EPA's own Trump-appointed board scolds it for actions that ignore science
Since the day he moved into the White House, Donald Trump has done everything possible to reduce the effectiveness of the EPA. That not only included turning the whole agency over to lobbyists, and removing regulations, but dismissing scientists by the score. However, there is still a Scientific Advisory Board which was established along with the agency in 1978. That board is now dominated by members, several of them non-scientists, who were appointed to their positions by Trump. Last week that board posted a set of draft reports about how EPA’s recent actions align with scientific data.
Spoiler alert: They don’t.
What the drafts show is that the actions taken the Trump EPA—and in particular the reclassification of waterways that rolls back the “Waters of the United States” definition made under Barack Obama—don’t just weaken regulations in a way that represents a threat to the public and environment. Perhaps even more importantly, the board loaded with Trump appointees repeatedly made it clear that the regulations weren’t just bad, but they were directly counter to the best scientific information.
The same applies to recently proposed EPA rules what would weaken restrictions on mercury emissions from power plants and industry. That ruling was found to be counter to the best available science. So would a rule that would permit more chemicals to be allowed into waterways. Ditto Trump’s attempts to undo Obama-era targets for mileage and emissions from cars and trucks.
Critically, the board also pointed out the danger represented by another proposed change that would limit the types of scientific studies that can be used in evaluating environmental data. Under a perverse banner of “transparency,” Republicans at both the state and federal level have been systematically working to eliminate environmental studies that look at possible health effects to people, unless all of the medical data related to the people in those studies is also released. Since the vast majority of studies don’t, and can’t, do this because of privacy laws, this this new interpretation of what studies are allowed kicks out almost every study on how everything from lead paint to pesticides can affect human health.
The draft reports also show that, in addition to not following good science, some of the proposed changes at the EPA simply violate the law. Again, this is particularly the case when looking at the Waters of the United States definition; a standard that took decades of study, compromises, and court cases in the effort to hack out an agreement that fit with definitions of federal, state, and tribal waters. The definitions didn’t just “neglect accepted science” they also ignored existing legal definitions.
The reports are spotted over and over with instances where the Trump EPA has ignored the best science available to generate a rule based on ideology, in utter defiance of the mandated role of the agency as defined by Congress. But the bigger concern is that the way the agency is now being structured, and the way that rules are now being defined, is designed to undercut science. In just the last year, the EPA has dismissed another internal regulatory board that reviewed standards. With the lack of internal review and the deliberate exclusion of studies on how pollution affects human health, the agency is set up to “undercut the integrity of environmental laws” and to introduce “systematic bias” in favor of polluters.
When a board populated almost entirely by Trump appointees worries that the suggested changes in regulations are “fact-based” but are “politically motivated,” it’s just more evidence of how extreme the EPA has become.
More evidence that will be ignored by this EPA.