Six former heads of the United States government agency tasked with protecting the environment have called for a reset following President Donald Trump’s first term, in which he broadly chopped regulations in favour of what he has called a more business-friendly approach to the environment.
The group of six represent almost all living former chiefs of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Trump’s first EPA commissioner, Scott Pruitt, is not in the group.
The former commissioners – William Reilly, Lee Thomas, Carol Browner, Christine Todd Whitman, Lisa Jackson and Gina McCarthy – worked under both Republican and Democratic administrations and have backed a detailed plan composed by the Environmental Protection Network, a bipartisan group of more than 500 former agency senior managers and employees.
The six former heads did not specifically mention Trump in a statement (PDF) released on Wednesday, but said they were “concerned about the current state of affairs at EPA”.
BIG NEWS FROM EPN! Six former EPA administrators join us in saying it’s time to #ResetTheCourse of @EPA. We released our report today addressing the most significant and emerging threats to public health and the environment. Here's the letter: https://t.co/zM08lXdaZf
— Environmental Protection Network (@EnvProtectioNet) August 12, 2020
The road map drafted by the former EPA personnel is meant to guide whoever wins the November 3 presidential election, according to the group, although many of the proposals are implicitly or explicitly critical of Trump’s EPA actions.
To date, Trump has dismantled, or begun to dismantle, 100 climate and environmental policies, according to a tally by The New York Times.
When it comes to the EPA’s mandate of protecting US citizens’ health and the environment, “the last few years, the agency has been derailed from that mission,” former commissioner Browner, who led the agency during the administration of President Bill Clinton, said in a statement to the Associated Press news agency.
Referencing two landmark pieces of legislation designed to protect nationally against air and water pollution, she added that the recommendations are “reaffirmations of our environmental laws, and return to where the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act are respected and enforced and where policy is science-based and aimed at protecting our health and environment”.
The EPA, now under the leadership of former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, has been an avid agent of Trump’s drive to cut regulations he sees as unnecessarily burdensome to business, including the coal, gas and oil industries.
The administration says it is rolling back rules without increasing risk to the public health and environment.
The new recommendations for reset include several broad mandates, such as increasing the agency’s actions across the board on the disproportionate exposure that Black, Hispanic and other minority communities and low-income areas have to all kinds of dangerous pollutants.
Other broad recommendations aimed at the Trump era include minimising industry and political influence on science-based decisions in regulatory actions, combating climate change and cutting air pollution with electric vehicles, among others.
The group also calls for undoing or rewriting several specific Trump policies, including a pending Trump regulation-easing measure for climate-damaging methane from oil and gas production that the EPA is expected to announce in the coming days.
Other recommendations specifically aimed at the Trump era include a “transparency” rule supported by industry that limits what public health studies the agency can use in making regulations; a Trump-driven move to ease vehicle mileage and emission standards; and a heavily voluntary plan for cutting fossil fuel emissions by power plants that replaced the broad plan by President Barack Obama’s administration to make the nation’s power sector more climate friendly.