The Environmental Protection Agency is being compromised to a degree unprecedented in its history. Administrator Scott Pruitt has removed half the scientific review board and will replace them with “industry allies.”
As CNN reported on May 8, this is troublesome because, “EPA relies heavily on the scientific guidance of the group when it comes to air and water quality when making policy decisions.” The term “industry allies” is widely regarded as a euphemism for industry lobbyists who will now advise the EPA on what — assuming any — science should guide its policy initiatives.
These “industry allies” have not been selected, but Pruitt and his associates have explicitly stated that they want industry representatives not only contributing to policy recommendations, but also participating on the scientific review board portion of policy advisement. This is what many are so troubled by, particularly since the new members are to be selected from the industries that EPA is tasked with regulating. It’s one more example of great financial interests using government agencies to let the fox guard the henhouse, so to speak.
There are other troubling changes to the EPA. Most of the information regarding climate change research and policy solutions have been removed from their government website. In fact, the page on their website titled “climate change” was removed in entirety last month. With these abusive changes to the agency charged with protecting our environment and in many ways our health, can we look to history to find a solution to the EPA’s relative undoing?
Enter Ronald Reagan, president from 1981-1989. He had 5 different EPA administrators, and the third represented the closest threat to what we know today: appointed in 1982, Anne Gorsuch Burford (Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s mother) is widely considered the worst EPA administrator since the agency’s inception. After she was hand-selected by Reagan, Boulder Weekly reported that “the environmental agency’s enforcement actions dropped by 60 percent her first year as administrator. And of the $700 million that the EPA was owed in fines when she took office, she ended up collecting only $40 million.”
This inaction came at a cost. Burford’s negligence became widely known after large chemical spills occurred as the result of intentional non-enforcement of environmental regulations. When people started catching on to the EPA’s mismanagement, a Democratic-majority Congress started investigating the EPA and found that they were not performing their charged duties of collected fines for violating environmental laws, nor were they seeing to it that laws were not violated in the first place. About a year after becoming EPA administrator, Anne Gorsuch Burford resigned from the EPA. Some of her appointments were less fortunate. A few were sentenced to prison terms for perjury or criminal negligence regarding non-enforcement of environmental law.
Reagan’s next two EPA administrators were much more faithful to the mission of the EPA, and one of them (William Ruckelshaus) is currently an outspoken critic of Scott Pruitt. So the lesson is that while Scott Pruitt may do lasting damage to the EPA and our environment, if the public pays attention, and he continues down the path of Anne G. Burford, he can be removed by law or political pressure.
So stay abreast of what the EPA does next! Message your congressperson when the EPA takes a negligent or unethical action; stage or participate in a protest if things go far enough. Always keep in mind that citizen and governmental oversight can keep the worst from happening. The relative stability of the world’s climate and the short-term quality of America’s air and water lie in the balance.