By Jason Aamodt
Scott Pruitt’s federalism plan for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is a dangerous game of pollution without representation. Under Mr. Pruitt’s version of “federalism,” environmental protection would be limited by political boundary lines. One obvious problem with Mr. Pruitt’s crusade is that wind, water and pollution do not respect boundary lines. Wind and any pollution it carries will not stop blowing at state, county and municipal borders and, as people in Oklahoma know all too well, water pollution that flows unabated will damage people who live downstream.
Because the downwind or downstream government will not be able to regulate the pollution, the people who are damaged will be forced to seek their own remedy. That will mean expensive litigation and unpredictable court decisions with remedies that focus on paying for individual damages rather than preventing injuries to people and keeping the air and water clean in the first place.
Our current system of national environmental regulation respects the reality that our air and water are shared by all, and that we all have a shared interest in keeping our air and water clean, not just now, but for our grandchildren. As a result, our nation’s environmental laws establish a federal floor below which regulation cannot fall. Many of those laws were conceived and passed in Republican administrations. President Nixon created EPA for that purpose.
People in Oklahoma have already experienced the real life ramifications of Mr. Pruitt’s “federalism,” which for Oklahoman’s has meant gutting state environmental enforcement and challenging federal authority to protect the environment. Mr. Pruitt’s failure to enforce environmental laws as Oklahoma’s Attorney General had a number of terrible consequences for Oklahoma citizens.
In materials provided to the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Mr. Pruitt boasted that he worked on the “cleanup of the town of Blackwell, Oklahoma due to elevated levels of arsenic and zinc.” In fact, under his watch, Oklahoma failed to implement the new Federal Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) guidelines and, in 2016, set the cleanup level in Blackwell at 540 ppm rather than 150 ppm, which is the level that is needed to protect children under the CDC guidelines.
The higher clean up level in Blackwell saves the polluting companies hundreds of millions of dollars. If he was more concerned with children’s health than political boundary lines and corporate profits, Mr. Pruitt could have protected the children living in Blackwell, but he didn’t. Alarmingly, Mr. Pruitt took “credit” for the “cleanup” in materials provide to the U.S. Senate during his nomination process.
At the same moment children in Blackwell were being poisoned with lead, Mr. Pruitt was joining in lawsuits against Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, DC and EPA to stop them from agreeing on how to control industrial chicken waste pollution. That is not federalism, but it is dangerous.
Jason Aamodt founded the Indian and Environmental Law Group in 2013 from an earlier iteration of his practice. As a lawyer with nearly 20 year’s experience, he certified the first geographically defined toxic tort class action in Oklahoma, created a new cause of action in Indian accounting cases in the Tenth Circuit, obtained a National Law Journal Top-25 verdict in a toxic tort case in 2013, and initiated and helped to resolve the fifth largest Indian Trust accounting case in US history. Presently he is working on cases involving environmental contamination by lead and cadmium in Blackwell, Oklahoma and the toxic pollution of residents of Ponca City by Conoco-Phillips and Phillips 66. http://www.envlawok.com/
Feature image by Gage Skidmore.