(Image by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is known for identifying harmful pesticides, classifying everyday toxins, and dealing with the country’s pollution and air quality. The agency plays an important role in public health and trying to minimize exposure to hazardous substances. But with Donald Trump in charge, the EPA is now experiencing a steady decline. Congress and new EPA leaders are focusing less on scientific evidence and making it easier for businesses to use substances or practices that are harmful for both humans and the environment.
Proposals to Undercut the EPA
Trump has appointed Scott Pruitt as the EPA’s new leader, even though Pruitt is known as one of the agency’s opponents. In late March, Pruitt rejected a proposed ban on chlorpyrifos, an agricultural pesticide with links to brain damage. Potentially under threat is the EPA’s certifying Safer Choice program that determines which consumer products are free of hazardous substances. The president has also proposed a budget cut of 31% for the EPA.
Other proposed bills would undercut scientific methods and research to help make commerce easier for big industries. The EPA expert advisory panels would be opened up to industry representatives to help formulate policy. However, they would only use the “best available science” which does not always include the most well-researched science. It often excludes research methods that are widely used and delay action.
Republican Rule Over Environmental Regulation
The Honest Act was passed in the House 228-194. This law prevents the EPA from creating regulations based on data that can’t be replicated or isn’t widely available. This poses a problem because it excludes epidemiological research cited in studies. In the past, epidemiological studies were used to ban harmful substances such as leaded gasoline and the pesticide DDT. Leaded gasoline was linked to brain damage in children and DDT had deadly effects on birds (such as eagles) and caused cancer in humans.
The EPA Science Advisory Board Act was approved afterwards, 229-193. This act allows industry representatives to help formulate policies on the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, even without special permission. With this new act, more scientists will be excluded in policy-making in favor of industry. Even scientists who are funded by the EPA will have less say on the Science Advisory Board. Oklahoma Republican Representative, Frank Lucas, believes that the new act “creates a more balanced situation”, but others would disagree.
Other representatives, such as Eddie Bernice Johnson, believe that the EPA’s mission is undercut by these recently passed laws. In a statement Johnson said that the EPA Science Advisory Board Act “makes it easier for industry representatives with conflicts of interest to serve on advisory boards at the EPA while making it harder for scientific experts, all while slowing the regulatory process”. As the ranking Democrat of the committee that oversees the EPA, Johnson is concerned for the EPA’s future.
The Better Evaluation of Science and Technology (BEST) Act decreases the amount of lawsuits filed against government agencies and reduces questions asked regarding the data used to back up regulations. Again, Congress is trying to undercut science to make it easier for industries to carry out business with less environmental regulations. Yogin Kothari from the Union of Concerned Scientists finds this bill problematic because “it could have the effect of excluding newer findings, which may reveal harm undetected by older research”.
Consumers and Environment at Risk
The EPA is now on a downward spiral when it comes to public and environmental health. According to Daniel Rosenberg of the Natural Resources Defence Council, many of the industries that are currently blocking environmental regulations are the same industries who wanted to keep leaded gasoline and DDT on the market. This begs the question… how far are we willing to let the government and industries go before we stand up for the environment and public health?