Tuesday, February 21, 2017

New EPA administrator expected to take EPA in a new direction, bring unwelcomed changes for environmentalists

New EPA administrator expected to take EPA in a new direction, bring unwelcomed changes for environmentalists
By:  Michael Lander

For decades, the Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA), has
been proactive in taking steps to protect the environment and
to ensure that special interests do not override the
interests to the general public.  These efforts have long
been supported by environmentalists; however, with the recent
appointment of a new administrator, changes are expected
that will take the agency in a new, and for some, an
unwelcomed direction.

Environmentalists and advocates for clean air and water, and land free of mining and industrial contaminants, received a major setback when the U.S. Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt, on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017, as the new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator.

Pruitt had previously been Oklahoma’s attorney general who worked tirelessly on behalf of fossil fuel companies in his state while vigorously fighting against any federal regulations that these companies viewed as unnecessarily restrictive or burdensome.

Opponents to President Trump’s pick to head the EPA had a long list of grievances over Pruitt’s nomination and the votes for and against Pruitt came down along party lines with Republicans providing the votes needed for his confirmation.

This vote was held even before Congress had an opportunity to view the contents of thousands of emails between Pruitt and oil, gas, and coal industries.  These emails would have soon been available for them to review in a matter of days, after an Oklahoma judge had ruled in favor of the Center for Media and Democracy, which had sued and had won the case for their release.

Following their release days later, these emails reveal that Pruitt had extremely close and friendly ties with fossil fuel firms and electric utilities, Koch Industries owners and billionaire brothers - Charles and David Koch, and lobbying groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council

Pruitt has, most notably, raised the ire of his opponents after suing the EPA over a dozen times and he has publicly vowed to curb the agencies regulatory reach once he is in office.

Because of Pruitt’s stance, Senator Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, has been one of the more outspoken of his opponents.

“Mr. Pruitt has extreme environmental policy views…… he has made his name opposing EPA rules that protect human health and the environment, fighting against clean air and clean water, disregarding the science behind the EPA’s protection for human health and the environment, on behalf of for-profit special interests, not the public interest,” Udall said.

As Oklahoma attorney general, Udall has claimed that Pruitt worked directly with energy lobbyists to further their interests and to file lawsuits against a wide range of environmental regulations.

He also openly challenged EPA rules on fracking, controls on pollution from power plants, limits on mercury emissions, and sought to reduce clean air and water regulations, Udall said.

According to Pruitt’s own webpage as Oklahoma attorney general, he lists the establishment of Oklahoma’s first federalism unit to combat unwarranted regulation and overreach of the federal government as one of his major accomplishments. 

The EPA, which Pruitt will now head, has, ironically, had a mission that seems to be counter to many of the positions that he has previously held concerning the environment. 

Since its inception on Dec. 2, 1970, the mission of the EPA has been seeking to protect human health and the environment, to develop and enforce environmental regulations, sponsoring partnerships and providing grants to states, non-profits, educational institutions, etc., conducting studies on environmental issues, teaching people about the environment, and publishing information about what it does.   

Many environmental groups attribute the vast improvement of clean air and water throughout the U.S., over the past 46 years, as having come about because of the work of the EPA.

Click here for information on the history and milestones of the EPA.

Many of those environmental groups now fear that, with the appointment of Pruitt as head of the EPA, we may now see a change in the mission and the direction that the agency will now be moving in.

For some, this move comes as little surprise with the election of a president who has a business background and a Republican-controlled Congress, which has not been shy in their support of business and their interest in rolling back federal regulations that they believe may present obstacles for businesses.

The question posed by those who are pro-environment, however, is whether or not that we should provide unbridled support of business at the expense of the environment.

Many environmentalists argue that the short term benefits to business should not outweigh the long term destructive impact that a rollback of environmental protection might have.

Of particular concern for many is the vast amount of evidence, from organizations like National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), that indicates that there is a strong correlation between pollutants and the higher incidents of respiratory, cancer, and other serious health problems.   

Pruitt has not addressed, or attempted to allay any of these concerns, but he has spoken about the need for the EPA to change its focus.

“The American people are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations, and I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses,” Pruitt said.

For those who are also concerned about climate change and global warming, they should not expect to find any support or encouragement from Pruitt.

Pruitt has written that the debate on climate change is far from settled and he was among a coalition of various state attorney generals across the country who sued the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which came about as an Obama-era policy aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions.

While Pruitt’s position on the issue of climate change and global warming stands in sharp contrast to at least 198 worldwide scientific organizations that contend that climate change has been caused by human action, it is likely to find considerable support among those who believe that climate change is unproven and only a product of pseudoscience.

Those who disagree with that position argue that the evidence backs up their case that humans are having a negative impact on the world’s climate and that those who do not believe it are being led more by their politics than by science.

Since the risk that our actions will eventually become irreversible, they contend, it doesn’t make any sense to just ignore the evidence.  It would be more prudent, they believe, for us to take a more cautionary approach, instead, and to pursue renewable energy, which could provide jobs and still protect our fragile eco-system.

In addition to that, environmentalists are also troubled over the fact that any climate change references were immediately removed from the official White House website after Trump’s inauguration.  They fear that this might just be the beginning of the removal of any data that runs counter to their position on this topic.

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