Recap: #3 Elements of Trump-Era Environmental Protections

#1) EPA Director Scott Pruitt

Let’s take a deeper look at Scott Pruitt, former Attorney General of Oklahoma, and current director of the Environmental Protection Agency:

Over the past six years, Pruitt has been very outspoken in his beliefs that the EPA, under the leadership of the Obama Administration, had overstepped its legal authority and overburdened the fossil-fuel industry with unnecessary regulations. During his tenure as Attorney General, Pruitt fought against what he perceived as excessive regulations and sued the EPA at least fourteen times—often in concert with some of the largest oil companies. Pruitt has sued to block many anti-pollution measures like—the Regional Haze Rule, the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards for Power Plants, and the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. In addition, Pruitt has sued to keep the EPA from settling lawsuits brought by environmental groups and to stop the Clean Power Plan. Perhaps the zealous nature of his stance against the EPA is due to his published doubts that the link between climate change and human activity is real.

After failing to respond to a series of open-records requests dating back to January 2015, Pruitt was sued last month and forced to turn over 2,000 documents that revealed somewhat inappropriate relationships between him and Oklahoma oil and gas companies. To examine this new information, the Senate Democrats asked for a delay in Pruitt’s confirmation, but they were denied. Thus, they boycotted his confirmation hearing. Even the union representing EPA employees and the bipartisan Environmental Defense Fund organized calls to their Senators in an unprecedented effort to block Pruitt’s confirmation. Nonetheless, Pruitt was confirmed and is now the director of the bureau he called himself “the leading advocate against”—the Environmental Protection Agency.


#2) EPA Budget Cuts

In recent news, The Associated Press obtained a draft of the Environmental Protection Agency budget proposal reducing overall funding by 25% and resulting in a loss of 3,000 jobs. The plan proposes a reduction of funding for climate protection by nearly 70%, and despite environmental injustices that have recently captivated national attention—like Flint, MI—the budget also proposes to cut environmental justice programs by nearly 80%.

Without the funding, environmental groups and policy experts worldwide have stated that health and safety protections are widely threatened. For instance, the proposal effectively guts the Great Lakes Restoration Plan—a cleanup of the world’s largest surface freshwater system that has bipartisan support across all 8 states adjacent to lakes. This budget proposal plans to cut it by more than 97%—ultimately reducing its funding of $300 million annually to only $10 million.

These budget cuts have raised bipartisan concern as environmental policymakers from both Democratic and Republican sides have come together warning that any effort to weaken the enforcement of environmental rules ultimately leads to the harm of public health.


#3) Proposed Elimination of Clean Water Rule/WOTUS 

Last Tuesday, President Trump signed documents urging the EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers to review the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule also known as the Clean Water Rule. He later stated “With today’s executive order, I am directing the EPA to take action, paving the way for elimination of this very disruptive and horrible rule”.

Written by both the EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers, WOTUS clarifies that “any water that is in a 100 year floodplain and within 1500 feet of another regulated water” is covered by the Clean Water Act. Passed in 1972, the Clean Water Act established the basic structure for regulating pollutant discharge into US water, but the government faced trouble enforcing the regulation, as its language was somewhat unclear. As scientific research has since progressed, environmental protection policy has taken a more interconnected, eco-system based approach to regulation. Thus, WOTUS offered clear protections against pollutants that affected the health of downstream waters, provided certainty about how nearby waters should be protected and safeguarded, improved bureaucratic efficiency, and clarified boundaries that ensured consistent enforcement. 

Nonetheless critics called WOTUS unjust and overreaching. Many ranchers and farmers are skeptical that the outcomes will actually benefit the environment and are more concerned that the EPA will infringe upon their property rights and impede their ability to make a living. Other critics have stated that despite the rule’s best efforts to clarify regulations and minimize case by case analyses, its overreach and vague language has the potential to carry immense costs as it is challenged in court and forced to complete more analyses. Unlike most environmental protection opposition, WOTUS brought out the alarming cries of the small business owners, agricultural groups and real estate developers—all of whom garner major public support and sympathy.

As controversial as it may be, WOTUS ensures the protection of 2 million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands that provide fresh drinking water. Protecting clean water through WOTUS not only guarantees safe drinking water for 117 million Americans, but it also proves to be a critical component of ensuring survival by adapting to climate change impacts like drought, sea level rise, and stronger storms. Additionally, WOTUS holds pollutants that knowingly threaten American freshwater sources accountable for their actions by streamlining the EPA’s ability to enforce its regulations.

Although Trump often vacillated on environmental protection stances during his campaign, these #3 actions taken during his time in office raise some troubling concerns about what he has in store for the multitude of progression accomplished by the Obama Administration’s proactive environmental work. While there were shortcomings with the previous administration and perhaps an increase in undue burdens placed on businesses, repealing and eliminating regulations without effective, strategic replacements will undoubtedly threaten public health and the strides made to protect clean air and water.

“Environmental pollution is an incurable disease. It can only be prevented.”

—Barry Commoner


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