Make America polluted again?

During the current pandemic President Trump has resisted safety precautions like distancing and wearing face masks. His reaction to the first 100,000 deaths was to congratulate his administration because it wasn’t worse. And he insisted on having an indoor rally Saturday night in a 19,000-seat stadium in Tulsa, two days after Oklahoma hit a record number of new cases–450.

Unfortunately, the President’s cavalier attitude toward death doesn’t begin and end with this coronavirus. While the public has been preoccupied with the pandemic, the Environmental Protection Agency has been working to rescind protections. 

The New York Times recently credited the Trump Administration with rolling back 66 environmental rules, including eight since March, and working on 34 more. 

Three important recent changes ended restrictions on mercury and perchlorate pollution, and wreaked havoc on the Clean Water Act.

In 2018 the EPA asserted that mercury restrictions weren’t cost effective, i.e. the cost of removing mercury from burning coal was more than the cost of dealing with resulting health problems and deaths. This spring an agency study produced numbers supporting that assertion, and the EPA ended the restrictions.  

Some background. One, in a letter last summer, the power utilities and labor groups involved pointed out that mercury emissions had been reduced by nearly 90 percent since regulations began and asked that the current standards be kept. 

Two, the head of the EPA, Andrew Wheeler, was formerly a lobbyist representing coal magnate Edward Murray who’s been pushing a pro-coal action plan that includes getting out of the Paris Agreement and halving the EPA’s workforce.  

And three, mercury poisoning causes “neurological disorders, heart and lung problems, and compromised immune systems” (AP, Dec. 2019). It is especially dangerous to unborn babies and young children.  

So, it’s now government policy that preventing 11,000 ‘premature deaths’ is not worth the cost of running and maintaining scrubbers that are already installed.  

Last year the EPA proposed allowing perchlorate pollution–a compound which suppresses thyroid activity and can hurt brain function–at levels up tol three times higher than what is considered safe. 

A Federal court ordered the EPA to set a new standard by this month.

Last month the EPA basically said no; it will leave regulation up to state and local governments. 

Perchlorate poisoning can be reversed but the effects on brain development of fetuses, newborns, and children cannot.  

But Trump did promise to cut regulations, didn’t he? 

A third recent EPA ruling places the responsibility for regulating up to 60% of the country’s water up to state and local governments. The Federal Clean Water Act is now limited only to major waterways and adjacent wetlands.

That is, the Federal government is fine with most of America’s wetlands now fair game for real estate developers, and it will ignore most settling ponds and factory waste.   

Just how the EPA plans to keep the Snake and Clearwater rivers remotely healthy while having no control over discharges into the many streams and canals that flow into them is a mystery.  

Today many state and local governments are already incapable of keeping their drinking water free of chemical carcinogens and bacteria. The Center for Disease Control estimates illnesses caused by polluted public water systems at between four and 32 million each year. That big of a range indicates we aren’t keeping records.  

If you’re thinking that the Trump Administration supports state and local control, forget it. Trump ended California’s right to set its own auto emissions standards last November. 

No, this administration values industry profits over public health.  It’s aiming to bring back the smog, stinking rivers, and lower life expectancies of the 1950s and 1960s.    

EPA Failing America

Just over a year ago, Scott Pruitt resigned as chair of the Environmental Protection Agency. Many Americans were relieved. Not only was he involved in some ethical scandals–remember his $43,000 soundproof booth?–he managed to reverse decades of EPA action.
As CNN said, “Pruitt moved aggressively to scale back Obama-era moves on climate change, automobile pollution standards and other industrial pollutants.”
But former White House climate adviser Paul Bledsoe saw Andrew Wheeler, the 20-year Washington insider in line for Pruitt’s position, as a greater danger.
Apparently, Bledsoe was prophetic. One year after Wheeler’s appointment Elliott Negan of the Union of Concerned Scientists writes that Wheeler had been the “driving force” behind many of President Trump’s 80 attacks on science.
Negan listed the 10 “more egregious” changes in an article for the Independent Media Institute. He concluded that, by the EPA’s own accounting, “millions of Americans will be drinking filthier water and breathing dirtier air, and more will suffer from serious diseases.”
In most of the country the changes will occur bit by bit and we won’t be sure they cause any one  illness; we’ll just see the overall statistics change–as with storms and global warming.
Three items on Negan’s list seem echoes of a distant past–coal ash, formaldehyde, and asbestos.
Apparently, coal-fired power plants dump coal ash containing arsenic, chromium, lead and mercury into more than 1000 giant, unlined pits. A 2015 rule required companies to monitor these coal ash ponds; over 90 percent of them reported  “unsafe levels of toxic contaminants.”
So the EPA has given states the right to set different standards and extended deadlines for stopping the pollution. A pending proposal would allow unlimited dumping of coal ash–no pits, just acres of ash spread on dirt within feet of the groundwater.
A little arsenic, a little lead, a smattering of mercury seems okay to the current administration–they’re in someone else’s neighborhood.
Formaldehyde, however, isn’t limited geographically. An “off-gas” is produced by cigarettes, embalming fluid, plywood, particle board, paints, and floor finishes. In small doses, it causes eyes to water. In 1985 the EPA identified it as “probable human carcinogen”associated with fairly rare cancers of the throat and sinuses.
But studies in 2009 and 2010 showed a positive correlation between formaldehyde exposure and leukemia. In 2016 the EPA formulated new rules for formaldehyde presence, but they didn’t become official.
Wheeler told Congress that further review of the EPA report labeling formaldehyde a carcinogen is needed because the science may now be out-of-date.
Meanwhile, 34,000 new cases of throat and sinus cancers and leukemia are diagnosed each year–and the EPA has set strict formaldehyde standards for buildings constructed for the agency.
And, somehow asbestos–not manufactured in the U.S. since 2002–is still found throughout the country. Negan says 55 nations have banned, but the U.S. still imports asbestos for use in items such as auto brakes, roofing, vinyl floor tiles, and cement pipes.
A new, “stricter” rule says that manufacturers may continue to use asbestos with EPA approval.
Negan adds, “One of the deadliest known carcinogens, asbestos kills nearly 40,000 Americans annually, mainly from lung cancer.”
I guess Trump supporters are happy that the President has kept his promises and cut regulations.  Perhaps his administration’s practices have led to production increases and greater incomes for shareholders and executives.
But the price is health and lives.
You can read Negan’s seven other “decimated EPA protections” at https://truthout.org/articles/10-ways-andrew-wheeler-has-decimated-epa-protections-in-just-one-year/.
“For continued information on the EPA Rule and its connection to asbestos use in the United States visit here.”
Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019

Judges who care

Since last October North Carolina’s Republican leadership has been threatening the state’s Superior Court.  Legislators have the power to limit the court’s jurisdiction, cut judicial funding, gerrymander judicial districts, and impeach judges.

Last week the chair of the N.C. Republicans repeated the threats as judges consider a case concerning “deceptive wording” of two ballot measures that would shift the power to make many political appointments from the governor to the legislature.

I’m adding this to my list of reasons I’m glad to live in Idaho.

And it’s made me aware of how important our courts are right now in upholding human rights and safety.

Two cases dealing with visitors and refugees have caused public uproar.

The Trump Administration’s January 2017 travel rescinded 60,000 approved visas and left airlines all over the world turning away college students, conference speakers, and parents of children needing surgery.

Fifty court cases were filed within three days and, as courts found one provision after another illegal, the order was rescinded.

Recently, a thoroughly-revised travel ban did pass a court challenge.

Equally disturbing was the Trump Administration’s insistence this year that refugees from Central America had entered the U.S. illegally (they hadn’t) and, as criminals, could not be entrusted with the care of their own children.

Court ruled that the separations would end and that children and parents would be reunited. Many were, but the administration claims it can’t locate the parents of the 500 children still in custody–it failed to note children’s names or ages on the parents’ records.  The administration actually asked that a court order the American Civil Liberties Union to pay for finding parents already deported.

The court said no.

Court rulings on the environment are lesser known, but equally, if not more, important.

In a July 6 on-line update of an earlier article, the New York Times listed 46 environmental rules that the Trump Administration has eliminated and another 30 that it is working to end.

Congress had a voice in ending only four rules, including one we desperately needed to keep that forbade dumping coal mining debris into local streams.  The others are the result of orders by the president and twelve different agencies.

With changes coming from so many different directions, states and citizen organizations have been hard pressed to raise the money and prepare the legal arguments to press court cases.

Yet, they’ve succeeded in a number of cases before a court.

A Federal court ordered the EPA to enforce the ban on the chlorpyrifos based on an earlier EPA study showing the pesticide was not only dangerous for farm workers, but also for consumers of treated food products.

When the EPA announced it would delay enforcing regulation of methane discharges until the agency completed a two-year study, the Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals ruled it must continue to enforce existing rules while studies are underway.

When the EPA decided to postpone revising the 2001 lead regulations for another six years, the appeals court demanded that the rules be revised within 90 days to protect children’s health.

 And a federal district court ordered the Tennessee Valley Authority to remove the coal ash from a 476-acre pond adjacent to the Cumberland River.

And some rules, including one brought by families of persons who died from using paint removers containing methylene chloride, have been reinstated before a court ruled.

Not all the 76 environmental regulations the administration is set on ending will cost lives or destroy habitat. Enough do, however, that we need judges who care.

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2018

EPA Under Siege

“Rivers no longer catch fire, as the Cuyahoga, in Ohio, did repeatedly in the fifties and sixties; the skies over Los Angeles are no longer choked with brown smog; acid rain is no longer the threat it was to rivers, lakes, and wildlife; gasoline for cars is no longer made with lead, which damages children’s brain development.” (New Yorker, April 2, 2018.)
Pollution was never that bad in the Treasure Valley, but it was bad.
Ever wonder how Caldwell could have paved over a great asset like Indian Creek?

It smelled. It wasn’t as bad as sewage, but the creek definitely gave the town a wet dog air–highlighted here and there by contributions from cattle feedlots, a mink farm, and a much smellier ancestor of Nampa’s sugar beet factory.

By 1948 Congress realized that America’s pollution problems were interfering with commerce as well as quality of life and started legislating controls. In 1970 an executive order from President Nixon combined the government units involved under the Environmental Protection Agency.

Today we have cleaner air in spite of having six times as many cars on the road. That alone has saved thousands of lives. (Not that we have clean air. Only China has a higher rate of air pollution than the United States.)

EPA regulations haven’t prevented the U.S. from becoming the number one oil producer in the world. Only Saudi Arabia and Russia come close.

And U.S. production of coal more than doubled from 1960 to 2008. It’s since fallen about 10 percent as natural gas became a plentiful bi-product of gas fracking while coal deposits became deeper and harder to reach.

Many have criticized the EPA for not doing enough to clean up hazardous waste and protect animal habitats.

Still, the EPA has accomplished much in spite of being underfunded, understaffed, and politically pressured.

So I’m sad to see the EPA now mismanaged, attacked, and demoralized.

Both leaders appointed by President Trump–Scott Pruitt as director and Andrew Wheeler as acting director–value industry over health.

Pruitt set in motion reversal of 30 regulations dealing with clean air, water, hazardous waste, endangered species, etc.

Employees are watching years of their research being tossed out.

And the agency’s allowed spending is $800,000 less than in FY2016.

Proposed new rules would require that economic factors be considered important when deciding if an endangered species should be saved, and that companies be allowed to build roads, pipelines, mines, etc. in critical habitat areas.

Moreover, the scientific community is alarmed over proposed changes in the rules for deciding what research may be considered. On the surface, the changes seem to promote transparency. Many researchers, however, claim that the changes require more information about research subjects than academic and government labs are allowed to reveal.

Future EPA scientists may be allowed to consider only industry-sponsored research when formulating regulations.

And some changes favor polluters over industry.

If U.S. cars of 2025 are required to be only as efficient as my 2008 vehicle, there won’t be an export market.

One major manufacturer opposes a proposed change making new trucks equipped with old engines exempt from efficiency regulations as making “a mockery of the massive investments we’ve made to develop low-emission-complaint technology.”

A major truck dealer claims it’s the equivalent of saying that five percent of the trucks didn’t have to stop for a school bus or obey the speed limit.

EPA scientists claim older engines on the road cause 1600 premature deaths each year.

Only a handful of people gain from the manufacture such trucks.

 

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2018

Environment: The Attack has Started

by Judy Ferro

In his recent speech to Congress, President Trump declared his desire to work across party lines “to promote clean air and clear water.”

Just hours earlier he had signed an executive order directing the Environmental Protection Agency, to “reconsider” its definition of “navigable water” covered by the Clean Water Act. The agency’s definition—now being challenged in court— requires permits before polluting any waters with a “significant nexus” to permanent water bodies. Farmers, fertilizer and pesticide makers, and oil producers, among others, don’t want to be bothered with permits.

So we endure green slime and pesticides in our rivers to keep Idaho’s economy churning.

At least we’re not in Appalachia. Days earlier Trump had signed a resolution which, as the New York Times’ editorial board put it, blessed “the coal industry’s decades-old practice of freely dumping tons of debris into the streams and mountain hollows of American’s mining communities.”

The resolution, passed by the House and Senate, repealed the Stream Protection Rule which would have required coal companies to avoid polluting streams and threatening drinking supplies and to return waterways to their previous condition when mining operations ceased.

Repeal by Republicans has now given coal companies full permission to dump waste into 6,000 miles of Appalachian streams. Federal estimates are that the repeal saves 260 mining jobs—and costs nearly as many environmental ones. (Market shifts have cost 30,000 coal industry jobs in the past eight years.)

Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has its sights on a number of environmental rules, including the Clean Power Plan. Under EPA guidelines, states are to reduce pollutants from electrical power plants by improving efficiency and utilizing less polluting energy sources. The EPA estimates that by 2030 the cuts could save more than $25 billion and prevent more than 2700 premature deaths each year. Funding to states is on hold, however, until an appeals court rules on the Clean Power Plan’s Constitutionality, or Congress does away with it.

Three other House bills alarm the League of Conservation Voters. H.R. 998 and H.R. 1009 would prioritize a regulation’s cost to industries in deciding which environmental rules to rescind. Public health, safety and preservation of clean air and water would be lesser concerns. H.R. 1004 would codify the current restrictions on federal agencies’ communications with the public.

But these attacks on environmental action are a drop compared to the deluge proposed March 1 by the Office of Management and Budget.   According to the Huffington Post, the office recommends defunding 42% of the science positions in research and development, cutting the agency’s grants to states by 30%, and eliminating 38 programs entirely.

The administration’s recommendation caused Idaho’s Rep. Mike Simpson to exclaim, there’s “not that much in the EPA [budget] for crying out loud.”  Simpson, chair of the House Energy and Water Appropriations subcommittee, has a 13% voting record with the Conservation League, but even he hopes Congress won’t approve such severe cuts.

The slash in funding to state agencies is a real surprise. The Republican platform calls for replacing the EPA with consortia of state environmental agencies. Cutting state programs’ Federal funding by nearly 1/3 makes that impossible; agencies already report severe underfunding prevents adequate enforcement.

So, President Trump quietly sets this all in motion, and then proclaims his desire for clean air and clear water. Apparently, he’s confident voters are too worried about health care and the Russians to pay attention.

Too bad none of our Congressmen held town hall meetings while visiting Idaho last weekE