The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Director Scott Pruitt now seems to have a wide range of goals and objectives, not many of which include legitimately protecting the environment. This new agenda has strong detractors in both parties, 1 of most notable being former EPA director Christine Todd Whitman. Whitman headed the EPA from 2001 to 2003, and argues that the regulations Pruitt seems determined to erase will have lasting effects on the environment, the health of the American public, and worker safety.
Whitman criticizes Pruitt for gathering a team of scientists whose objective is to oppose the climate change consensus that the scientific community has built over several decades. In contrast to the established knowledge on climate change and its dangers, Pruitt’s scientists are building on the (unstable) ground that climate change is not a problem. Their goal will be to find studies that support this idea, while blocking other data.
Whitman is not ambivalent about her political alliances, but she argues Pruitt’s outright dismissal of the scientific community is seriously flawed:
“As a Republican like Mr. Pruitt, I too embrace the promise of the free market and worry about the perils of overregulation. But decisions must be based on reliable science.”
Pruitt’s posse of scientists includes individuals whose work does not appear in respected journals, and who are paid by fossil fuel industry. Whitman suggests that their influence will only be negative, decreasing Americans’ knowledge about climate change.
Perhaps even more importantly, the long-term effects of ignoring climate change will be disastrous to our economy. We need to consider adaptations we’ll have to make in the future to account for shifting weather patterns, including everything from agricultural practices to the fact there may be more large hurricanes like Irma and Harvey. To conservatives like Whitman, denying science does not make good economic sense.
Environmental Peril Agency?
In Pruitt’s EPA, it’s not just climate change that is being challenged, but the whole system of regulations used to assess the safety of chemicals and other materials found in consumer goods. This includes substances like asbestos, which is the only known cause of the lethal cancer mesothelioma.
Even though the dangers of asbestos are supported by years of research, U.S. manufacturers continue to purchase tons of raw asbestos and other products that contain asbestos. Hope for a long-awaited asbestos ban was clear at the end of the Obama administration, when he signed the Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (LCSA) into effect.
This law gave more power to the EPA to regulate chemicals, and asbestos was going to be 1 of the first up for scrutiny. The need for an asbestos ban has always been obvious, based on decades of research clarifying its hazardous properties. But that bright dream was shattered when Trump was elected. While the president has continued to voice his erroneous opinion that asbestos is safe, he has also had lawsuits filed against him by employees who worked on construction sites for his properties. Among other allegations, they cite high level of asbestos exposure.
Meanwhile, Pruitt’s EPA has only worked to recruit industry insiders, such as Nancy Beck who is now the Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP). Previously she worked for the American Chemistry Council (ACC), an industry lobbying group that has been fighting the asbestos ban.
How Many Foxes Can Fit in the Henhouse?
The EPA also unveiled regulations in June that change the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), a law that dictates how the agency assesses health risks posed by chemicals. Under the Obama administration, the TSCA had been revised in consultation with medical professionals, consumer groups, and individuals from the chemical industry. This draft had support from both sides of the aisle in Congress, but the version released by Trump administration had been changed extensively since then. These latest changes, made in consultation with Beck, unsurprisingly favor the chemical industry.
The recent changes to the TSCA may also make it more difficult for states to pass chemical regulation laws that are more restrictive than federal laws. In a further insult to the health of the American public, Pruitt has also rejected a ban on a pesticide that has been linked to brain injuries. He is also arguing for industry executives to sit on EPA advisory panels, despite an obvious conflict of interest.
Just as Whitman has done, we all must raise a nonpartisan voice against Trump and Pruitt’s anti-public health goals for the EPA. We must defend scientific facts and research that has no objective but to reveal the truth. The nation’s physical and economic health hangs in the balance.