“A fox guarding the henhouse”; the US EPA under Trump’s administration

US EPA, Trump, Climate Change, Environmental Justice, USA, Global Warming, Policy, Oil and gas industries, lobbies

Despite the widespread and longstanding agreement among the scientific community, the new head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, seems to believe there is ‘tremendous disagreement’ over the extent to which carbon dioxide emissions are a primary contributor to global warming. Pruitt had repeatedly sued the EPA over its pollution regulations during the Obama administration, often in concert with oil and gas interests, while refusing his State Judge’s order to release the emails he exchanged with several oil and gas executives.

President Trump himself has commented multiple times on climate change, which he considers to be an expensive “hoax ” created by the Chinese to make US manufacturing less competitive or a “scam” for a lot of people to make money out of, stressing he is not “a big fan of manmade” climate change. Trump’s intention to drastically reshape climate policies led him to pick Myron Ebell, top climate change skeptic, to lead the EPA transition team and to appoint Scott Pruit, former attorney general in Oklahoma, as head of the Agency.

When the administration unveiled its first budget, including a proposed 31% cut in funding to the EPA, it was made clear that it would remove funding for all climate change research programs and partnerships, including Obama’s Clean Power Plan, also called “a war on coal” by his opposition. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney confirmed the new administration had no interest in funding to combat climate change, saying: ‘We’re not spending money on that anymore. We consider that to be a waste of your money’.

Funding for the clean-up of lead, marine pollution, tribal lands and the Great Lakes region faces severe cuts, while climate initiatives are earmarked for a 70% budget reduction. The plan also eliminates nearly 3,000 jobs and several programs, including the agency’s environmental justice office, tasked with bridging the yawning disparity in pollution experienced by black, Hispanic and low-income communities and wealthier white neighborhoods. In the final months of Barack Obama’s administration, The Guardian reported, the EPA unveiled a new effort to tackle lead poisoning, air pollution and other problems suffered by communities of color situated next to waste treatment plants, smelters and other sources of toxins.

Years of urban planning decisions and sporadic regulation has led to a situation in which black children are twice as likely to have asthma as their white counterparts. Meanwhile, nearly half of America’s Latino population lives in counties that do not meet EPA air quality standards. “But this plan will be cut down in its infancy, should the environmental justice office be dismantled”.

John Coequyt, a campaign director of the progressive environmental group Sierra Club, called the plan ludicrous and said he “can’t imagine what the justification would be, other than racism. To cut the environmental justice program at EPA is just racist. I can’t describe it in any other terms than a move to leave those communities behind”.

However, the current administration didn’t stop at dismantling the environmental justice office but was also reportedly poised to remove all mentions of climate change from the EPA website, only to back away from the idea.  According to the Associated Press, Trump’s political appointees are “scrutinizing studies and data published by scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency, while new work is under a ‘temporary hold’ before it can be released”. Until recently, the EPA policy stated that scientists should be able to freely communicate their research without political distortion. Is the policy still in force, or is political vetting now the official doctrine?

Uncertainty over the EPA’s prospects and Trump’s well-known disdain for mainstream climate science has set off a “series of alarm bells” within the agency, said Christine McEntee, executive director of the American Geophysical Union. “There is a fear in the entire US science community and, frankly, internationally too. People fear retribution over their work. There’s a feeling that climate scientists are being targeted”. “There’s a hungry fox guarding the henhouse at our Environmental Protection Agency,” said Donna Brazile, the interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, in a statement. “Pruitt is worse than unqualified – he’s openly hostile to the idea of protecting our environment. The devastating consequences of this appointment may be felt for generations to come”.

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