This article was the first of a two-part blog, first published by the Huffington Post on March 2, 2017.
Note: This is Part I of a two-part analysis of President Trump’s war on the Environmental Protection Agency. Part I: Deception examines how Trump is trying to please a narrow audience of special interests and supporters while misleading the public at large. Part II: Deconstruction examines the five fronts of the war and how Trump will go about weakening the Agency.
President Trump is waging a war against the Environmental Protection Agency, but you wouldn’t know it from his first address to Congress, or even his Twitter account. Instead, he asked Congress to work with him to “promote clean air and water.” It’s the simple and reassuring message he wants the public to hear, deliberate cover as he sets long-time EPA foe Scott Pruitt to the task of deconstruction the agency from within. For starters, Trump has asked Pruitt to slash EPA’s budget by one-quarter and directed EPA to weaken clean water safeguards for streams and wetlands, with further orders to rollback clean air and climate protections expected to soon follow.
According to Myron Ebell, the head of Trump’s EPA transition team, the objective is to permanently cripple the agency’s capacity to bounce back under future presidents. Pruitt, with a long history of secretive alliances with energy industry lobbyists, is a perfect pick to carry out the job for Trump now that he has been (narrowly) confirmed to be EPA Administrator.
But Trump faces a problem – public support for protecting public health – particularly the health of children – is a widespread American value that runs deeper, and further across the political spectrum, than other issues. In fact, 84 percent of Trump voters want to preserve or increase the strength of federal regulations on drinking water, according to a December 2016 poll by Morning Consult. And 78 percent of Trump voters want federal regulations on air pollution left alone or strengthened.
That’s where Trump’s deception comes in – hoping to reassure the general public with words that hide the deeds, while sending different signals to the far narrower group of special interests and supporters who share Trump’s disdain for EPA. We first saw Trump adopt this approach during the elections after he had secured the GOP nomination. During the primaries, EPA was a favorite target of Trump, who said in one debate that he would “get rid of” most of EPA. “We are going to have little tidbits left,” he said “but we are going to take a tremendous amount out.” After his nomination, he has had a new message. At rallies leading up to election day and during media appearances before and after the election, he has stuck to a single mantra – calling for “crystal clean” water and air, a message we heard again in his Congressional address.
The Stakes Are Enormous for Public Health
If successful, Trump’s reckless war on EPA will have dangerous impacts on the amount of toxic pollution emitted to the air and dumped in waters, and for the climate our children will inherit from us. Thanks to the work of EPA, states and many responsible companies, we have visibly cleaner and healthier air and water today. From 1970 to 2015, EPA has implemented the Clean Air Act to successfully cut emissions of six dangerous air pollutants by an average of 70 percent, and they did this while the economy more than tripled. If we don’t change course and go backward, these air pollution reductions will lead to 22 million fewer lost school and work days due to illness annually, as well as 2.4 million fewer asthma attacks and 230,000 fewer annual deaths, by 2020. Implementing the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act, EPA has helped thousands of communities provide safer drinking water to families.
But the job is by no means done, especially when it comes to protecting the health of children susceptible to asthma and lead poisoning, and the elderly and others who are particularly vulnerable to lung and heart disease. Even today, up to ten million homes across still get their drinking water through lead pipes – in Flint, Michigan and across the nation. Half of all Americans live in counties with unhealthy air quality. The solution to this problem is to reduce pollution from smokestacks and tailpipes. The oil lobby and other special interests, however, are hoping that Trump and Pruitt will instead issue a weaker standard for smog-forming ozone, declaring unhealthy air “clean” by lowering the bar and putting the bottom line of oil companies ahead of science and children’s health.
Shining Sunlight on Trump’s Deceptive War
The fate of EPA may be in the hands of lawmakers at the moment, but they are answerable to a public that does not support a radical agenda to rollback EPA and leave children’s health vulnerable to increased pollution. After Florida congressman Matt Gaetz proposed a bill to eliminate the EPA altogether, he returned home to a town hall where he was confronted by scores of constituents angered by his efforts to eliminate the agency.
In addition to holding elected representatives to account, we need to remember that polluter lobbyists try to do much of their work out of sight and in the dark. It will be the responsibility of concerned members of Congress, the media and all of us to shine a light on the true scope and scale of Trump’s war on EPA. Our children’s health and future depend on it.