The Ten Worst Things Scott Pruitts EPA Has Already Done

No part of the government has been untouched by the Trump revolution. Multiple Cabinet departments are headed by people opposed to their core missions, the judiciary is being transformed at an unprecedented rate, and thanks to the new tax cut, even the sacred cows of Medicare and Social Security are now in line for legislative slaughter.

But nowhere is the takeover clearer than at the Environmental Protection Agency, now headed by Scott Pruitt, who made his name suing the watchdog on behalf of fossil-fuel interests. In one year, Pruitt has destroyed the foundations of the agency, firing scientists and replacing them with industry lobbyists; undoing critical regulations that protect our air and water; and favoring industry interests over public health.

The trajectory is clear: Prioritize polluters freedom over personal freedom, health, and environmental protection. Here are the top 10 worst actions Pruitts EPA has taken in 2017:

10. Corruption

Pruitt is probably the most suspect member of the Trump administration, which is saying a lot. At his confirmation, he lied to Congress (a felony) about his private email account, which he used for communicating with industry representatives. When he served as Oklahomas attorney general, Pruitt was discovered to have simply cut and pasted a letter written by oil giant Devon Energy onto his own stationery.

And then theres the money. Since taking office, Pruitt racked up $58,000 in taxpayer-paid travel bills for flights to and from Oklahoma (where he is rumored to be mulling a Senate run in 2020), often on the flimsiest of pretexts. The EPAs inspector general is investigating.

Pruitt also spent $40,000 of taxpayer money to fly to Morocco to promote fossil fuels. (How that counts as environmental protection is anyones guess.) And he retained a shady PR firm that has previously done opposition research on journalists, at the cost to taxpayers of $120,000a contract voided when the news of it broke.

9. Slashing the Budget to Tidbits

The EPA is, in large part, a law-enforcement agency. Yet can you imagine any other law-enforcement department slashing its budget by more than 30 percent in one year? The result is a deliberate anarchy as polluters know the EPA cant (and doesnt want to) do its job. Enforcement actions have dropped by more than 30 percent from Obama administration levels, and more than 20 percent from George W. Bush levels. Demands that polluting factories clean up their act have plummeted nearly 90 percent. The cops are just not walking the beat.

For example, Superfund enforcementi.e., making polluters pay for cleaning up the toxic messes theyve madehas been cut 37 percent, causing many cleanups to simply stop altogether (PDF). In 2017 alone, programs that have been completely eliminated include those that reduce radon in schools, control runoff pollution from roads, and certify lead-paint-removal contractors, among many others. And thats by design: Candidate Trump promised to eliminate all of the EPA, leaving only tidbits. Pruitt is his hatchet man. But even these budget cuts dont include the largest shrinking of the agency…

8. Hollowing Out the Agency

Its not just EPAs budget being cutits the agency itself. More than 700 employees have left or been forced out. Thats just the beginning: Congress is set to appropriate $60 million to buy out the contracts of EPA staff, whose positions will be eliminated. Many high-level enforcement jobs remain vacant.

Other key posts have been filled by former industry shills, like Nancy Beck, a chemical-industry lobbyist whos now ostensibly in charge of regulating toxic chemicals. Whistleblowers have reported a culture of fear and suspicion, with longtime staffers assumed to be disloyal to the new regime.

Elgie Holstein, senior director for strategic planning at Environmental Defense Fund, told The Daily Beast these cuts are motivated not by budgetary concerns but by opposition to the EPAs core mission. Its easy to think of it as reducing bureaucracy, Holstein said, but when you consider the fact that EPA is such a small agency to begin with, with a budget thats basically what it was in the 1970s (adjusted for inflation), its pretty clear that further reductions in staff is all part of a strategy to undermine and hollow out EPA as an effective public health agency.

7. Disaster Failure

One of the most stark examples of the EPAs incapacity came after Hurricane Harvey, when the unfolding storm disaster caused factories to release nearly 6 million pounds of pollution into the air. The EPA was slow to respond, but quick to issue a press release congratulating itself. In one case, a chemical plant exploded, triggering evacuations, and the EPA was found to have simply not shown up at the scene until after the explosion happened.

By coincidence, the EPA had just withdrawn the Chemical Disaster Rule, which would require companies to disclose which hazardous materials they had on site. That withdrawal didnt affect the Houston response, but it indicated that the next such disaster might be even worse; the EPA is not a disaster-response agencyits value comes from monitoring risks over the long term, which now it wont do as efficiently.

This will only get worse. Global climate disruption has already increased the frequency of extreme weather events. If the EPAs budget is slashed by a third, and if climate change is not allowed to be spoken of, let alone factored into risk analysis and resource allocation, Harvey is just a tiny taste of what is to come.

6. Secrecy

You wouldnt know the EPA is a public agency from Pruitts unprecedented secrecy. He has demanded that employees not take notes at meetings with him, ordered a denial of Freedom of Information Act requests, and implemented gag rules that ban staffers from talking about a host of environmental issues. Until pressured, he refused to release his meeting calendarnot surprisingly, given what it reveals (see No. 5).

And once again, theres the enormous waste of money. Pruitt has retained his own round-the-clock security detail, costing taxpayers $830,000. No EPA administrator has ever done that. He also installed a secure phone booth in his own office for $33,000, and special locks that cost $6,000.

The reason for all this secrecy is obvious

5. The EPA Is Now an Industry Puppet

As he did in Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt is taking his orders from the polluters hes meant to regulate. The New York Times recently tracked who Pruitt met with on a single day, April 26: top executives from a coal-burning utility, the board of a huge coal-mining company, and lobbyists from General Motors. No environmental or public health groups.

The remainder of the six-month period the Times examined was similar: chemical manufacturers, Shell Oil, truck manufacturers, the National Mining Association, Oklahoma oil lobbyists; not to mention the Koch brothers-funded American Legislative Exchange Council and CropLife America, a trade association run by pesticide manufacturers.

The effects of these close contacts have been obvious.Sometimes, theyve been plums handed out to specific companies, like the aforementioned Devon Energy, which had agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties for illegally emitting 80 tons of toxic pollution each yearuntil Pruitt simply voided the settlement and let it go with a slap on the wrist.

More often, the effects are far broader…

4. Regulatory Rollback

Pruitts EPA has eliminated regulations that:

  • Verified emissions from a companys industrial expansion are what the company says they are. (Now the EPA will simply take estimates at face value.) (PDF)
  • Blocked a potentially disastrous mining operation in Alaskas Bristol Bay. (The mine will now go forward, though a single leak could devastate the worlds largest sockeye salmon population.)
  • Required the tracking of methane emissions (this decision was overturned by the Supreme Court).
  • Required data collection of emissions from oil and gas companies.
  • Monitored fracking.
  • Required companies to disclose which hazardous chemicals theyre storing.
  • Protected tributaries of sensitive bodies of water (even though the EPAs analysis showed it would cost less to prevent the pollution than to allow it). (PDF)
  • Set tighter emissions standards for trucks.
  • Banned the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos.

Still under rollback review are restrictions on smog, coal ash, mining waste, mercury, and benzene pollution. Even the popular Energy Star appliance certification program has been slated for reduction.

3. The Clean Power Plan

Power plants account for approximately 35 percent of U.S. carbon emissions. Without tackling power plants, you cant address climate change. And without unified federal action, you cant address power plants.

The Clean Power Plan was born on Aug. 3, 2015, when it was finalized by President Obamas EPA, and it died on March 28, 2017, when President Trump called for a review. To no ones surprise, in October, the EPA recommended a total repeal.

Its hard to overestimate how important and game-changing the Clean Power Plan was. It called for a 32 percent reduction in power-plant carbon emissions by 2030. It offered incentives for investment in renewable energy, creating thousands of jobs. It set state-by-state targets that took into account each states unique needs. And now its dead.

2. The War on Science

In the era of alternative facts, its no surprise that science, the scientific method, and scientists have all come under attack at Pruitts EPA.

To take one example, Pruitts climate denialism (more on this later) defies the unanimous consent of the scientific community, choosing the fake science of fake think tanks like the Heartland Institute, which regularly churns out bogus scientific reports to create the perception that there is significant disagreement about climate change.

Another example was Pruitts decision that scientists who have received EPA funding within three years can no longer serve on the agencys 12 scientific advisory committees. While that may sound like a smart conflict-of-interest provision, its actual effect will be to exclude the majority of scientific experts from serving on the committees, and to replace them with industry experts instead.

For good measure, Pruitt has also defied economics as well. In fact, renewable energy generates more jobs than fossil fuel energy, but Pruitt endlessly repeats the lie that regulatory rollbacks are needed to save jobs.

All this has happened away from the spotlight. To the average person, said Holstein, the EPA seems like a murky government agency and nobody really knows how it works. But everyone who is familiar with it knows that its science and technology capabilities are at the heart of its success in protecting all of us from pollution.

1. Climate Change Denial

Finally, in terms of real-world consequences, theres nothing that tops climate change. The World Health Organization estimates that 250,000 people will die each year between 2030-2050 from factors directly attributable to climate change. That doesnt even count the mass migration crises that rising sea levels and changing crop zones will bring about. There is full scientific consensus that human emissions are warming the planet; over a five-year period, 928 peer-reviewed articles affirmed this fact, while zero opposed it.

Pruitt has stuck the EPAs head in the scientific sand. The phrase climate change has been erased from the agency website. Any offices working on climate change have been closed or reassigned. Pruitt has even created a blacklist of EPA employees who had worked or published on the issue. Meanwhile, Pruitt claims to have advised Trump to withdraw from the Paris accord on climate change, which he did, even though the rest of the world has signed it and is moving forward without the U.S.

Nor is Pruitt alone. His chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, was previously the chief for Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, who calls climate change a hoax. Pruitt has also hired Inhofe aide Byron Brown to serve as his deputy.

Pruitt has gotten in a little trouble for these actions. After stating on CNBC that I would not agree that [carbon dioxide] is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see, the EPA inspector general referred the matter to the EPAs scientific integrity officer, Francesca Grifo, since EPA officials are required to reflect scientific consensus in their comments. (In response, a right-wing group demanded an investigation of Grifo.)

But theres little that can stop Pruitts anti-science crusade, absent congressional action, which, with the present Congress, seems highly unlikely. After going through some of this litany with the EDFs Holstein, I asked him if there was anything that any of us could or should do.

Holstein said the most important actions to watch for in 2018 may be in the obscure realms of budget cuts and regional office closures. There are also a lot of things well be looking at in terms of whether administration will lower the hurdle for pollutants, reduce enforcement at EPA and at the Justice Department, and try to dial the budget down at NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which often studies climate change] and other science agencies.

When I asked if there was any hope, given the awful news from 2017, Holstein took the long view. What I say to people who want to give up is: Dont do it, he said. We have built over the last 40 to 50 years a bipartisan national legacy of bedrock environmental protections and safeguards and we should fight for them. The fact that President Trump and Administrator Pruitt would like to help polluters avoid responsibility doesnt change one bit the fact that we have nearly a half century of national and public commitment to a cleaner environment and healthier communities.

Besides, Holstein added, we have a great deal at stake.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-ten-worst-things-scott-pruitts-epa-has-already-done

Plastic fibres found in tap water around the world, study reveals

Exclusive: Tests show billions of people globally are drinking water contaminated by plastic particles, with 83% of samples found to be polluted

Microplastic contamination has been found in tap water in countries around the world, leading to calls from scientists for urgent research on the implications for health.

Scores of tap water samples from more than a dozen nations were analysed by scientists for an investigation by Orb Media, who shared the findings with the Guardian. Overall, 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibres.

The US had the highest contamination rate, at 94%, with plastic fibres found in tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agencys headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York. Lebanon and India had the next highest rates.

European nations including the UK, Germany and France had the lowest contamination rate, but this was still 72%. The average number of fibres found in each 500ml sample ranged from 4.8 in the US to 1.9 in Europe.

The new analyses indicate the ubiquitous extent of microplastic contamination in the global environment. Previous work has been largely focused on plastic pollution in the oceans, which suggests people are eating microplastics via contaminated seafood.

We have enough data from looking at wildlife, and the impacts that its having on wildlife, to be concerned, said Dr Sherri Mason, a microplastic expert at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who supervised the analyses for Orb. If its impacting [wildlife], then how do we think that its not going to somehow impact us?

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A magnified image of clothing microfibres from washing machine effluent. One study found that a fleece jacket can shed as many as 250,000 fibres per wash. Photograph: Courtesy of Rozalia Project

A separate small study in the Republic of Ireland released in June also found microplastic contamination in a handful of tap water and well samples. We dont know what the [health] impact is and for that reason we should follow the precautionary principle and put enough effort into it now, immediately, so we can find out what the real risks are, said Dr Anne Marie Mahon at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, who conducted the research.

Mahon said there were two principal concerns: very small plastic particles and the chemicals or pathogens that microplastics can harbour. If the fibres are there, it is possible that the nanoparticles are there too that we cant measure, she said. Once they are in the nanometre range they can really penetrate a cell and that means they can penetrate organs, and that would be worrying. The Orb analyses caught particles of more than 2.5 microns in size, 2,500 times bigger than a nanometre.

Microplastics can attract bacteria found in sewage, Mahon said: Some studies have shown there are more harmful pathogens on microplastics downstream of wastewater treatment plants.

Plastic fibres found in tap water across the world

Microplastics are also known to contain and absorb toxic chemicals and research on wild animals shows they are released in the body. Prof Richard Thompson, at Plymouth University, UK, told Orb: It became clear very early on that the plastic would release those chemicals and that actually, the conditions in the gut would facilitate really quite rapid release. His research has shown microplastics are found in a third of fish caught in the UK.

The scale of global microplastic contamination is only starting to become clear, with studies in Germany finding fibres and fragments in all of the 24 beer brands they tested, as well as in honey and sugar. In Paris in 2015, researchers discovered microplastic falling from the air, which they estimated deposits three to 10 tonnes of fibres on the city each year, and that it was also present in the air in peoples homes.

This research led Frank Kelly, professor of environmental health at Kings College London, to tell a UK parliamentary inquiry in 2016: If we breathe them in they could potentially deliver chemicals to the lower parts of our lungs and maybe even across into our circulation. Having seen the Orb data, Kelly told the Guardian that research is urgently needed to determine whether ingesting plastic particles is a health risk.

The new research tested 159 samples using a standard technique to eliminate contamination from other sources and was performed at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. The samples came from across the world, including from Uganda, Ecuador and Indonesia.

How microplastics end up in drinking water is for now a mystery, but the atmosphere is one obvious source, with fibres shed by the everyday wear and tear of clothes and carpets. Tumble dryers are another potential source, with almost 80% of US households having dryers that usually vent to the open air.

We really think that the lakes [and other water bodies] can be contaminated by cumulative atmospheric inputs, said Johnny Gasperi, at the University Paris-Est Creteil, who did the Paris studies. What we observed in Paris tends to demonstrate that a huge amount of fibres are present in atmospheric fallout.

Plastic fibres may also be flushed into water systems, with a recent study finding that each cycle of a washing machine could release 700,000 fibres into the environment. Rains could also sweep up microplastic pollution, which could explain why the household wells used in Indonesia were found to be contaminated.

In Beirut, Lebanon, the water supply comes from natural springs but 94% of the samples were contaminated. This research only scratches the surface, but it seems to be a very itchy one, said Hussam Hawwa, at the environmental consultancy Difaf, which collected samples for Orb.

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This planktonic arrow worm, Sagitta setosa, has eaten a blue plastic fibre about 3mm long. Plankton support the entire marine food chain. Photograph: Richard Kirby/Courtesy of Orb Media

Current standard water treatment systems do not filter out all of the microplastics, Mahon said: There is nowhere really where you can say these are being trapped 100%. In terms of fibres, the diameter is 10 microns across and it would be very unusual to find that level of filtration in our drinking water systems.

Bottled water may not provide a microplastic-free alternative to tapwater, as the they were also found in a few samples of commercial bottled water tested in the US for Orb.

Almost 300m tonnes of plastic is produced each year and, with just 20% recycled or incinerated, much of it ends up littering the air, land and sea. A report in July found 8.3bn tonnes of plastic has been produced since the 1950s, with the researchers warning that plastic waste has become ubiquitous in the environment.

We are increasingly smothering ecosystems in plastic and I am very worried that there may be all kinds of unintended, adverse consequences that we will only find out about once it is too late, said Prof Roland Geyer, from the University of California and Santa Barbara, who led the study.

Mahon said the new tap water analyses raise a red flag, but that more work is needed to replicate the results, find the sources of contamination and evaluate the possible health impacts.

She said plastics are very useful, but that management of the waste must be drastically improved: We need plastics in our lives, but it is us that is doing the damage by discarding them in very careless ways.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/06/plastic-fibres-found-tap-water-around-world-study-reveals

Billionaire Bloomberg to fund $5m public health projects in 40 cities worldwide

Exclusive: Melbourne, Accra and Ulaanbaatar among cities to benefit from funding pledged by former New York mayor to tackle issues from air pollution to obesity

Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire bte noire of both the sugar industry and the tobacco industry, famously fought for a ban on the sale of large-sized colas and other sweet drinks when he was mayor of New York and lost. Although that is not how he sees it.

We actually won that battle, he says. I have always thought if we had not been stopped by the court, it would have died as an issue. Nobody would have known about it. But the fact that it kept coming back to the newspapers was a gift in disguise because people started to think, Holy God, maybe full-sugar drinks are bad for me.

So what happened was consumption of full-sugar drinks around the world has gone down dramatically. If we had won the thing, I think it would have been less.

Bloomberg did plenty more for public health while mayor of New York, including imposing one of the first bans on smoking in bars and restaurants in 2003. Since then he has widened his sphere of influence, funding successful campaigns through his philanthropic foundation for sugar taxes in Mexico and Philadelphia and for curbs on smoking all over the world.

Now, appointed last year as the World Health Organisations global ambassador for non-communicable diseases meaning anything that can harm or kill you that is not infectious the eighth richest person in the world, worth an estimated $47.5bn, is taking his philosophy and his cash to 40 cities around the globe.

His offer, taken up by about 40 cities so far and officially launched on Tuesday, is $5m in assistance from Bloomberg Philanthropies as well as technical support for cities that choose to focus on one of 10 healthy lifestyle issues, including curbing sugary drink consumption, air pollution, promoting exercise and and bans on smoking. They range from affluent Melbourne in Australia to Cali and Medellin in Colombia, Accra in Ghana, Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, Khatmandu in Nepal and Kampala in Uganda.

National and state governments collect taxes, but it is city governments that make things happen. 50% of people currently live in cities and that is projected to rise to 70% in the next decade or so. Cities are where the rubber meets the road, Bloomberg told the Guardian. The problems are in the cities and the solutions are in the cities.

Bloomberg is upbeat, indomitable and an independent thinker. He made his money in global financial services and has been a Democrat, a Republican and an independent at various times. He says he believes the war on sugar and tobacco, of which his foundation must be seen as the main global financial backer, is being won.

In parts of the world, clearly yes, and particularly on smoking, he said. In Europe nobody would have thought people wouldnt insist on smoking in an Irish bar or pub or an Italian restaurant, but the smoking campaign has really worked, reducing consumption in all of western Europe, north and south America and even in China.

But there are places where poor people live and they are still smoking and really damaging their lungs and they are going to die young. It is up to us to keep the battle going. Sugar is a little bit less developed but still working.

His attention is on non-communicable diseases more broadly now that includes air pollution and road traffic accidents as well as cigarettes, alcohol and bad food. Cities in poor countries may argue that they have too many other problems to spend time on sugary drinks, but, says Bloomberg, poverty, ill-health and poor education are all interlinked.

It will be harder to get the public behind you because they less understand the damage being done to their own health. But thats the challenge. The cities where its easy have probably already addressed the issue, he said.

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Michael Bloomberg and WHO director-general Dr Margaret Chan Photograph: Bloomberg Phlilantropies

Bloomberg would not suggest it is easy to make the sort of changes he has pushed for in all these years.

I dont remember anybody objecting to the smoking ban when we put it in, although a lot of people wanted to take my picture and a lot of people gave me one finger waves, he said. If there was an easy solution to a complex problem, we wouldnt have the problem. If you want to make things better, youre going to be doing things that are tough.

The cities that commit to the Partnership for Healthy Cities can choose between curbing sugary drink consumption, passing laws to make public places smoke-free or banning cigarette advertising, cutting salt in food, using cleaner fuels, encouraging cycling and walking, reducing speeding, increasing seatbelt and helmet use, curbing drink driving or carrying out a survey to collect data on the lifestyle risks the city population runs.

Cape Town in South Africa was one of the earliest cities to commit and will focus on reducing the intake of sugary drinks. Its mayor, Patricia de Lille, says they are facing an epidemic of type 2 diabetes, caused by obesity. Diabetes is a silent killer, she said. We dont have the luxury to work by trial and error. Unfortunately we have to get it right first time.

London has also said it wants to be involved, although which issue will be the focus has not yet been revealed. It is a city with which Bloomberg says he has a complex relationship his former wife is British and his daughters hold dual nationality. He has an honorary knighthood from the Queen. He also has an honour from the City of London that he intends one day to cash in.

I do have the right to drive sheep across London Bridge and before I die, I want to do it one day at rush hour, just to see what happens, he said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/may/16/billionaire-bloomberg-to-fund-5m-public-health-projects-in-40-cities-worldwide