Five environmental impacts of the EPA changing under Trump

EPA Head Pruit calls it back to basics, but across the board the agency seems to be moving away from its purpose

Written by Beryl Lipton
Edited by JPat Brown

Last week, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, traveled to Sycamore, Pennsylvania and, speaking before the coal miners at Harvey Mine, announced that the EPA would be advancing a “Back-to-Basics” agenda in the new administration.

“Back-to-Basics means returning EPA to its core mission,” Pruitt said, “protecting the environment by engaging with state, local, and tribal partners to create sensible regulations that enhance economic growth.”

The EPA was created as part of Reorganization Plan No. 3, signed by President Nixon on July 9, 1970, and the only mention of economics in the original was to say that the Council of Environmental Quality enjoyed a place of esteem comparable to that of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Beyond that, the “basics” of the original authorization seem to suggest that the EPA would be establishing, enforcing, providing research for, and enabling others to comply with policies intended to protect the environment - just as many laypeople expect it should.

According to the EPA release, which contained multiple statements from coal companies that will be benefiting from the new easements on environmental regulations, the “new direction” for the agency (a contradiction that employees and the public alike find confusing) will be focused on transferring responsibility for environmental to state and local partners.

But what can we expect in a world where the EPA answers to the economic concerns of the very industries it should be monitoring?

5. Just because you want coal to happen, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.

The industry seemingly at the heart of current EPA concerns, coal, stands to lose dearly in a world already appearing to succumb to the adverse effects of a climate changing for the warmer - and it knows it.

A recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing noted that at times, there is too much coal to respond to a declining demand for the commodity, with rising temperatures and alternative energy sources cutting away at the previous need. And many expect that global temperatures will continue to rise, in part due to the contribution of coal, suggesting that efforts to expand the industry will in fact contribute to its downfall.

4. Water worries will have to wait

Among the recent regulatory rollbacks championed by the Trump administration is the repeal of the Office of Surface Mining’s Stream Protection Rule, which looks to save on corporate-level compliance costs but won’t do much to restore jobs to the declining market. And it obviously won’t do much to protect the water resources it set out to save.

3. That means those related to pipelines too

The action around the Dakota Access Pipeline was ignited, in large part, by concerns that the line, should it leak, would harm important water resources. Despite thousands of protesters and a temporary stay, the pipeline began transporting oil at the end of last month.

2. Hold your breath

The latest Obama-era regulation to hit the Trump chopping block is a provision to limit methane emissions at natural gas drilling sites.

“American businesses should have the opportunity to review new requirements, assess economic impacts and report back,” says the new EPA head, “before those new requirements are finalized.”

The economic effects of air pollution control, however, may very well be transferred to the neighbors that must deal with exposure to the as-yet not well understood effects of the gas. And states may not be able to easily enforce disciplinary proceedings against responsible entities.

1. Increased privatization

The private sector is set to get a big boost under this administration, and the latest talk to limit the power of the public sphere involves pushing legal consideration to outside counsel, potentially bypassing the influence of longtime EPA employees in favor of kowtowing to corporate concerns.

MuckRock will need your help watching the transition of EPA priorities and state-level efforts to fill in the gaps. Have an area you’d like us to look into? Let us know at info@muckrock.com


Image via EPA YouTube