Selected category: Health

Scott Pruitt, the public has spoken – and it wants health protections, not rollbacks

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Earlier this year, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced an effort to seek public input on EPA safeguards that should be revoked or rolled back to “reduce regulatory burden.”

What was the overwhelming message he heard in response?

Let EPA do its job and protect Americans from dangerous pollution.

Numerous news articles have detailed the tens of thousands of responses EPA received from individual Americans decrying Pruitt’s biased, predetermined effort to gut important safeguards. These public comments are still being uploaded onto an official website — but already there are more than 183,000 of them, and the overwhelming majority are in favor of strong EPA safeguards.

As one comment reminded Pruitt:

Future generations are counting on us to leave an environment that supports good health, and a world worth living in. Don’t jeopardize the progress that has been made by rolling back regulations that are taking us in the right direction. Your job is to protect the environment for the benefit of all, not to squander progress for the financial gain of a few.

Another citizen noted during a listening session:

I actually enjoy breathing clean air and drinking clean water and would find it quite burdensome not to.

It’s well documented that EPA safeguards are an incredible American success story, saving countless lives and improving health across the country. We’ve made tremendous strides in improving air quality, reducing toxic lead and mercury pollution, addressing acid rain, and other remarkable achievements — all while the economy has grown and added jobs.

We still have more work to do though. According to the American Lung Association, more than 125 million Americans live in communities with unhealthy levels of air pollution.

Industry pushes for rollbacks

EPA senior officials are due to present a report to Pruitt today on their progress in identifying safeguards to repeal or roll back – not even two weeks after the rushed public comment period ended.

It’s hard to know if this report will be made public, but we are starting to get a glimpse of the input that Pruitt and his team are hearing from those who oppose vital safeguards.

For instance, the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) 25-page list of requests includes weakening protections against smog and undercutting common-sense standards to curb harmful methane and toxic air pollution from oil and gas production.

API’s list also complains that EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Panel is “biased” because “it can be difficult for industry representatives to be included on the committees.”

As we wrote about in an earlier post, these industry requests come on top of an earlier solicitation by the Trump Administration for industry proposals to roll back protections — one where trade associations brazenly asked for cuts to important health studies and safeguards.

Politicians target safeguards against mercury, smog, and other dangers

One remarkable letter to EPA came from eight state politicians. As has been well documented, while Scott Pruitt was Oklahoma’s Attorney General he spearheaded an intertwined alliance between state attorneys general and major fossil fuel industries — going so far as to submit industry requests to EPA on Oklahoma letterhead and later noting that’s “actually called representative government in my view of the world.”

In the new letter, Pruitt’s attorney general allies detail a list of twenty bedrock safeguards to weaken or eliminate. These include protections against mercury pollution, smog, soot, and many others.

These eight politicians even ask EPA to reject the agency’s science-based conclusion that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare — a conclusion based on an extensive, exhaustive record that was upheld by a federal court of appeals several years ago. Their letter makes no mention of the citizens who would be sickened and harmed by these roll backs.

The signatories are the attorneys general from Michigan, Oklahoma, Indiana, Alabama, Arkansas, West Virginia, Louisiana, and South Carolina.

Scott Pruitt: don’t put Americans’ health at risk

With EPA’s help, we’ve made remarkable progress in cleaning up our air and water. The American public just delivered a clear and overwhelming message to Scott Pruitt – don’t risk that tremendous progress, or the health of our families, by rolling back EPA safeguards.

Administrator Pruitt should listen.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, News, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight, What Others are Saying| Leave a comment

Healthier, safer summers – brought to you by EPA

This weekend is Memorial Day – the unofficial start to summer. That means kids across the country – and adults too – are counting down the days until summer vacation.

Whether your plans include going to a beach, visiting a national park, or just letting your kids play outside in the sprinklers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plays an important role in making your summer healthier and safer – in ways you might not realize.

Here are four examples of how EPA improves summers for all Americans:

  1. Reducing deadly smog

Smog comes from pollution emitted from cars, power plants, and other sources. It can lead to asthma attacks, heart attacks and even deaths.

The summer smog season has already started in most parts of the country. A number of “code orange” days – the terms for days when the air may be too dangerous for some people, like children with asthma and seniors with heart conditions, to be outdoors – have already been issued.

Los Angeles in 1948 USC Libraries Special Collections – Los Angeles Examiner

Smog has improved significantly in recent decades, thanks to EPA and state leadership, but air quality in the U.S. continues to be a serious problem that can jeopardize public health and limit many individuals’ freedom to spend time outdoors. The American Lung Association estimates that more than a third of Americans live in areas with unhealthy levels of smog.

EPA has worked for decades to reduce smog, most recently when the agency issued new standards for smog in 2015. Once they're in effect, those standards will prevent 230,000 asthma attacks among children every year. That doesn’t include the benefits for California, which EPA calculated separately – the smog standards will prevent another 160,000 asthma attacks among children in that state alone.

Los Angeles nowAlamy

Unfortunately, smog standards are under attack in Congress. Several bills to delay and fundamentally alter how these and other air pollution standards are set are now moving through the Senate. Additionally, President Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 cuts funding for the air monitoring that warns families about “Code Red” and “Code Orange” days – the days when air quality reaches unhealthy levels – by almost one third. 

  1. Safer, cleaner beaches

Many of us look forward to summer for the opportunity to spend time on the beach.

Last year, U.S. beach attendance was almost 360 million (more than the entire U.S. population!).

Unfortunately, beaches can be shut down by pollution – including raw sewage, which can expose swimmers to harmful microorganisms called “pathogens” that can make people sick.

An analysis done by the Natural Resources Defense Council a few years ago looked at water samples from 3,485 coastal U.S. beaches – and found that 10 percent of them were above EPA’s benchmark for swimmer safety. The analysis also notes that an estimated 3.5 million people are sickened every year from contact with raw sewage.

EPA – in partnership with states, local governments, and others – works to protect our nation’s beaches. The agency enforces laws and administers programs that regulate sources of water pollution at beaches, conducts leading scientific research on pathogens and sets national standards and criteria, funds grants to states and local governments to help protect our beaches, provides information to the public about water quality, and more. This work helps ensure that America’s beaches stay safe, clean, and open for visitors.

Here are a few examples of beach monitoring and cleanup grants distributed by EPA:

  • Lakeview Beach Green Infrastructure Project in the Great Lakes. The City of Lorain, Ohio got a $250,000 grant to construct a “green” stormwater treatment system at the city’s Lakeview Park, located on Lake Erie. The new system will reduce the E. coli bacteria in stormwater from being directly discharged into Lake Erie at Lakeview Beach, and will reduce the frequency of bacteria-related beach closures.

President Trump’s proposed budget for EPA would eliminate the beach monitoring grants program, among many other things that could impact the health of our nation’s beaches.

  1. Cleaning up the air in our national parks

Shenandoah National Park on a clear day and a hazy dayNational Park Service

National parks are a popular destination for summer vacationers across the country.

According to the National Park Service, there were over 307 million visits to our national parks last year and those visitors spent $16.9 billion in surrounding communities. This spending supported 295,000 jobs and contributed $32 billion to economic output nationally.

EPA and other agencies monitor visibility at 155 national parks and wilderness areas across the country. Unfortunately, many national parks suffer from haze – a form of pollution – that can tarnish scenic vistas and create health problems for visitors.

EPA’s program to reduce haze and other pollution harming our parks has led to measurable improvements in visibility. However, according to the National Parks and Conservation Association, three out of four of our most iconic national parks struggle with unhealthy air, and visitors miss about 50 miles of scenery because of haze.

EPA’s work to reduce the pollution affecting our parks is under threat by Administrator Scott Pruitt, who sued EPA over a plan to reduce haze when he was Attorney General of Oklahoma.

  1. Reducing the pollution contributing to climate change

Climate change affects virtually every facet of our lives and can exacerbate all of the problems listed above – more smoggy days, rising sea levels and more pathogens potentially spreading at beaches, and worse haze in our parks.

Extreme summer heat can also cause illness and death, and climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of those potentially deadly heat waves.

EPA has provided essential leadership to address climate change – including setting standards that would reduce pollution from power plants, cars, trucks, oil and gas operations, and more. Actions underway by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and severe budget cuts in President Trump’s proposed EPA budget could significantly harm the progress we’ve made and delay urgently needed protections for public health and our climate.

President Trump and Administrator Pruitt have indicated they will seek to unravel numerous climate protections, including the Clean Power Plan. Their proposed budget for EPA and other agencies undermines climate research and policies, including by zeroing out the U.S. Climate Action Plan.

Protecting the things that we love about summer

EPA’s work protects our air, our water, our beautiful beaches and parks – and most important, the health and safety of our families. As you enjoy your summer, please remember how important it is to protect the qualities that make summer great.

We need a strong EPA – now and all year long. More than just our summers are at stake.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, News, Policy, Science| Leave a comment

Regulatory Accountability Act would wrap red tape around our most important health and safety protections

(This post was co-authored by EDF legal Fellow Rosalie Winn)

New legislation introduced in the Senate threatens to undermine critical public health, safety and environmental protections through paralysis by analysis.

The Regulatory Accountability Act, recently introduced by Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, would tie up essential safeguards in enormous amounts of red tape – putting at risk longstanding protections in child safety, food safety, auto safety, and other areas that Americans depend on and often take for granted.

If the Regulatory Accountability Act were to become law, common sense new safeguards would have to make it through a mind-boggling series of analyses before they could begin to protect Americans.

We’ve illustrated this recipe for paralysis by analysis in this diagram:

Here’s a small sample of important safety measures — recent or in progress — that would get tied up in red tape under this bill’s approach:

We’ve written before about how the Regulatory Accountability Act would stymie agencies’ ability to address public concerns.

Important protections would face time-consuming, costly new burdens – burdens that would fall on the public, on businesses, and on anyone trying to participate in the decision-making – while giving an advantage to big-money interests who can afford expensive lawyers.

The Regulatory Accountability Act would allow opponents of health and safety protections to delay and obstruct the safeguards they don’t like, while leaving all Americans more vulnerable.

Also posted in News, Policy| Comments are closed

Shining Light on Scott Pruitt’s Attacks on Our Children’s Health

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) effort to unravel critical clean air and climate protections is in full swing.

The EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation (OAR) held a three-hour long public tele-hearing this week on President Trump’s agenda to unravel vital public health and environmental safeguards.

Held by phone only, in the middle of the workday, the hearing was scheduled to:

[S]olicit input on specific air and radiation actions that could be repealed, replaced or modified.

Under Administrator Scott Pruitt, a staggering asymmetry is underway at EPA that is a tremendous disservice to public health and the public good.

EPA adopted the clean air protections now under scrutiny by Scott Pruitt and his industry allies after years of scientific research and technical analysis, extensive public notice and comment, and thorough consideration.

Now, industry is trumpeting a “wish list” of these very safeguards, which they seek to discard.

As this week’s opaque teleconference demonstrated, Scott Pruitt is acting without meaningful public notice, comment, or hearing. This lack of transparency is consistent with what the New York Times called Pruitt’s “secretive” methods while Attorney General of Oklahoma.

We urge you to raise your voices and oppose this unprecedented attack on our bedrock public health and environmental safeguards. We urge you to make your voice heard by submitting public comments – by May 15, 2017 – on EPA’s docket, “Evaluation of Existing Regulations.”

That’s what my colleague, EDF’s Mandy Warner, and I tried to do during this week’s teleconference.

We urged EPA to preserve crucial protections that ensure our families have clean air to breathe.

I told the panel that I am deeply concerned by EPA’s efforts to unravel critical regulations that protect millions of Americans — including young people like me — from the dangerous effects of air pollution. Many of my peers across the country suffer from asthma, miss school because the air is too dirty for them to leave their house, or have lost family members due to toxic air pollution. (You can read my full testimony here)

Mandy’s comments reflected her concern for her two young daughters:

I asked my four-year-old the other night why she thought clean air was important and she said very simply, ‘so you can breathe.’ She’s right. And that’s what this stakeholder meeting should be all about – ensuring clean air so kids can breathe.

There is an endless pool of worry parents have to contend with already. We worry about how much fish is safe for our children to eat every week due to mercury pollution, what days we need to be careful about letting our children play outside due to smoggy air, and what serious challenges our children will face from runaway climate change.

Please don’t add to our worries by rolling back critical, lifesaving protections that can help ensure a healthier future for my children and children across America.

(You can read Mandy’s full testimony here)

Our remarks were sandwiched between aggressive statements from the Utility Air Regulatory Group (UARG), a group of coal-based power companies, and the American Petroleum Institute (API).

Both groups – along with other industry players – predictably advocated weakening or repealing such common sense, scientifically sound protections as the health-based 2015 national air quality standard for ground-level ozone (more commonly called smog), the 2016 New Source Performance Standards for methane pollution from oil and gas facilities, and the long-standing greenhouse gas reporting requirements that protect Americans’ right-to-know who is discharging large volumes of climate pollution.

While industry representatives attacked EPA’s climate and clean air safeguards, many other people raised their voices in support of the agency’s lifesaving mission to protect public health and the environment.

EPA heard from an American who lost a dear friend to a deadly asthma attack linked to smog. They heard from a Pittsburgh native — in the heart of steel country — who highlighted the now thriving city’s progression from pollution to prosperity, thanks to strong clean air protections. They heard from a New Yorker forced to leave the city to protect her family from toxic air that lingered in her old home and harmed her children.

Under President Trump and Scott Pruitt, this EPA is recklessly charting a collision course with the health of our communities, our families and our children. As Pruitt’s EPA moves to unravel vital clean air and climate safeguards, we at EDF will continue to stand up — alongside all of you — to fight for the health and safety of all Americans.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, News, Policy| Comments are closed

The Misguided Regulatory Accountability Act

00001-3-e1488835368971 (1)Many of the features of the Regulatory Accountability Act render it a disastrous piece of legislation for public health, safety, and the environment. By tying up essential safeguards in enormous amounts of red tape, the legislation would covertly undermine longstanding protections for child safety, food safety, auto safety, and other broadly shared values.

But the key problem is not just that the Regulatory Accountability Act would impose needlessly convoluted, burdensome requirements on federal agencies: it is that it would impose needlessly convoluted, burdensome requirements that we know have failed in the past.

The Regulatory Accountability Act would resurrect many of the worst features of the former, failed Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA was supposed to protect the public from dangerous chemicals, but for many years—before the recent enactment of reforms aimed at curing its substantial defects—it made regulatory decision-making so burdensome, that it effectively prevented regulators from doing their jobs.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) failed attempt to regulate asbestos under the pre-reform TSCA offers a telling example of how important safeguards are stymied under this decision-making framework. Over 25 years ago, EPA had tried to employ TSCA to protect the public from asbestos. The Agency spent 10 years analyzing asbestos’ effects on health and considering policy options along with their economic implications. After this exhaustive investigation, documented in over 45,000 pages of supporting materials, EPA issued a final rule that called for a phased-in ban on the use of asbestos in commercial products.

But EPA’s efforts to protect the public were rejected. Asbestos manufacturers sued, contending that EPA’s meticulous decision-making was still inadequate to meet the onerous standards of TSCA. A court agreed, vacating the rule in 1991 on the basis that “EPA failed to muster substantial evidence to support its rule” under TSCA’s mandates—despite the Agency’s voluminous record justifying a phase-out of asbestos. Following this ordeal, EPA all but gave up, never again trying to ban a chemical under the old TSCA.

In the years following the asbestos fiasco, broad agreement began to emerge that TSCA was a failure due to its inability to protect Americans and to provide certainty to businesses. In a bid to address these deficiencies, Congress finally reformed TSCA last year through legislation that was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

The Regulatory Accountability Act would reverse this progress, with implications far beyond TSCA—major aspects of the Regulatory Accountability Act would resurrect features of the pre-reform, failed TSCA and apply them to all federal safeguards. That bears repeating:  passage of the Regulatory Accountability Act would impose requirements similar to those that had doomed the old TSCA and extend those requirements to all federal agencies, with detrimental implications for the development of new food safety requirements, veterans’ care standards, pollution controls, and other essential protections for public health, safety, and the environment. I discuss two key examples below.

First, the Regulatory Accountability Act would impose an unworkable, cost-based decision standard, setting up agencies for paralysis by analysis that would obstruct protections for Americans.

The pre-reform TSCA demanded that EPA prove it had selected the “least burdensome” regulatory option when promulgating a rule. If EPA had wanted to adopt an option any more burdensome than the “least burdensome” one—for example, banning the sale of asbestos, instead of just labeling asbestos-containing products—TSCA required that the Agency perform a full risk analysis and cost-benefit analysis of every less burdensome alternative, and prove each alternative was insufficient to address the risk. These requirements imposed evidentiary and analytic burdens on EPA that proved impossible to meet, effectively tying the Agency’s hands with respect to protecting the public from hazardous chemicals.

The newly reformed TSCA eliminated all of these problems in the service of regulatory efficiency and certainty. Under the reformed statute, EPA is required to demonstrate that it has considered key factors—including costs and risk—and has reached a rational conclusion. But it is not required to prove that its decision meets a specific cost-based decision metric, as it was under the pre-reform TSCA.

Yet the Regulatory Accountability Act would revive the pre-reform TSCA approach, imposing an onerous analytic cost-based standard for major protections. All federal agencies generally would be required to prove that their rule met the specific analytic standard laid out in the Act. The Act would also require agencies to consider and analyze substantial alternatives or other responses identified by interested persons, without imposing any clear limit on how many alternatives that would entail, and regardless of whether information concerning those alternatives was reasonably available. In addition, for major or high-impact rules, agencies would have to conduct formal cost-benefit analysis and other analyses on each such alternative. Any deviation from these nitpicky procedures, meanwhile, could prompt a court to toss out the promulgated regulation, regardless of the threat to the public as result of the regulation’s demise.

A second example of how the Regulatory Accountability Act would resurrect failed features of the pre-reform TSCA law would be through its imposition of a requirement on agencies to hold needless, burdensome public hearings. The pre-reform TSCA allowed any person to request a hearing on any rule. These hearings allowed for witnesses, cross-examinations, oral presentations, and other onerous, unnecessary hearing procedures to resolve material issues. This feature of the statute created a powerful opportunity for critics to slow down the rulemaking process, and it duplicated many other aspects of the law that already provided ample opportunity for the public to comment and provide feedback. Not surprisingly, this requirement was thoroughly rejected and excised from the new, reformed TSCA.

Nevertheless, the Regulatory Accountability Act would reinstate this failed requirement and apply it broadly to the development of all government safeguards. Under the bill, any person would be able to request a hearing on any major or high-impact rule, except in certain narrow circumstances. EPA would have to hold a hearing if any factual issue was in dispute—which is virtually always the case for someone. With this approach, attorneys would argue over science-based determinations made by agency scientists in needless show trials. Any individual seeking to delay a rulemaking could use this provision to draw out and delay protections for Americans.

The Regulatory Accountability Act may sound innocuous, but it puts our health, safety, and environment at risk. Imagine a world where efforts to update food safety requirements in the face of a pressing health threat were stymied. Or attempts to establish new protections after a disaster like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill were thwarted. Or efforts to protect the public from asbestos were derailed.

This is the world that the Regulatory Accountability Act would create, across all areas of government. This blandly titled bill is deeply flawed and deeply problematic—a sneak attack on essential protections.

This post originally appeared  on Reg Blog.

Also posted in Policy| Comments are closed

Putting profits over our children’s health

By Sarah Vogel

The same week President Trump signed an Executive Order aimed at undermining crucial climate and health protections, the House Science Committee held a hearing that had no purpose other than to flaunt the latest in industry funded pseudo-science on climate change. This committee has a track record of lacking scientific rigor, and with the Chairman literally questioning whether Science Magazine or the industry-funded Heartland Institute was more reliable as a source, this hearing was no different.

These events are part of a long term, unrelenting effort on the part of well-funded, entrenched fossil fuel interests to fight climate safeguards at every turn, prioritizing polluter profits above the health of the American people. Make no mistake; there are serious human health consequences to ignoring the facts on climate change, including more asthma attacks, the expansion in disease migration, heatstroke, and increased mortality.

How in the world—after decades of research and overwhelming scientific evidence—could these peddlers of pollution have such a prominent voice in this Congress and Administration? Simple: they’re selling a surprisingly effective product: doubt. Selling doubt has been used for decades to keep deadly products on the market.

We’ve seen this game before.

The tobacco lobby denied smoking caused lung cancer for decades

By the 1950s, the strong link between smoking and lung cancer had become increasingly well identify in the scientific literature. Additional research and growing pressure from prominent health associations led to the 1964 declaration by the Surgeon General that smoking causes lung cancer and presents significant health risks, including emphysema and heart disease.

The tobacco industry knew better than anyone the state of the science. And for nearly fifty years, the industry skillfully seeded and manufactured scientific doubt and effectively spread propaganda to delay and slow a global public health response to a deadly and addictive—not to mention highly lucrative— killer. In 1994, the chairman of a major tobacco company, came before the U.S. House of Representatives and still declared that he did not believe that nicotine was addictive. It wasn’t until the late 1990s and early 2000s that smoking bans in public and private spaces in the U.S. finally took hold, however tobacco use continues to be a global health epidemic.

How have tobacco companies succeeded in expanding the market for this deadly product when the science has been so clear for so long? The strategy was succinctly captured in a 1969 memo by a tobacco executive: “doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.” (See Merchants of Doubt for more on the connections between the tobacco and climate doubters.)

The lead industry fought against the link between lead and childhood poisoning for a good sixty years

When the story of lead in Flint’s water supply finally gained national attention, Americans were dismayed, and knew there was a problem. This is because the public trusts the best science including that being done by the Centers for Disease Control which called lead poisoning “the most common and societally devastating environmental disease of young children in the United States,” and declares that there is no safe level of lead in children’s blood.

This, however, was not always the case. Lead was once commonly added to gasoline and paint and used in the pipes that deliver water to homes. Lead poisoning in children was a national issue by the 1940s and 1950s, and yet lead-based paint continued to be used to cover the walls of most American homes and was aggressively marketed to families through the late 1970s. Lead-based paint continues to be the primary source of children’s exposure to this chemical. Major policies to limit the use of lead in paint, gasoline, and food cans were enacted in the late 1970s, and we’ve seen levels in children’s blood decline ever since (see EDF’s interactive graph of the impacts of lead policies on lead exposure in children.)

Despite decades and decades of clear and ample scientific evidence of lead’s toxicity, this industry expanded its market in the U.S. and globally. Using similar tactics of manufacturing scientific doubt, lobbying, and propaganda, the industry stayed focused on protecting its profits and in the process robbed millions of children of healthy and prosperous lives.

We won’t be fooled

You wouldn’t know it from looking at Washington these days, but not only is the House Science Committee vastly out touch with science – which now clearly indicates that human are causing climate change– they are also at odds with the American people who overwhelmingly say climate change is happening.

They are also working against the tide of the American economy; there are now over 3 million Americans working in clean energy, well past the number employed in coal, with many of these jobs in Republican districts. Over 1,000 top businesses have also committed to staying on a low-carbon path, stating that addressing climate change is good business.

Some polluters and their well-paid lawyers (including firms that literally worked on the tobacco fight) continue to manufacturer doubt and pedal in climate denial propaganda, and the House Committee gave them a prominent platform to do so last week. Such boldfaced efforts to put profits over our children’s health—as was done with tobacco and lead—must be confronted by the truth. To call out these lies, to demand integrity and truth in the face of deceit, is what we all must do.

Please help us fight back>>

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Science| Read 2 Responses
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