From its inception, the Trump administration has canceled or weakened more than 100 regulations promulgated by the EPA. Not one instance of promotion of public health and safety has occurred during this interval.
The EPA was established by executive order of President Richard Nixon in 1970 as an independent, Cabinet-level, federal agency. EPA's scientists and analysts had worked across previous Republican and Democratic administrations to strengthen environmental regulations relating to air and water quality, to identify and control toxic substances, and to address accelerated climate change.
President Trump nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to serve as EPA Administrator. While serving as AG, Pruitt had repeatedly sued EPA over multiple regulations that impacted fossil fuel industries. Pruitt assumed office in February 2017. He was forced to resign in July 2018 under a cloud of multiple investigations and ethical charges.
Pruitt acquiesced in the president's budgetary changes for the EPA, which slashed the operating budget by almost one quarter and reduced staff by 20%. He banned use of the term "global warming" within the agency and limited activities by the agency's professional staff. He restricted sources of information that could be cited by EPA scientists. He sought to rescind the Clean Power Plan and Clean Water Rule, to reduce regulation of coal ash created by power plants, and to reduce emissions standards for automobiles and trucks. He postponed regulations of a variety of toxic chemicals, including the controversial pesticide, chlorpyrifos. He gained the ire of public health and pediatric authorities, when he sought to postpone for six years new regulations related to lead contamination of the environment.
Following Pruitt's resignation, President Trump named Pruitt's deputy, Andrew Wheeler, as acting EPA Administrator. He was confirmed by the Senate in February 2019. Wheeler had for years represented a one-owner coal company, lobbied against environmental regulations, and served as counsel for various Senate committees and for Sen. Jim Inhofe, a staunch denier of global warming.
One of Wheeler's first moves was to relax regulation of methane emissions from oil and natural gas wells. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, at least 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in this regard. This saved energy companies hundreds of millions of dollars.
In 2019, Wheeler opposed tighter regulation of soot from coal-burning power plants. He advocated weaker regulation of mercury emissions from these plants. Once mercury enters the environment, it persists forever as a potential toxin for the brains of fetuses and children. This year, after the COVID-19 pandemic began, Wheeler relaxed many environmental regulations for energy-producing companies. He argued that the pandemic interfered with the ability of companies to comply with rules.
In July, the Trump administration approved a proposal for a large gold and copper mine adjacent to Bristol Bay in Alaska. The bay is an important fishery for sockeye salmon. Opponents argued that run-off from the mine would endanger the fishery and cost thousands of jobs. Donald Trump Jr. became an outspoken critic of the proposal. In August, the President reversed course and denied approval for the mine.
In August of this year, the Trump administration announced plans to auction leases to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve in Alaska. Earlier this month, the administration stated its intentions to lease drilling rights in ANWR before the inauguration of President-elect Biden, who opposes such drilling.
In late August, the President ordered the opening of Alaska's vast Tongass National Forest to logging, mining, and energy activities. The forest had been protected for 20 years against such development. TNF represents half of the world's intact, temperate rainforest, which removes large quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
At every turn, the Trump administration has favored fossil fuel and chemical companies and a variety of developers over the health and welfare of the public. These actions run counter to an extensive body of scientific data, which clearly links environmental degradation to erosion of human well-being. Sadly, in this administration profit trumps current and future health of the people.
Contact Clif Cleaveland at firstname.lastname@example.org.