Scientists Speak Out About What's Going On Behind The Scenes At The EPA

Scott Pruitt's EPA is like none other. Zach Gibson/Stringer via Getty Images

Truth and Consequences

Some critics of the agency argue that Pruitt will curb its so-called federal overreach and that it will be up to individual states to sort out how they deal with pollution. It doesn’t take a lot of thought to find a problem with that argument.

Much in the same way that the Paris agreement makes it clear that climate change makes international borders irrelevant, “air and water pollution don’t obey state boundaries,” stresses Southerland.

“So if you have a state that is uninterested in protecting the environment, those states could cause all the downstream downwind states from having very dirty air and very dirty water.

“That’s why the EPA exists: to ensure that every state, no matter what their own political ideology, meets some minimal national standard of pollution control.”

Is Flint the future? Barbara Kalbfleisch/Shutterstock

No matter who we spoke to, they agree that the EPA has become a very different beast very quickly. Pruitt is making political calculations that appease lobbyists and a particular set of voters. He literally stands with coal miners, celebrating the end of climate advocacy programs, and selling them a false narrative about returning jobs.

“Our mission isn’t to protect the fossil fuel industry; it’s to protect human health and the environment,” Cox laments. “That’s just not happening anymore.”

We put it to Southerland that some have said that Scott Pruitt is the most dangerous member of the Trump administration, other than the President himself. “That’s completely accurate,” she replies.

Is there any chance things will improve? Will Scott Pruitt ever be convinced by facts, science, and reason?

“No,” Southerland replies.

The EPA’s official position is that they are making the science at the agency more objective by not allowing their own scientists to advise it. Pruitt’s rollback of environmental protections are referred to as the removal of “job-killing regulations.” The Paris agreement is seen as “penalizing” America’s economy. The colossal changes to the science advisory boards are portrayed as “providing the public with a better, more effective government.”

Not a single researcher or staffer we spoke to agreed with these standpoints. We repeatedly reached out to the EPA for comment, but so far haven’t received a reply.

An oil slick surrounds the Statue of Liberty back in the early 1970s. EPA/Documeria/US National Archives

Back in 1970, President Nixon, giving a speech from the White House, outlined why the creation of the EPA was essential. “Congress, the Administration and the public all share a profound commitment to the rescue of our natural environment, and the preservation of the Earth as a place both habitable by and hospitable to man.”

How times have changed.

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