring ways they have been used in the past.
This change is an important consideration for toxic substances such as asbestos, which was once used widely in building materials across the country. While that has decreased in recent decades with the acknowledgement that asbestos is a dangerous carcinogen that causes mesothelioma, workers still risk asbestos exposure when remodeling or demolishing old buildings. Yet while hazardous substances such as asbestos may be examined under the TSCA, this will be only as rigorous as EPA administrators would like. One can imagine Pruitt’s cursory glance at an asbestos data sheet before saying, “Looks fine to me.”
Holiday Wishes? Too Many to Count….
As we approach the holiday season, there is no better year-end wish than to hope our children and grandchildren will still have a habitable planet after Trump, Pruitt, and their campaign donors have had their way with the environment. In the meantime, one might argue that perhaps gas masks and water filtration systems would make fitting gifts for loved ones now, and for at least the next 3 years.