As Scott Pruitt’s ethical woes mount, we must not lose sight of the profound damage he has done to environmental safeguards in just one year – and how disproportionally that affects people in our country.
Pruitt’s legacy will mean growing threats for people of color and low-income Americans who tend to live closer to sources of toxic pollution than the rest of our population, directly affecting the health of millions of families and children nationwide.
This at a time when his own U.S. Environmental Protection Agency researchers continue to report that vulnerable Americans bear the brunt of pollution.
Decades of slow progress at the EPA, under the administrations of both parties, had been seeking to ensure that policies are fair to everyone.
That all changed last year when Pruitt stepped into his role as EPA administrator and made environmental injustice the norm at the agency he runs. Here are five egregious examples.
1. He’s undermined plans to cut smog, climate pollution
African-American children are twice as likely to be hospitalized for asthma as whites, and are more likely to die from asthma. Latino children are 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than white children.
Pruitt’s sweeping efforts to roll back critical rules to slow climate change and reduce smog pollution would, if he succeeds, directly increase the threat of lung disease for these children.
The EPA administrator has targeted the Clean Power Plan, clean car standards, and efforts to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations in blatant disregard of public health.
2. He tried to eliminate EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice
In his first months on the job, Pruitt tried to do away with the office dedicated to tackling pollution exposure disparities among Americans. Now he wants to fold the Office of Environmental Justice into another office managed by one of his key counselors – a bureaucratic maneuver meant to weaken policy initiatives.
In another remarkable example of poor optics, Pruitt also appointed to a key EPA environmental justice advisory panel a man who runs a company tied up in a major contamination scandal involving cancer-causing plutonium in Washington state.
3. He wants to weaken protections against toxic coal waste
Coal ash is the second-largest source of industrial waste in the United States. More than 1.5 million people of color live near coal ash waste pits that have been found to taint the air and water in surrounding communities.
And yet, Pruitt recently proposed to weaken federal rules governing such toxic waste, which is generated by coal-fired power plants and contains harmful chemicals such as lead, mercury and arsenic.
His decision to weaken these long-fought-for rules came on the heels of EPA’s decision to reject an Alabama civil rights claim by rural African American residents over a landfill containing toxic coal ash.
4. He’s targeting safeguards against toxic air pollution
Factories, incinerators, power plants and other polluting industrial sites have long been concentrated in neighborhoods where residents have historically lacked the resources to fight back.
Nevertheless, Pruitt approved rollbacks of critical policies limiting toxic air pollution. These actions are allowing chemical factories, steel mills and other industrial facilities to expose adjacent communities to higher concentrations of lead, benzene and other dangerous pollutants.
The communities that will be most affected by this action have a disproportionate number of low-income, African-American and Latino residents.
5. He sought massive cuts to lead risk program
More than half a million kids in the U.S. – a large number of whom are poor – have elevated lead levels in their bodies, mostly from lead paint and old pipes.
But despite Pruitt’s rhetoric about a war on lead, he wants to eliminate the Lead Risk Reduction Program. He has also proposed a 33-percent cut in grants to states for use in supervising public water systems and training lead removal contractors.
Two decades of environmental justice work – erased?
The EPA chief’s slash-and-burn ethos can set back more than 25 years of work to address the link between race, poverty and pollution – advanced through executive orders, dedicated funding, expert advisory committees and grass roots movements.
So now, more than ever before, we must remain vigilant in the courts to fight these rollbacks. We must share our personal stories of the public health and environmental harm Pruitt’s actions are inflicting.
And we must remind Congress at every turn that they have the authority and obligation to stand up for healthy families and safe communities. Remaining silent cannot be an option; the stakes are too high.
As a former Oklahoman, I have long been aware of Pruitt’s record of cozying up to big oil and big business and fighting any regulations aimed at protecting our water, air and Earth. I wish he were forced to live in a home with contaminated water and air like he is condemning many families to do. And he is living high on our hard-earned taxes!
We have to hold polluters accountable. The majority of Americans want clean air and water. We want to protect the environment for people, plants and animals.
Please don’t poison our America! Please don’t pollute and poison our children’s futures! Please don’t roll back all of the accomplishments America has made together! Please don’t keep trying to divide and conquer! The world is watching! We aren’t dumb!!!!
That’s right, but who cares? Black lives have never mattered to the United States except as scapegoats to fuel the money-making prison system.
Most news organizations speak in general terms about the new EPA rollback of environmental regulations. I have yet to hear any specifics identified. Without specific examples and adequate details about the harm being done, the public is not likely to voice its concern in a meaningful way. We need an educated public and the news media is not meeting its responsibility here. Let’s lean on PBS and CNN for starters. The story is…the air pollution causing asthma deaths in children.
We can and should complain about Pruitt, but most importantly we have to vote out the GOP in whatever office they hold. If anyone is surprised that Trump would pick someone like Pruitt they shouldn’t have been. Pruitt sued the EPA while attorney general of Oklahoma dozens of times.
Zinke is no better as head of the Department of Interior. The storm over the Puerto Rico hurricane and Zinke’s work to get the construction company [the recovery contract] is already out of the news. The damage he wants to do by opening up public lands to industry is so enormous.
I think everyone should be concerned about leaving this planet in better shape for the generations to come.
Rick Perry couldn’t remember that the third department he wanted to eliminate was the Energy Department, so now he’s in charge of the agency. China gets blamed for selling solar panels to the US, but GOP blocked efforts to invest in solar power. We could and should have been the leader in solar manufacturing, but the fossil fuel industry owns the GOP through the $400 million they spend buying lawmakers.
This has to end. A few have so much and yet, the greed in them always wants more and they’ll lie, cheat and bribe to get whatever they can.
We are currently in a battle to keep a landfill for the city of Waco out of our area. It will be side by side to a historic cemetery and also a conservation lake that is the home of bald eagles. Axtell [Texas] has no mayor to represent us, so we’re fighting the battle against the man all on our own. Any info to help us please send my way. It’d be so much appreciated. Robin Lemons
It's criminal to pollute the air and water for private profit.
William PapaleoApril 5, 2018 at 4:08 pm