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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

EPA asks what rules to cut, gets earful about dirty water

In this March 21, 2016, file photo, the Flint Water Plant water tower is seen in Flint, Mich. (Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)
By Michael Biesecker Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Seeking suggestions about what environmental regulations it should gut, the Trump administration on Tuesday got an earful from people who say federal rules limiting air and water pollution aren’t strict enough.

The Environmental Protection Agency held a three-hour “virtual listening session” on Tuesday to collect public comments by phone about which clean water regulations should be targeted for repeal, replacement or modification. The call was part of the agency’s response to President Donald Trump’s order to get rid of regulations that are burdensome to business and industry.

Both the phone-in session and the nearly 6,000 written comments submitted so far and published on the EPA’s website were dominated by those staunchly opposed to the planned regulatory rollback. Many identified themselves as being affiliated with environmental groups. Others said they were taxpayers worried about maintaining safe sources of drinking water.

“I actually enjoy breathing clean air and drinking clean water and would find it quite burdensome not to,” said Emily Key, who identified herself as a citizen worried about what cancer-causing chemicals children may be exposed to.

Some said they rejected Trump’s argument that strong environmental regulations impede job creation.

“I’m from Pittsburgh, where our skies were dark at noon and people changed their shirts at lunch because they were filthy from the smoke from the mills,” Doug Blair told EPA. “I oppose any rollback of environmental protections premised on the ‘jobs vs. the environment’ dilemma. We can have both.”

Since his appointment by Trump, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been accepting confidential petitions from lawyers and lobbyists for businesses asking him to eliminate regulations affecting their profits. Typically, those petitions have only been made public after Pruitt intercedes on their behalf.

An example came last month when Pruitt acted against the recommendations of his own agency’s scientists to reverse an Obama-era effort to bar the use of a widely-used pesticide on fruits and vegetables. Recent peer-reviewed studies found that even tiny levels of exposure of Dow Chemcial’s chlorpyrifos could hinder the development of children’s brains. Pruitt has also moved to kill or delay regulations limiting toxic air emissions and water pollution from coal fired power plants.

In his prior job as Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt often aligned himself in legal disputes with the interests of executives and corporations who supported his state campaigns. He filed more than a dozen lawsuits seeking to overturn some of the same regulations he is now charged with enforcing.

During Tuesday’s listen session, only a handful of callers said EPA regulations were too tough. The operator of a paper mill in Washington said new rules reducing the allowed limit of cancer-causing PCBs dumped into in rivers put his company at risk. The manager of a municipal water plant suggested that the agency start accepting required reports electronically, rather than just fax.

But the overwhelming majority of those who called or wrote to EPA urged the agency to strengthen its enforcement measures to hold polluters accountable.

“Even when companies are forced to pay for the destruction they cause, the amounts they are fined pale in comparison to the profits they make from breaking the rules,” said Jamie Abelson from Chicago. “EPA must fight to maintain any environmental regulations that protect the health of American workers, communities and ecosystems.”