Trump Administration Dismisses Advice, Science

Six former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrators are calling for reform at the agency. Although most of the former EPA leaders were critical of the current management, they were optimistic about the EPA’s future in an open letter published Wednesday. The letter reads:

As former leaders of the Environmental Protection Agency serving both Democratic and Republican administrations, we take great pride in the agency’s many successes improving the quality of the air we breathe, safeguarding the water we drink, and protecting the environment that sustains us and our economy. As EPA approaches its 50th anniversary this December, we believe the time has come to reset the future course for EPA in a new, forward-looking direction to address the environmental challenges we face today and those that lie ahead.

The nature of the environmental and health challenges our nation faces have changed. Fifty years ago, pollution was visible and unrelenting throughout our country. Today, less visible but equally dangerous environmental hazards threaten communities in ways that differ from place to place, person to person.

Climate change is having far-reaching impacts on air quality, infectious diseases, and water quantity and quality, as well as intensifying destructive climate events such as floods, storms, wildfires, and droughts. Environmental injustices are putting lower-wealth communities, communities of color, and indigenous communities at disproportionately high levels of exposure, risk, and vulnerability to toxic pollution, not to mention the pandemic we are now facing.

Speedier, more effective assessments and responses are needed to face pandemics, new toxic hazards, and other emerging or unmitigated health risks. The Environmental Protection Network (EPN) and its over 500 EPA alumni have developed detailed recommendations for setting new directions at EPA. We invite everyone to review this important report

Not everyone will agree with every recommendation, for there is no single roadmap for the way forward.

The following overarching recommendations for EPA are essential to meet the environmental challenges of the 21st century and improve people’s lives and our economy.

  1. EPA must reaffirm its commitment to fully protect public health and the environment.
  2. EPA must conduct its scientific and economic analysis free from political interference.
  3. EPA must incorporate environmental justice in every aspect of its work in order to address and resolve inequitable environmental conditions.
  4. EPA must focus on the most significant and pervasive public health and environmental risks, prioritizing actions that provide the greatest health benefit for the greatest number of people, including vulnerable populations.
  5. EPA must innovate and collaborate with states, tribes, local governments, and federal agencies as co-regulators, as well as with stakeholders, including the private and non-profit sectors and community groups, to build an effective and resilient system of public health and environmental protections.
  6. EPA must earn and maintain broad public trust by demonstrating the best ethical behavior, transparently considering all stakeholder viewpoints, and providing objective environmental information. To do the job well, EPA will need additional resources. As new threats to the health and environmental needs of a growing population have multiplied, EPA’s budget has declined. In inflation-adjusted dollars, EPA’s budget was more than 50% higher under President Ronald Reagan than it is today. The steady deterioration of resources has undermined EPA’s readiness for the challenges ahead and the agency’s ability to adapt and respond to emerging needs.

While we are concerned about the current state of affairs at EPA, we are hopeful for the agency’s future. EPA has a strong foundation on which to build. Capable and talented staff members are ready to answer the call. They have labored in good faith across administrations of both parties to fulfill EPA’s mission by following the law, applying the best available science, and displaying openness and transparency with the public. America’s bedrock environmental laws have delivered enormous health and economic benefits to the American public, as documented by Republican and Democratic administrations alike.

The public values clean air, clean water, and a healthy natural environment, notwithstanding differences in priorities and approaches. The years ahead will bring new and often far-reaching environmental and health risks. They also hold great potential for new approaches, new opportunities, and new technologies to confront environmental problems.

Growing ranks of companies are showing internal leadership on sustainability without waiting for regulations. New technologies and data tools can pinpoint and help solve environmental threats. State and local governments, farmers and other landowners, community-based groups, universities, and others have pioneered new approaches to getting results. We have successfully risen as a nation to confront past threats to our health and environment. We are at an environmental crossroads, and we are hopeful that America will again muster the resolve, the will, and the action needed to protect public health, the environment, and our economy.

Sincerely, Hon. Lee Thomas EPA Administrator, 1985-1989

Hon. William Reilly EPA Administrator, 1989-1993

Hon. Carol Browner EPA Administrator, 1993-2001

Hon. Christine Todd Whitman EPA Administrator, 2001-2003

Hon. Lisa Jackson EPA Administrator, 2009-2013

Hon. Gina McCarthy EPA Administrator, 2013-2017

They endorsed the broad goals of new recommendations for the agency from the Environmental Protection Network (EPN), a group of hundreds of former agency employees, which also calls for “resetting the course” of the agency.

These goals include conducting analyses that are free from political interference, resolving inequitable environmental conditions faced by disadvantaged communities and prioritizing actions that provide the greatest health benefits to the most people.

The report from the EPN also made more specific policy recommendations to the agency, such as suspending its rollback of Obama-era water protections and affirming California’s authority to set its own vehicle emissions standards, both of which have been major points of contention. The EPA has also rolled back many other environmental rules in recent years like regulations governing fuel efficiency standards and power plants. The agency has lost hundreds of staff under the current administration. The letter prompted an immediate response from the EPA.

“EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is proud of our record addressing environmental problems impacting Americans, including delisting Superfund sites that have lingered for years,” said EPA spokesperson James Hewitt, in a statement to The Hill.

“He won’t be taking ‘reset’ advice from administrators who ignored the Flint lead crisis, botched the Gold King Mine response, and encouraged New Yorkers to [breathe] contaminated air at Ground Zero,” Hewitt added.

In all fairness, Hewitt makes an important point. Mismanagement at the EPA didn’t begin under the Trump administration. The most outrageous example that I will point to is regarding reclaimed wastewater and biosolids. Fraudulent risk assessments are fueling a public health disaster in the form of neurodegenerative disease (sewage also carries the coronavirus from victims). The EPA portrayed itself as an expert on the topic and exported its risk assessments and recommendations around the world. Prominent scientists were fired. After more than 30 years of lies, it backtracked on its risk assessments just two years ago. Adjustments within industry to safeguard public health have been ignored. As a result, prion disease is ravaging mammals around the world, including humans. The EPA has completely ignored deadly prions and unstoppable prion disease for decades. It’s time to insist on EPA accountability and action in this vital and volatile arena.

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