Selected category: Health

Scott Pruitt keeps Americans in the dark on his activities

In the few months of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s tenure, we’ve already seen ample cause for concern when it comes to how he spends his time – a steady stream of meetings with major industry, together with rollbacks that harm communities and put children’s health at risk.

Last week, we learned that Administrator Pruitt gathered with the American Petroleum Institute board of directors at the Trump Hotel early in his tenure, just weeks before carrying out a host of actions to benefit oil and gas polluters. Just one of those actions — delaying implementation of a national smog health standard — will alone will result in 230,000 more asthma attacks for kids.

These actions have been taken with no meaningful public input or engagement. Meanwhile, the intermittent information we glean about Administrator Pruitt’s calendar and his schedule underscores his extensive meetings and visits with major industry.

Underlying these distressing developments, there’s something even more fundamental at play. How has the American public learned how Administrator Pruitt, a taxpayer-funded public servant, spends his time? How have we gotten information on the company he keeps?

Under past EPA Administrators, the calendars of senior managers — including the Administrator — were released to the public via accessible, concurrent platforms.

Troublingly, Scott Pruitt has ended this practice. We’ve only gotten information about his activities through intermittent information shared with the press, or months after the fact through time-consuming, burdensome Freedom of Information Act requests.

EDF calls on Pruitt to follow long-standing EPA practice and make his calendar public

EPA has an important job to do on behalf of the American public — protecting our health and welfare from dangerous pollution. Without timely information on the activities and schedule of Administrator Pruitt and his senior staff, members of the public cannot have full confidence that EPA’s leadership is working on their behalf.

Administrator Pruitt’s lack of transparency raises serious questions about potential abuse of EPA’s limited resources for activity that contravenes or is in serious tension with important legal and ethical requirements.

That’s why today EDF called on Pruitt to make his schedule, and that of his senior officials, available to the public on a widely accessible platform. Administrator Pruitt should immediately carry out this fundamental transparency practice, followed by EPA administrations of both parties. EDF is simultaneously submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain this information — a public record — in order to assure that the public at least obtains more up to date information on Pruitt’s activities.

EPA is supposed to operate “in a fishbowl”

The important transparency practice of sharing senior policy leaders’ schedules has a long history at EPA.

In 1983, William Ruckelshaus — the first EPA Administrator — was brought back to lead EPA by President Ronald Reagan in order to restore public trust after the scandal-plagued tenure of Administrator Anne Gorsuch. One of Administrator Ruckelshaus’ first actions was to issue was his “Fishbowl Memo,” which vowed that EPA would “operate in a fishbowl” and “attempt to communicate with everyone from the environmentalists to those we regulate and we will do so as openly as possible.”

Ruckelshaus’ Fishbowl Memo adopted as EPA policy a number of specific activities that are the hallmark of fair and transparent government. In particular, Ruckelshaus included a commitment to share senior leadership schedules as the Memo’s very first transparency directive:

In order to make the public fully aware of my contacts with interested persons, I have directed that a copy of my appointment calendar for each week be placed in the Office of Public Affairs and made available to the public at the end of the week. The Deputy Administrator, and all Assistant Administrators, Associate Administrators, Regional Administrators, and Staff Office Directors shall make their appointment calendars available in a similar manner.

This commitment to transparency and public access to EPA calendars has continued across administrations. For example, Administrator Lisa Jackson echoed this commitment upon her arrival, writing that “[t]o keep the public fully informed of my contacts with interested persons,” she would make available to the public, every day via the EPA website, “a working copy of my appointment calendar, showing meetings with members of the public.” She directed her senior staff to do the same. Administrator Gina McCarthy and Acting Administrator Catherine McCabe similarly continued this practice.

Yet Administrator Pruitt has ended the foundational transparency measure of making his and his senior policy leaders’ schedules readily available to the public. The policy change is illustrated by these two snapshots of EPA’s website from six months apart.

EPA’s website on January 19, 2017:

And the same page today:

A true back to basics approach

Pruitt has recently made a show of focusing on “EPA Originalism” and getting EPA “Back to Basics.” We suggest he follow long-standing EPA practice and the guidance of EPA’s original Administrator, William Ruckelshaus. Pruitt should make his calendar, and those of his senior leadership, widely and promptly available to the public.

Also posted in News, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight| Read 1 Response

Delaying smog standards risks lives, jeopardizes Americans’ health

Twenty-six. That is how many smog-related air quality alerts were forecast across our country for one single day earlier this week.

From Pennsylvania to Rhode Island, “action days” were called urging “sensitive groups” (including children, people who are active outdoors, older Americans, and people with heart or lung disease) to reduce their time spent outdoors.

Smog is a dangerous air pollutant linked to premature deaths, asthma attacks, lower birth weight in infants, and serious heart and lung diseases.

Smog forms when industrial emissions from power plants, factories, cars, and other sources react with heat and sunlight in the atmosphere.

There have already been many alerts across the U.S. this year for smog pollution, and “smog season” has just begun. That shows we have more work to do to clean the air and protect our families and communities.

That is why it is disturbing to hear that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has decided to delay implementation of the updated smog standards by one year.

According to the American Lung Association’s 2017 State of the Air Report [PDF], more than one-third of all Americans live in areas with unhealthful levels of smog. More than 116 million people live in counties that received a grade of “F” for smog levels.

A one-year delay in the implementation of anticipated pollution from the smog standards would mean:

  • 660 more deaths
  • 230,000 asthma attacks among children
  • 180,000 missed work or school days

These are real lives being affected by Administrator Pruitt’s irresponsible actions.

The smog standards are driven by medical science. Here are some of the medical and health associations that supported strengthening the ozone standards:

  • The American Thoracic Society
  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • American Medical Association
  • American Heart Association
  • American Lung Association
  • American Public Health Association
  • Children’s Environmental Health Network
  • National Association of County and City Health Officials
  • Trust for America’s Health
  • Health Care Without Harm
  • Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
  • American College of Chest Physicians
  • American College of Preventive Medicine
  • American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
  • American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation
  • National Association for the Medical Direction of Respiratory Care
  • Society of Physicians for Social Responsibility

EPA’s mission is to protect public health and the environment. Administrator Pruitt’s decision to delay the smog standards runs counter to that bi-partisan, four-and-a-half decade mission. It also runs counter to the recommendations of leading medical and public health associations.

The successful history of implementing the Clean Air Act shows that states have the flexibility to design tailored solutions to address smog pollution, and that dramatic pollution reductions go hand-in-hand with a strong economy.

We need to reduce the amount of smog in our air – and to achieve that goal, we need EPA to lead.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Partners for Change, Policy| Read 1 Response

6 ways NOAA budget cuts will hurt weather reporting – and Americans

 

(This post first appeared on EDF Voices)

At a time when storms are getting more destructive, floods more devastating and people and property more vulnerable, accurate weather forecasting is more critical than ever.

Which is why the Trump administration’s brazen proposal to slash funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s most important forecasting and storm prediction programs has set off alarms in recent days. In all, the president wants to slash the agency’s budget by 16 percent.

Having spent more than six years as a NOAA scientist, I know there are ways to become more efficient and make government work better. Many dedicated professionals within the agency would be eager to partner with the administration to develop that kind of action plan.

Except, efficiency is not what this proposal is about. Rather, it blatantly disregards science and how it protects lives and property.

Here are a few of the NOAA budget lowlights, and why they could matter to you:

1. Delays hurricane forecast improvements

Several NOAA programs are developing advanced modeling to make weather and storm forecasts more accurate and reliable. But the same week NOAA called for an above-average season of hurricane activity, the Trump administration requested a $5 million funding cut for these important programs.

It would slow the transition of such advanced forecasting models into real-life warning systems – directly affecting families and business owners who must prepare for severe storms. It would also make the accuracy of American weather forecasts fall farther behind its European and Japanese peers.

2. Eliminates critical tornado warning program

Vortex-Southeast – a $5 million program used to detect, respond to and warn against tornadoes in Southeastern United States – would be terminated. The program studies the intensity and path of twisters in a region with more tornado deaths than any other, and how to best communicate forecasts to the public.

3. Terminates Arctic research protecting fishermen

The president wants to cut a total of $6 million from two NOAA programs that support improvements to sea ice modeling and predictions, along with a program that models vulnerabilities among ecosystems and fisheries.

These programs, among other things, help predict where potentially hazardous floating sea ice may be present, supporting the safety and business of fishermen, commer­cial shippers, cruise ships and local commu­nities in Alaska.

4. Closes lab tracking mercury pollution, fallout

NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory researches how mercury and other harmful materials travel through the atmosphere and fall to Earth. The lab’s models also help emergency agencies and the aviation industry minimize and respond to pollution disasters such as radioactive fallout or anthrax attacks.

And yet, the administration has requested a $4.7 million decrease to close the entire lab.

5. Slows flood forecasting improvements

A $3.1 million cut would slow upgrades to the National Water Model, an initiative hailed as a “game changer” for flood prediction when it launched in 2016. The model offers hourly forecasts for the nation’s entire river network – information that helps emergency agencies, farmers, barge operators and others respond faster and more efficiently to floods.

6. Scales back forecasts of El Niño

A $26 million cut targets programs that monitor the tropical Pacific Ocean and help forecasters predict El Niño and other global environmental weather patterns. Such cuts would make it much harder to anticipate short-term climate events such as drought, excessive flooding and other extreme weather.

These are just a few of the highlights of the administration’s proposed budget for NOAA, but should give you an idea of just how severe they are. These program cuts are not in America’s best interest.

Also posted in Extreme Weather, News, Policy, Science| Comments are closed

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

Wikimedia Commons

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| Comments are closed

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| Comments are closed

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
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