The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has long been in the crosshairs of conservatives, who see its regulations as anathema to economic growth. During his campaign, Donald Trump declared: "We're going to get rid of it in almost every form."Reminder: he's talking about the agency that reduced US air pollution by 70 percent since 1970, and gave us the Safe Drinking Water Act so you can drink from your tap without getting E.Coli.
As the president and his new administrator gleefully strip away "redundancies" and "job-killing regulations", they risk undoing the agency's ability to carry out its main purpose: protecting public health. Here's how Trump has weakened the EPA so far:
Trump's first blow to the EPA was appointing a lifelong enemy of the agency as its administrator. As Attorney General of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt took part in 14 lawsuits against the EPA on behalf of the fossil fuel industry. He's also weak on science: the administrator doesn't think carbon dioxide is a contributor to climate change, despite scientific consensus.
Appointing Scott Pruitt
EPA employees were feeling the pressure even before these proposed cuts. Days after Trump's swearing in, the agency's public communications went dark for a month, in compliance with a White House gag order.
Silencing EPA Employees
Trump signed an executive order in February instructing Pruitt to begin taking down the Obama-era Waters of the US Rule (WOTUS). The clean water rule, implemented in 2015, aims to protect the nation's small water bodies that provide 117 million Americans with drinking water."What's the most basic thing about protecting your drinking water?" asked Thomas Burke, environmental scientist and former Deputy Health Commissioner of New Jersey. "Looking upstream and making sure you don't have bad things coming downriver affecting the millions of people downstream. It's common sense."
This week, Trump directed the EPA to undo the Obama administration's Clean Car Rules. The rule's standards are expected to increase the country's average automobile mileage to over 50 miles per gallon and save consumers almost 2 trillion dollars.Trump and Pruitt will also try to take down the Clean Power Plan, which aims to curb emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants 32 percent by 2030. Pruitt doesn't recognize greenhouse gases as harmful to public health. The Supreme Court, however, does.
More dangerous to the EPA, however, are the dramatic cuts to the agency's budget outlined in Trump's so-called "skinny-budget" proposal. In it, the president proposes cutting the EPA's annual budget from $8 billion to $6 billion, and firing 1 in 5 employees. This would shrink its staff from 15,000 down to 12,000. The cuts would also take away from the agency's research into toxic compounds and contaminants."People don't know that we [EPA] really are all about public health," Gina McCarthy, former EPA administrator, told Motherboard. "You know we're the ones that got lead out of gasoline so that our kids could actually think when they got to school."