By Kathleen Rest, Union of Concerned Scientists
EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler is true to his word. With a masterful sense of timing and irony, the EPA has announced that on Thursday, February 7, it will publish its proposal to revise (read: roll back) the agency’s own supplemental finding that it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate mercury and hazardous air pollutants (HAPS) from coal and oil-fired power plants.
The new proposal’s bottom line: Regulating mercury and hazardous air pollution from power plants under the Clean Air Act is no longer “appropriate and necessary.” It’s just too costly, they insist. (For more details and background on this travesty, see my prior commentary here and here.)
The timing and the irony
Thursday’s publication of the proposal in the Federal Register opens a 60-day public comment period on what is just the administration’s latest effort to roll back public health protections. Indeed, the president proudly touted his efforts to cut regulations in his State of the Union speech earlier this week. Lost on the administration, but not lost on the public, is the fact that most regulations are actually safeguards that protect our health and safety, along with the cleanliness and safety of the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the medications we take, the products we buy, and more.
The very night before the EPA’s announcement, the president was spouting compassion and concern for our health, and for children’s health in particular, which makes the timing of this move particularly ironic. Less than 24 hours after the president’s address, the EPA made good on its intention to no longer consider regulating mercury and hazardous air pollutants from coal and oil-powered power plants as “appropriate and necessary.” If the administration is seriously concerned about children’s health, why in heaven’s name take aim at limits on mercury emissions, a potent neurotoxin?
The EPA’s job is to protect our health and the environment. That’s its mission, which the agency still acknowledges it on its website. And the EPA is supposed to rely on the best available science when making regulatory and policy decisions. This proposal takes the opposite approach; EPA political leadership has decided to throw science and common sense out the window. The public interest seems relegated to the back seat, while powerful private and industrial interests take the wheel. It’s part of an ongoing pattern by the Trump administration during its first two years in office; you can see it all in our new report, “The State of Science in the Trump Era.”
Time to weigh in: Our voices matter
Acting Administrator Wheeler has been nominated to replace Scott Pruitt as the agency’s full-time administrator. His nomination has already passed out of committee by a narrow margin and will go to the full Senate for a vote sometime soon.
With this latest proposal, Wheeler, a former lobbyist for coal companies, has made it clear that he’s happy to sideline science and evidence when it doesn’t comport with a political preference. Let your senators know that this is not OK—and that you want, expect, and deserve an EPA leader who works for us and who respects and is guided by science when making agency decisions.
And with the public comment period opening on Thursday for this particular proposal, you now have 60 days to let the EPA know we are not fooled by its wonky little revision. It’s a crafty, nasty, and dangerous proposal that could roll back current safeguards and undermine future public health and environmental protections.
In the weeks to come, scientists and everyone concerned about public health will have a chance to comment on this important proposal. We’ll keep you updated on how you can most effectively weigh in and will continue to provide information and resources to help inform comments.
This will be a critical moment to raise your voice. The clock is now ticking.