By Mary Anne Hitt, Sierra Club
At a time when we’re all still thinking of Hurricane Harvey’s survivors (and donating to their recovery efforts), Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt continues to steer his agency off a cliff by ignoring its mission and putting people at risk: An Associated Press story broke over the weekend demonstrating that the agency hadn’t been on site at the many toxic sites affected by Harvey around Houston.
Pruitt and an EPA spokesperson’s response? They attacked the reporter who wrote the story, instead of responding to the real issue of actually showing up to the toxic sites for monitoring. Striking a similar tone, when asked to comment on how climate change is making these storms worse, his EPA attacked climate scientists – the very people we’re all counting on to help us understand these disasters – accusing them of “an attempt to politicize an ongoing tragedy.”
Pruitt’s latest bad moves add to an unfortunately already long list of steps he’s taken that make me fear for the “protection” part of the Environmental Protection Agency. We also learned last week that there are now some political strings attached to receiving any grants from the EPA. From a Washington Post story:
The Environmental Protection Agency has taken the unusual step of putting a political operative in charge of vetting the hundreds of millions of dollars in grants the EPA distributes annually, assigning final funding decisions to a former Trump campaign aide with little environmental policy experience.
On top of that, Pruitt is now under investigation for his frequent travels on the taxpayer’s dime back to his home state of Oklahoma:
In late July, the watchdog group Environmental Integrity Project said travel records from a Freedom of Information Act request show that Pruitt spent 48 of 92 days in March, April and May traveling — including 43 days on trips that included stops in his home state of Oklahoma.
Meanwhile, Pruitt’s appointees to EPA’s regional offices are a who’s who of fellow fossil fuel lovers and climate change deniers. Cathy Stepp, the head of Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, will now lead Region 7, and she’s infamous to state residents.
“Under Cathy Stepp, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has consistently favored polluting industries over the needs of the people of Wisconsin,” said Bill Davis, director of Sierra Club’s John Muir Chapter in Wisconsin. “This has been made clear by unprecedented drinking water contamination, highlighted by the scathing 2016 audit of our Water Pollution Program and the crisis in Northeastern Wisconsin where a third of residents can’t drink their water because of contamination from factory farms.”
And in Region 4, Pruitt’s selected Trey Glenn to lead. The former Alabama Department of Environmental Management director left that position after ethics complaints and has since headed a group fighting the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.
The list never seems to end with Pruitt – which is what happens when you put a big time friend of corporate polluters into the #1 spot of an agency charged with protecting our air and water. According to this chilling piece in the New York Times, he’s running the agency in a secretive, hostile fashion that’s making it hard for staff to do their jobs. Budgets get cut, health safeguards rolled back, and polluters high-five knowing their bottom line is being protected by Scott Pruitt. Here at the Beyond Coal Campaign, we’re working every day to stop Pruitt’s attacks on a long list of public health safeguards that our families depend on, from water toxics standards for coal power plants to smog protections.
Especially for those struggling to recover after Hurricane Harvey, EPA is supposed to be the watchdog of those many toxic chemical facilities, refineries, and Superfund sites affected by high winds and floodwaters. Instead, neighbors and towns are left wondering where Pruitt’s EPA is.
It’s terrifying and infuriating to watch Scott Pruitt relentlessly try to dismantle the EPA at the very moment when we need it the most. The Sierra Club will fight him every step of the way. As yet another massive hurricane threatens the U.S., as coal and oil companies look to skirt clean air and water standards, as climate disruption continues rearing its terrifying head in the form of massive storms and wildfires, we need an EPA that will protect everyone.