By Ella Mendonsa, Natural Resources Defense Council
Scott Pruitt celebrated his one-year anniversary as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency two weeks ago and it’s time to grade his performance. While Pruitt has recently been catching heat for his science-denying comments on climate change, his luxurious travel on the taxpayer dime, and his elimination of the child cancer researchprogram, it’s his dangerous predilection to gut critical public health protections that threaten to leave the greatest impact. On Monday, he highlighted his crowning “achievements” in the “EPA Year in Review: 2017-2018” but we’re not impressed. From eviscerating our clean air policies and attacking our clean water, to putting families at risk by minimizing the hazards of toxic chemicals, Pruitt has been working hard since day one to prioritize the profits of polluters over the health of our families and communities.
Let’s review his one year in office—a year of challenges to our bedrock environmental and public health laws.
Endangering our clean air
Pruitt made dismantling the systems that protect and regulate our clean air his top priority. For example, in June he announced the suspension of the implementation of federal ozone standards. Pruitt and his entourage of deep-pocketed polluters attempted to slow-walk enforcement, though ground-level ozone—the main ingredient in smog—is known to trigger asthma attacks and increase the risk of heart attacks, respiratory problems, and deadly heart and lung diseases. Yet Pruitt claims, “there is insufficient information” to notify citizens living in areas with unsafe air and uphold federal mandates for air quality improvement. His plans were foiled when NRDC and other organizations sued the EPA over its ability to suspend air pollution enforcement.
Taking aim at clean air again, Pruitt announced in October 2017 that the Trump Administration would take steps to repeal the Clean Power Plan, effectively decimating an Obama-era initiative that set the first federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants—one of the largest stationary contributors to climate change in the US. EPA’s own projections found this commonsense rule would prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths, 90,000 asthma attacks, and 300,000 missed work and school days, resulting in $14 to $34 billion in public health benefits. Imagine in one year alone, a decrease of 870 million tons of carbon pollution in the air? That’s the equivalent to annual carbon emissions from 70 percent of the nation’s cars, or from the yearly electricity use of every home in America. Economists believe the shift to energy efficiency and cleaner power would save the average American family $85 annually on its electricity bills, but “Polluting Pruitt” isn’t siding with average American families.
Attacking our water standards
After high-profile water crises in Toledo, Ohio, and Flint, Michigan, Americans all across the country recognize that we need more protections on our drinking water, not less. Yet Pruitt, egged on by Trump’s Executive Order (E.O. 13778) attacking a 2015 rule the Obama administration adopted to implement the Clean Water Act, which would clarify legal protection for millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of streams across the country. The Clean Water Rule would have enabled the federal government to more effectively hold corporations accountable for polluting streams that run into our drinking water and ensure that waters failing to meet water-quality standards would be cleaned up. Since his announcement, Pruitt has done everything he can to attack this critical public health rule; in fact, EPA personnel reportedly were instructed to downplay the economic benefits of the Clean Water Rule.
By moving to rescind the rule, Pruitt is trying to deliver on the administration’s threat to strip federal protections for many of the streams that feed into drinking water sources for one in three—roughly 117 million—Americans.
Although the attack on the Clean Water Rule is insult enough, Pruitt has moved to weaken several other federal safeguards for our waterways. For instance, he ordered the reconsideration of the first federal limits in more than 30 years on the levels of toxic metals in wastewater that can be discharged from power plants. Those standards would have reduced toxic metals, nutrients, and other pollutants discharged annually by 1.4 billion pounds and reduced water withdrawal by 57 billion gallons. He also recently proposed to weaken the first-ever safeguards to protect communities near coal ash dumps, which the Obama administration adopted in 2015.
Putting American families at risk
Last year, in his mission to weaken the institutions that protect public health, Pruitt set his sights on cancer research. When the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the World Health Organization’s cancer research arm linked the chemical glyphosate—a primary ingredient in Roundup pesticide—to cancer, Pruitt’s EPA veered away from best practices to avoid holding Monsanto accountable. After trying to prevent Health and Human Services from conducting its own glyphosate hazard assessment, a EPA official was exposed for their communications with Monsanto, leading to an ongoing investigation.
To protect vulnerable people and communities, Obama EPA’s banned chlorpyrifos in March 2017 due to its “permanent, irreversible, and lifelong” neurological damage and health effects. Sprayed on vegetables and nuts, including apples, oranges, broccoli, and walnuts;dangerous chlorpyrifos residue doesn’t disappear from these foods– even after they’re washed, peeled or cracked. In one of his first actions, Pruitt reversed this ban.
Chlorpyrifos affects the most vulnerable in our society, including farm workers, pregnant women, children, and people of color. Research shows that exposure to this pesticide—originally developed in World War II as part of a family of nerve agents — can increase the risk for behavioral issues and serious neurological damage in children, including ADHD, developmental delays, and lower IQs.
Children exposed to it face greater risk of developing asthma-like symptoms and diminished lung function as well. In fact, the majority of neighborhoods adjacent to sprayed fields are disproportionally Latino, and research found that Latino children are two times more likely than white children to attend schools near fields with the heaviest pesticide use. Pruitt reversed the ban, endangering the lives of our kids, families, and communities to help Dow Chemical, the manufacturer of chlorpyrifos, receive millions more in profits. Enough is enough.
A year of failing the American public
Last year’s review is in and it’s a failing grade. Pruitt isn’t just avoiding enforcement, he’s reshaping the agenda of the EPA from a protector of public health and the environment to one fixated on obliterating public safeguards. His main objective appears to be sacrificing our nation’s air and water quality to benefit special-interests, threatening the lives of the most vulnerable citizens in the process.
With just the first year of Administrator Pruitt coming at such a high cost to our health and environment, how many more years can our country afford?
Read here to find out how to hold Pruitt accountable.