During the current pandemic President Trump has resisted safety precautions like distancing and wearing face masks. His reaction to the first 100,000 deaths was to congratulate his administration because it wasn’t worse. And he insisted on having an indoor rally Saturday night in a 19,000-seat stadium in Tulsa, two days after Oklahoma hit a record number of new cases—450.
Unfortunately, the president’s cavalier attitude toward death doesn’t begin and end with this coronavirus. While the public has been preoccupied with the pandemic, the Environmental Protection Agency has been working to rescind protections.
The New York Times recently credited the Trump administration with rolling back 66 environmental rules, including eight since March, and working on 34 more.
Three important recent changes ended restrictions on mercury and perchlorate pollution, and wreaked havoc on the Clean Water Act.
In 2018 the EPA asserted that mercury restrictions weren’t cost effective, i.e. the cost of removing mercury from burning coal was more than the cost of dealing with resulting health problems and deaths. This spring an agency study produced numbers supporting that assertion, and the EPA ended the restrictions.
Some background. One, in a letter last summer, the power utilities and labor groups involved pointed out that mercury emissions had been reduced by nearly 90 percent since regulations began and asked that the current standards be kept.
Two, the head of the EPA, Andrew Wheeler, was formerly a lobbyist representing coal magnate Edward Murray who’s been pushing a pro-coal action plan that includes getting out of the Paris Agreement and halving the EPA’s workforce.
And three, mercury poisoning causes “neurological disorders, heart and lung problems, and compromised immune systems” (AP, Dec. 2019). It is especially dangerous to unborn babies and young children.
So, it’s now government policy that preventing 11,000 ‘premature deaths’ is not worth the cost of running and maintaining scrubbers that are already installed.
Last year the EPA proposed allowing perchlorate pollution—a compound which suppresses thyroid activity and can hurt brain function—at levels up to three times higher than what is considered safe.
A federal court ordered the EPA to set a new standard by this month.
Last month the EPA basically said no; it will leave regulation up to state and local governments.
Perchlorate poisoning can be reversed but the effects on brain development of fetuses, newborns, and children cannot.
But Trump did promise to cut regulations, didn’t he?
A third recent EPA ruling places the responsibility for regulating up to 60% of the country’s water up to state and local governments. The Federal Clean Water Act is now limited only to major waterways and adjacent wetlands.
That is, the federal government is fine with most of America’s wetlands now fair game for real estate developers, and it will ignore most settling ponds and factory waste.
Just how the EPA plans to keep the Snake and Clearwater rivers remotely healthy while having no control over discharges into the many streams and canals that flow into them is a mystery.
Today many state and local governments are already incapable of keeping their drinking water free of chemical carcinogens and bacteria. The Center for Disease Control estimates illnesses caused by polluted public water systems at between 4 million and 32 million each year. That big of a range indicates we aren’t keeping records.
If you’re thinking that the Trump administration supports state and local control, forget it. Trump ended California’s right to set its own auto emissions standards last November.
No, this administration values industry profits over public health. It’s aiming to bring back the smog, stinking rivers, and lower life expectancies of the 1950s and 1960s.