By Yogin Kothari, Union of Concerned Scientists
Next week, President Donald Trump is going to deliver a speech highlighting his only major policy “achievement” to date: sidelining science and rolling back critical public health, safety, and environmental protections. You’re probably going to hear a lot about the president’s absurd executive order that requires agencies to cut two regulations (aka public health protections that provide us clean air, safe consumer products, and more) for every new one issued and you’ll probably hear some muddled thinking and misinformation about the cost of regulations and all the rules the administration has reversed.
The president might even frame all this deregulatory talk as “winning.”
But this is not what his speech is about. This speech is about President Trump and his administration sidelining science-based safeguards, stripping away vital public health, safety, and environmental protections from the American people. These are regulations that keep our air and water clean, our food safer to eat, our household products and our kids’ toys safer to play with, and our workers safer at work. And it is these regulations that can and should have the greatest positive impact on low-income communities and communities of color, who are often disadvantaged and facing some of the worst public health and environmental threats.
Deregulation = Real world impacts
We’ve already seen the administration’s deregulatory policies in action. Earlier this year, the administration delayed updates to the Risk Management Program, designed to enhance chemical risk disclosure from industrial facilities and improve access to information for first responders, workers, and fenceline communities, all while encouraging the use of safer technologies.
After Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, Arkema’s chemical plant in Crosby exploded, highlighting the importance of this public protection. People were forced to stay away from their homes, first responders suffered injuries and weren’t informed about the dangerous chemicals being stored there (and are now suing Arkema), and Harris County had to divert critical resources from hurricane recovery efforts to respond to the explosion (and is now also suing Arkema).
This is just one example of how sidelining science and rolling back safeguards can negatively impact communities across the country. In a recently released report, UCS chronicled several examples of how the administration has delayed many science-based rules and weakened protections from hazards at work and home. This is what the president’s speech is about.
Science-based policymaking ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
This administration has shown zero interest in evidence-based policymaking. Even when it comes to rolling back regulations, the administration has used inaccurate information to support its actions. In other instances, it has simply used misleading information to support its delay tactics. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), whose mission is to protect human health and the environment, has an administrator who is only interested in meeting with representatives from regulated industries, instead of meeting with independent scientists and communities who need the federal government to step up and implement strong protections.
What the administration is focused on though is using any means available to them to invalidate public health protections that took years to develop.
All this flies in the face of how science-based policymaking should happen. You look at the threat, the scientific and technical evidence, and then figure out how to mitigate it and ensure the public is not in danger. You don’t arbitrarily decide which public protections should stay in place and which should be rolled back. Nor should our government only take input from vested interests who favor their bottom line over protecting the public.
But that is the Trump Doctrine on regulations. And for this reason, scientists need to continue to watchdog the administration’s actions and hold agencies accountable to ensure that we have science-based protections in place and policies are based on facts not politics.
Threats are threats. They cannot be addressed only when another public protection is no longer on the books. In the future, if the Food and Drug Administration were to issue a rule to ensure safe food, should the EPA be forced to roll back standards for clean water?
The bottom line is when it comes to protecting public health, the ideas championed by President Trump make no sense. Regulations matter, and protecting the system of evidence-based policymaking matters. The only thing President Trump’s speech will be good for is to show the American people how many losses we have taken in the first 10 months of this administration.