By Andrew Wetzler, Natural Resources Defense Council
The Environmental Protection Agency just kicked off an effort to gut many of the regulations that safeguard the air we breathe and the water we drink. EPA leadership announced this push with a “public” process designed minimize as much scrutiny as possible. We can’t let them get away with it.
In February, as part of Steve Bannon’s quest for the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” President Trump issued an Executive Order directing federal agencies to review their existing regulations and identify those to weaken or eliminate. In late March, Scott Pruitt, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, jumped at the chance and EPA announced that it would begin evaluating existing agency regulations that can be “repealed, replaced, or modified.” As part of that process, EPA is staging a series of “public” hearings and listening sessions. Why do I put public in quotations marks? Because these meetings are a sham.
The Environmental Protection Agency is organized into a series of headquarter offices, each of which specializes in a particular subject matter. For example, air pollution is handled by the Office of Air and Radiation, water pollution is handled by the Office of Water, toxic waste and pesticide pollution is handled by the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, and so on. There are also offices that are dedicated to particular groups, such as tribes, small businesses, and inter-environmental relations.
Between April 24 and May 15, EPA leadership has directed each of these offices to stage a series of meetings on revoking the safeguards they implement. But the meetings are being scheduled with almost no advanced notice―in some cases being announced only days before they take place. And new meetings appear on a website that the EPA has set up to coordinate the process, so unless you check it every day, it is easy to miss when a new hearing is announced. All of this is made worse by the fact that EPA staff are offering only limited slots for in-person comments. In fact, some of the meetings aren’t public at all. The Office of Water, for example, is offering an in-person meeting with local water agencies but only a “virtual listening session” to the public. And the deadline for the public to comment on rolling back all these crucial safeguards? It ends in a mere three weeks.
The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency is vital to all Americans. Environmental safeguards protect our health, conserve resources and save lives. The Clean Air Act alone prevents more than 160,000 premature deaths and 1.7 million asthma attacks―every year. The Clean Water Act has dramatically reduced pollution nationally and restored many waterways that were once unsafe for swimming, drinking, or fishing. Yet in a mad-dash effort to serve its new corporate masters, Agency leadership is on the cusp of initiating radical actions that could undo all of this progress.
The public deserves a real seat at the table. That means providing adequate notice, a longer time for comment and greater transparency. NRDC is tracking all of these hearings and will be sending our attorneys and policy experts to as many as we can. We are also submitting testimony and working with our allies to make sure that the public’s voice is not ignored by Scott Pruitt and the Trump Administration. If you want to comment and let EPA know that you value strong environmental protections, you can take action here. I hope you will.