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Responsible development no longer exists under EPA’s Scott Pruitt

  • Author: Kate Troll
    | Opinion
  • Updated: April 21, 2018
  • Published April 21, 2018

This year March for Science, like last year, spanned the globe with hundreds of satellite events around the world. Although the marches in Alaska and in Washington had smaller crowds, the signs were just as entertaining. "The Universe is made up of protons, neutrons, electrons and morons." "I can't believe I'm marching to save reality." One of my favorite signs featured an image of planet earth with "I'm with Her" written below. I mention this sign because Earth Day 2018 is Sunday.

Started in 1970 and with events in 193 countries, Earth Day celebrates the natural beauty of our planet and reminds us what we can do to keep it healthy. This year's focus is on cleaning up the plastics in our oceans. Earth Day is also about demonstrating support for environmental protection.

Throughout the decades, EPA has been part of the Earth Day celebration, calling attention to human progress while protecting the productivity and health of our natural systems. In 1990, William Reilly, serving as EPA Administrator under President Bush, issued a statement on Earth Day which noted, "High among these new priorities is the need to reduce the excessive amount of pollution we generate in this country – to promote recycling, use less toxics in commerce, in
our households and in our places of work. Pollution prevention is fast becoming the yardstick by which future progress on the environment will be measured."
Now fast forward, 28 years and we have EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt launching an all-out systematic attack on measures that protect human health and the environment. In looking back at his first year in office, Pruitt celebrates the rollback of 22 regulations under his watch and President's Trump rejection of climate science and policy.

From stalling toxic chemical bans to attacking the Clean Water Rule to delaying clean air standards, Pruitt is pushing a full-on pro-polluter agenda. His latest effort to undermine environmental protection includes an effort to make him, a lawyer, the final arbiter of what is acceptable science to use when developing policies. In a recent interview in The Daily Caller, Pruitt announced that he would no longer allow the agency to use studies that include private
scientific data. This means not using data provided by private medical records or data given with the promise of confidentially for business reasons.

Why would an administrator want to prohibit his own agency from using the best available science studies? The answer comes from former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and EPA Assistant Administrator Janet McCabe, who recently wrote in a New York Times op-ed, "It's not a mystery. Time and again the Trump administration has put the profits of regulated industries
over the health of the American people. Fundamental research on the effects of air pollution on public health has long been a target of those who oppose EPA's air quality regulations, like the rule that requires power plants to reduce their mercury emissions. Pruitt's goal is simple: No studies, no data, no rules."

Scott Pruitt seeks to paralyze the agency he heads. Even former Republican EPA Administrators William Ruckleshaus and Christine Todd Whitman have criticized him in harsh terms. "As a Republican appointed by President George W. Bush to run the agency," Whitman wrote last year, "I can hardly be written off as part of the liberal resistance to the new administration. But the evidence is abundant of the dangerous political turn of an agency that is supposed to be guided by science." In an op-ed, Whitman continued, "Mr. Pruitt's swift and legally questionable repeals of E.P.A. regulations pose real and lasting threats to the nation's land, air, water and public health."

As I consider his rollback record, his total abdication on the need to address climate change and this latest attempt to stifle the credible use of science, I've come to see Pruitt as the anti-Earth figure in our political affairs. I've also come to realize that Alaskans now have a litmus test for what it means to be responsible in our permitting of industry. The term "responsible development" gets bantered about quite frequently in Alaska politics and without any context
for what responsible means, the claim often goes unchallenged. For Pruitt there is no "responsible" line. It's pro-industry at whatever the cost to human health and the environment. As he draws the line, so too is it drawn for the political leaders that stand by his side. Now, when the term gets used by industry proponents, all one need do is ask whether or not they think Pruitt is doing a good job as EPA administrator. If they say yes, we now know that their pitch for "responsible" development is a sham.

I do not like noting this harsh political reality on a day that I'd rather be on a beach picking up trash but when people are marching to save reality, there is no other choice. We have retreated too far from the days when Republican EPA Administrators talked about pollution prevention as our yardstick for the future. We cannot be with her (Mother Earth) and him (Scott Pruitt) at the
same time.

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