Co-written by Marc Yaggi and Gabrielle Segal
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is rapidly changing. Science is being driven out and big industries are taking over. The Trump administration is halting regulations on unsafe, toxic chemicals and rewriting age-old rules to make it harder to track the ramifications of said chemicals.
Chlorpyrifos is among some of the most harmful pesticides used every day on American produce like corn, sweet potatoes, and wheat. This pesticide is dangerous, and EPA’s own scientists concluded that small amounts can cause damage to the developing brains of children and fetuses. So why is EPA refusing to ban the pesticide? The answer, without question, is EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Pruitt has consistently shown that his goal is to destabilize EPA’s rules and regulations. Pruitt is pushing to roll back vehicle emission standards, rather than urging fuel efficiency with attendant benefits like improved air quality. Perhaps most notably, Pruitt recently announced the repeal of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the extensive Obama era rule regulating greenhouse gas emissions. And the list goes on.
Why is Scott Pruitt eviscerating regulations that protect humans and the environment? Pruitt paints himself as an enforcer whose concerns lie with jobs, the economy, and the legality of EPA regulations. His days are packed with meetings, yet there is a problem with his schedule: The New York Times revealed to readers that he has “held back-to-back meetings, briefing sessions and speaking engagements almost daily with top corporate executives and lobbyists from all the major economic sectors that he regulates.” In fact, sources report that Scott Pruitt met with Dow Chemicals’ Chief Executive a mere three weeks before refusing to ban Dow’s dangerous pesticide, Chlorpyrifos. Meanwhile, he spends less than 1% of his time with environmental organizations.
When Waterkeeper Alliance requested a meeting with Pruitt in spring of this year, we were told he could not meet with us because of his busy schedule and were referred to other agency staff. More recently, Waterkeeper Alliance President Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. wrote to the administrator to advise that he would be in D.C. and request a meeting. Pruitt’s office responded that he couldn’t meet during Mr. Kennedy’s visit, but that a future meeting was “possible.”
Despite this prospect, Administrator Pruitt has shown that he has no time for groups whose purposes align with EPA’s mission to “protect human health and the environment.” When criticized for meeting almost exclusively with rich, corporate polluters, Pruitt claimed the industries he continuously meets with are not “polluters” but rather “stakeholders.” He preaches that partnering with big businesses is an effective way to protect the environment.
Pruitt is championing a back-to-basics agenda, an “effort to refocus EPA on its intended mission, return power to states, and create an environment where jobs can grow,” but is directing EPA’s resources away from climate change and other critical pollution issues. It is a blatantly transparent attempt to focus on softer issues while giving a free pass to fossil fuel cronies and big industries that get rich while denuding our landscapes and polluting our waterways. This is something Pruitt has a history of doing, even before he was the head of EPA. Pruitt says he cares about pollution, but he is getting rid of protective measures and openly allowing toxic chemicals and pollutants into the environment. The back-to-basics agenda, which is supposed to cut back spending to help the economy, includes cutting the agency’s costs by drastically reducing the size of the agency while also spending millions on personal security guards, many of whom were officers that would investigate environmental crimes. Moreover, he is gutting EPA of scientists whose findings directly conflict with corporate interests.
We cannot trust that Administrator Pruitt puts the public’s best interest first since he has turned his back on the “bipartisan tradition of transparent governance at the EPA.” EPA officials have remained staunch in defending Pruitt’s meetings with big industries, declaring; “As EPA has been the poster child for regulatory overreach, the agency is now meeting with those ignored by the Obama administration.” However, Pruitt’s predecessor under the Obama administration, Gina McCarthy, had more of a balanced schedule; she still spent time with “industry players,” as well as a range of groups and people. Pruitt’s focus on “those ignored by the Obama administration” means that he is almost completely forsaking nongovernmental environmental groups as well as EPA’s professional staff and other federal officials.
As EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt had a choice to support a just transition to a future full of clean energy sources, clean air, and clean water — one that recognizes that good environmental policy and good economic policies go hand in hand. Instead, as demonstrated by his actions and his near constant meetings with industrial polluters, Pruitt has chosen to prop up dying industries like coal and oil to fill the pockets of his fat cat friends while jeopardizing our safety, security, and economy.
Clean water needs a strong, well-funded EPA that is truly dedicated to environmental protection, the opposite of the EPA that Pruitt envisions. This is why Waterkeeper Alliance is pushing back against Pruitt’s agenda at every chance we get. We are fighting to stop him from rolling back environmental protections and opposing efforts to defund and weaken EPA.