President Donald Trump drew a sizable amount of criticism last December when he nominated Scott Pruitt for the position of Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Critics cited Pruitt’s 14 separate lawsuits against the EPA, all of which sought to undermine the agency’s environmental regulatory power, as evidence of Pruitt’s incompatibility with the office. Others recalled Pruitt’s tenure as Attorney General of Oklahoma, during which he dissolved the state’s Environmental Protection Unit and “established what he called a federalism unit, a special team that would fight federal rules imposed on Oklahoma,” according to PBS’s “Frontline.” In 2012, he became the chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) and used his position to fund lawsuits challenging a wide range of federal regulations under the Obama administration, including environmental laws. Pruitt’s baggage, however, did not seem to deter the Trump administration or the Senate, the latter of which confirmed his nomination in February.
We at The New Paltz Oracle believe the EPA has since failed in its obligations. During this week alone, the EPA has made news for its role in the decimation of two Obama-era environmental regulations. On Oct. 20, the Office of Management and Budget received from the EPA a proposal to greatly loosen emissions standards for certain truck components. The Washington Post wrote that, without these standards, trucking companies are able to “install an outdated engine into a new truck body and avoid regulations that would apply to an entirely new truck.” A day later, The New York Times published a batch of “email correspondence[s] related to the March 2017 decision by the EPA to reject a decade-old petition to ban chlorpyrifos” in the agriculture industry. Chlorpyrifos (CPS) is a pesticide—banned for home use in the U.S. in 2001 and classified as hazardous by the World Health Organization—that has been linked to autoimmune diseases and developmental disorders following overexposure. Among these published emails was correspondence with Dow Chemical Company (now DowDuPont Inc.), the corporation that first introduced CPS onto the market. The same day, The New York Times also published “confidential internal memo[s]” from the EPA’s Office of Water, revealing the interventions of one Nancy Beck, a top deputy in the EPA’s toxic chemical unit; prior to her appointment to the EPA, she served as an executive with the American Chemistry Council, a trade association representing some of the nation’s largest chemical manufacturers. Both the interference by Dow Chemical Company and the interference by the American Chemistry Council illustrate just how severe these conflicts of interest are.
The extent of the EPA’s unscrupulous influences is matched by the agency’s gross incompetence in the field of climate change. On Monday, USA Today reported that the EPA had withdrawn “two scientists as well as an agency consultant” from a panel discussion “spotlighting the effects of climate change on the Narragansett Bay” in Rhode Island. According to a study by the Narragansett Bay Estuary, man-made climate change “is affecting air and water temperatures, precipitation, sea level, and fish in the Narragansett Bay region.” Unfortunately, this would not be the first time the EPA has promoted a policy of censorship within its ranks. In a March 2017 interview with CNBC, Pruitt said that he “would not agree that [carbon dioxide is] a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” He also questioned a 2009 EPA study state that climate change posed a detriment to human health, with TIME reporting that Pruitt suggested to them that “he plans to limit the scope of the EPA’s climate rules through legal arguments that sidestep the need to question mainstream climate science.”
The EPA was trusted to a man who made no secret of his intent to actively undermine it. This alone should have disqualified him from obtaining the position, especially since he only recused himself from the aforementioned lawsuits this past May. Pruitt’s background isn’t even in science, but rather constitutional law. By contrast, the EPA’s previous two administrators were Gina McCarthy, who had worked in environmental agencies nearly her entire career, and Lisa Jackson, a chemical engineer. Even the interim administrator between Trump’s inauguration and Pruitt’s appointment, Catherine McCabe, is an environmental lawyer.
In 1997, Bill Clinton signed an executive order banning the smoking of cigarettes in Executive Branch buildings. In 1998, the U.S. Department of Transportation banned smoking on commercial flights by American air carriers. Half of the states in the U.S. have banned smoking in indoor places of business, as have Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This is all to say that, given the scientific proof of the health risks of inhaling cigarette smoke, individual governments took it upon themselves to minimize the exposure of non-smokers to the toxicity of cigarette smoke—all of this, knowing it would be at the expense of the tobacco industry.
Why do toxic chemicals in our drinking water and our atmosphere not fall under the same logic, and at what point will public health finally supersede private profits? We at The New Paltz Oracle cannot begin to stress the importance of an effective Environmental Protection Agency and remained disheartened at the current lack of one. The Trump administration plans to cut the EPA’s budget by 30 percent, yet Pruitt’s security will cost the agency approximately $2 million annually, according to CNN. Clearly the EPA cannot properly allocate resources, nor does it meet even the lowest standard for environmental advocacy. Under this new leadership, the EPA has lost all credibility, and now stands transformed from an environmental protection agency to an industrial one.