EPA Scientists Break Ranks, Speak Out Against Trump Admin Dangers


Although it could be easy to miss some of the more lasting dangers posed by the Trump administration’s behavior thanks to their incessant sheer chaos — those dangers remain. Now, a striking new statement has emerged from a politically independent board of science advisers for the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), who are criticizing the agency’s effort to drastically reduce its official estimates of the benefit from restraining mercury, which is in pollution from power plants. The dramatically changed cost-benefit analysis, which sharply lowers the official benefit from previously stated levels, could pave the way for undoing the power plant pollution regulation altogether.

Previously, official figures placed the benefit of the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule at between $37 billion and $90 billion in savings, which included the boosts to public health. The Trump administration’s latest proposal for the regulation brings that figure all the way down to between just $4 and $6 million, and how much longer could the rule last if the administration hacks its officially tallied benefits into oblivion? The EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) says that their recommendations simply “do not seem to have been taken into consideration in the published analysis.” In other words, their apparent warnings about the importance of tallying figures like public health benefits seem to have been completely ignored.

An EPA spokesperson dismissed the concern, which was also expressed recently by economists, sharing instead:

‘EPA always appreciates and respects the work and advice of the SAB. The reports they posted are a draft and will be discussed at their next meeting. The commentary and reports may potentially be revised by the SAB members as they strive for a consensus on these documents. The final commentary and reports will be developed soon after the public meeting and then sent to the administrator.’

And will EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler actually take the board’s complaints into consideration? Considering his past lobbying work for the exact same coal and energy interests meant to be restrained by the mercury-related regulation, some kind of burst of advocacy from the Trump appointee does not seem likely. According to the SAB, the Trump appointees at the EPA even grossly underestimated the dangers of exposure to mercury.

The Trump appointees at the EPA have already proven their attachment to corporate interests. For example, they have refused to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, no matter its documented link to serious neurological issues in children. As for Wheeler himself, he was almost immediately put under internal investigation for his lobbying links when he first was confirmed as agency administrator, and although he’s not been quite as brazenly egregious as his personal power-hungry predecessor Scott Pruitt, the tide of rollbacks of important environmental regulations has not let up. Recently, they have continued the process of cancelling the Obama-era Waters of the United States, or WOTUS rule, which expanded the waterways that were subject to federal regulation.

Heading into 2020, these developments fit into a clear pattern of the Trump administration serving wealthy interests, like those who got major benefits from the tax plan Trump signed into law in 2017 that’s done little besides balloon the deficit.