Megan Snow ’20
The Environmental Protection Agency recently started rewriting rules put in place during Obama’s presidency that govern pollution from oil and gas operations. Critics of these deregulatory actions that favor industries known for polluting say they will put our environment and our health at risk.
The EPA has gone through some major changes in President Trump’s term. Scott Pruitt, a businessman who helped file over ten lawsuits against the EPA, was nominated and confirmed as the head of the federal agency in early 2017 by Trump and then the senate. The Environmental Protection Agencies’ job is to enforce and regulate rules implemented by Congress to protect the health of humans and the environment, but from the deregulation of laws to pushback on green projects for the future, people are beginning to question if Pruitt is the man for the job.
“In my opinion, a successful EPA administrator is someone who has extensive scientific background, and comes from what we consider to be a neutral or regulatory background, with legal ability to judicate laws in a thoughtful and unbiased way,” says April Bowling, an Assistant Professor in the School of Health Sciences. “I think that real issue with Scott Pruitt is that his bias is so clearly against the fundamental mission of the EPA.”
Government agencies are established to protect people in their communities by creating rigorous laws and enforcing them, and the EPA was formed in 1970 when the U.S. started to discover negative changes in the environment, from polluted rivers to urban smog. Recently, it was announced that progress on the Clean Water Rule, which clarifies water resource management, is being pushed back by two years, and that the Clear Air Act will adopt looser standards. Both of these policies were put in place to reduce pollution and possible health risk to humans.
Bowling says, “With most of the regulations put in place, the industry has had time to adapt to those regulations and people often think rolling back these regulations saves industries money, but in fact that’s not always the case.” It’s unclear whether Pruitt’s bias against the EPA is the cause of these regulatory rollbacks or if they are trying to save these industries money.
Recent statistics show that the EPA has collected the lowest number of fines from polluters during President Trump’s term than in the last three presidential terms, including Obama, Bush, and Clinton. When large companies produce large masses of chemicals and release them into the air, the EPA generally fines these companies because it helps influence a reduction of air pollution. Since these fines are not as large as they used to be—and the costs of safe disposal can be high— companies are now getting away with releasing larger amounts of chemicals into the environment.
People are starting to wonder how these changes will help us combat climate change. “It’s incredibly frightening. The EPA wasn’t created by some rogue leftist hoping to put the fossil fuel industry out of business—it was launched by President Nixon as a way to protect the environment and the human lives that depend on a safe and clean environment,” says Elizabeth Leahy, an Adjunct Professor in the Women’s and Gender Studies Department at Merrimack. “The rollback in regulations, weakening standards, and fewer enforcement actions put our environment at risk. Denying climate change and removing scientific information from public documents isn’t going to change the very real effects of these changes.”
Under the direction of Scott Pruitt, the EPA also recently removed climate change references from its website. However, the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative is a group that monitors hundreds of environmental agency webpages to make sure the information is accurate, and keeps a record of changes being made. This group notes many changes on the EPA’s website, including the removal of terms like “climate change” and “global warming.”
With the EPA moving towards a direction of denying the existence climate change, it’s unclear whether our environment will truly be at risk, or if society will stand up against these drastic changes. Leahy encourages students to keep up with EPA activity through social media, such as their twitter account, or stay informed through local government. Bowling recommends the same as well as doing your own homework and research about what’s going on: “Look on their website, talk to local officials to see how they’re connected to EPA. That will help students to understand the consequences it makes in their own communities, and that’s where people get invested.”
The Merrimack community is making strides towards greater environmental protection, such as a new Green Team and the placement of recycling bins around campus. These are great steps forward, but there is so much more to do to stay informed and help change our community for the better.