Thanks to the mass demotion and firing of scientists, along with the huge influx of industry darlings, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under Scott Pruitt’s rule, is being corroded from within. As former EPA scientist Trish Koman recently told IFLScience, “they are fundamentally deconstructing the institutions of the EPA, and as a result, it won’t be able to do its job, to protect human health and the environment.”
Now, as revealed by a series of reports published in the last few weeks, it’s clear that this assault on environmental protections is going to get worse in 2018.
A comprehensive profile on Pruitt’s EPA by the Washington Post notes that environmental protections and rules have been targeted for deletion or rollback, more than any other sector of the federal government.
Their own research has found that 63 rules are targeted for nixing: a few have been through executive actions by the President, new legislation or via Congress, but most have been through Cabinet-level actions, which include high-ranking federal government members like Pruitt making moves to neuter environmental protections.
The graph was recently highlighted on Twitter by Anthony Leiserowitz – the Director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the principal investigator at the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions at Columbia University. He didn’t feel such information was getting enough attention, and we agree.
Another investigation by The New York Times and ProRepublica also found that 700 employees have left the EPA since the inauguration of Trump and his administration. Out of these, 200 are scientists and 96 are those whose expertise lies in environmental protection.
Betsy Southerland, the former director of science and technology at the Office of Water, is just one of those that have felt they had no choice but to leave. She resigned last summer with a stark and eloquent resignation letter, which she explained to IFLScience she felt compelled to write because she “really felt there was a clear and present danger to public health and safety by this administration.”
Additionally, coal interests are reportedly working very closely with the federal government. Southerland mentioned to IFLScience and others that a three-page action plan, one that looks to dismantle climate and environmental regulations to help out the ailing coal industry, is currently being implemented. At the same time, major budget cuts to environmental sciences constantly loom.
When it comes to environmental regulation rollbacks, though, Pruitt’s far from the sole antagonist. Most recently, Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of the Interior, has made headlines for shrinking several national monuments.
Despite issuing flimsy arguments as to why this occurred, several reports have suggested a link to lobbying by mining groups near the beleaguered monuments. In any case, the move has prompted huge protestations from scientists, environmentalists and more, and several groups – including a massive collection of palaeontologists – are planning to sue the government.
Under Zinke's rule at the Department of the Interior, emboldened members of Congress have also sought to dismantle the Endangered Species Act through multiple bills, and species reintroduction programs are being shut down.
At the same time, the Guardian spotted a memorandum by Zinke that targets three marine monuments – one in the Atlantic, and two in the Pacific. These ecologically sensitive areas will either be opened up to commercial fishing or shrunk.
It’s indubitable that 2017 was a grim year for the environment, but by the looks of things, 2018 is set to be one of the most consequential in recent history.