Eye on Washington – Apr/May 2018

Eye on Washington logoJust as surely as winter moves into spring, the dangerous Trump agenda moves into an election year. Congress knows that after spring, they will be facing a new political context. Those who are happy with the sweeping deregulation and environmentally poisonous legislation begin a season of cautious uncertainty with a seriously divided public. Here are a few of the changes we are tackling.

Opposition to Offshore Oil

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)—the agency within the Department of the Interior that permits seismic testing for potential oil and gas reserves along the coast of the U.S. as well as leases for development of offshore oil and gas resources—closed a comment period on the proposed Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program and Notice of Intent (NOI) to Prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on March 8. Over half a million individuals and groups from across the country took the time to weigh in with concerns and opinions regarding the proposed increased offshore oil and gas development along the entire Pacific coast, the Atlantic coast, the Gulf of Mexico, and the
Arctic off Alaska.

Looking at those public comments online, it is clear that an overwhelming number of the 572,211 comments were in opposition to offshore oil exploration. Comments were received from Maine to Florida and Washington to California. Seven governors signed letters in opposition—including some Republicans. The Texas legislature wrote a letter of support.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, along with 22 other Democrats, sent Secretary of the Interior Zinke a letter asking for an extension to allow for additional comments, but the BOEM Director under Zinke refused.

Related:  Interior Deputy Secretary Bernhardt announced that the Interior Department will begin the environmental review process for selling oil and gas leases within Alaska National Wildlife Refuge this spring. In an attempt to hasten the process they will try to cover all of the leases with an Environmental Assessment rather than an Impact Statement and will only allow a 60-day public review and comment period.

Clean Air Under Attack

Historic photo of US Steel Corporation coke plant and coal barge at Clairton, PN. The Clairton Coke Works violated its air permit 6,700 times between 2012 and 2015 and was subject to class-action lawsuits due to air pollution as recently as 2017. Plants like these will be under less scrutiny due to Pruitt’s rollback of air quality standards.
In this historic photo from April 1973, a coal barge on the Monongahela River moves past a U.S. Steel Corporation coke plant at Clairton, Pennsylvania, 20 miles south of Pittsburg. This plant had been cited numerous times for violations of the Clean Air Act. The Clairton Coke Works violated its air permit 6,700 times between 2012 and 2015 and was subject to class-action lawsuits due to air pollution as recently as 2017. Plants like these will be under less scrutiny due to Pruitt’s rollback of air quality standards. Photo: Wikimedia, CC.

The fox is, indeed, guarding the henhouse in the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA). The attack on our environment continues with EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, setting aside air quality standards that have been in place for decades. Sources of major air pollution (such as power plants)that have been found guilty of cranking out poisonous gasses remain on a permanent watch list even when they have obtained a legally acceptable level of pollution. However, Pruitt has decided that these sources of air pollution no longer need to be classified as major sources and can be treated with a lesser degree of monitoring.

John Coequyt, a Sierra Club global climate policy director, called Pruitt’s action an “appalling attack” on public health and clean air. “(President Donald) Trump and  Pruitt are essentially creating a massive loophole that will result in huge amounts of toxic mercury, arsenic, and lead being poured into the air we breathe, meaning this change is a threat to anyone who breathes and a benefit only to dangerous corporate polluters,” Coequyt said in a statement.  It appears there are no current avenues for public input other than letters to Pruitt or lawsuits.

Pruitt has also decided there is too much science being used to make decisions in the EPA. Pruitt told the conservative Heritage Foundation that he plans to use only publicly available science to make new regulations and policies. Pruitt knows full that well many research papers are covered by intellectual property rights, including those by universities. Removing those studies from decision-making means the best available science will not guide policies and regulations that protect public health and the environment.

Tell EPA Administrator Pruitt what you think. Call 202-564-4700 or email
pruitt.scott@epa.gov. Twitter users can contact him at @EPAScottPruitt.