An organization launched in 2017 by former staffers of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency marked the 50th annual Earth Day Wednesday by releasing a report about the efforts of President Donald Trump's administration to gut regulations enacted under his predecessors to preserve public health and the planet.
"We simply cannot allow 50 years of hard-won environmental progress to be reversed in just four years."
—Betsy Southerland, EPN
"The actions by the Trump administration to undermine environmental and public health protections are not acceptable," Michelle Roos, executive director of the Environmental Protection Network (EPN), said in a statement. "Fortunately, EPN members, EPA alumni with decades of expertise and experience, have volunteered their time to detail how this administration is hurting people and the natural world on which we all depend."
EPN's new report, entitled The Trump Environmental Record (pdf), provides "a snapshot of the most significant decisions or proposals by the Trump EPA, and their expected negative effects on people's health and environmental conditions."
The seven-page report details the Trump administration's attacks on federal rules related to air quality and climate change, chemical hazards, water quality, policy enforcement, land contamination, and scientific integrity. There is also a section on funding cuts for EPA programs as well as grants and loans to states.
One attack included in the report is Trump's 2019 repeal of the Clean Power Plan implemented under former President Barack Obama, which was replaced with the Affordable Clean Energy Rule in 2019. EPN says that replacement "will cause more people, especially in front-line communities, to have heart attacks; suffer from asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory illnesses; visit a hospital; and miss days of work and school."
The report highlights the EPA's March decision to relax enforcement of pollution monitoring due to the coronavirus pandemic. "The Trump EPA has already had a steep decline in enforcement; this non-enforcement policy takes that even further by leaving it up to companies to determine if they will comply," EPN explains. "We know that people most exposed to pollution are the most vulnerable to COVID-19; this policy puts those vulnerable communities at greater risk."
EPN also points out that the Trump administration on Tuesday finalized changes to the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, redefining what are considered "Waters of the United States" and are thus subject to pollution regulations.
President Trump's irrational, ill-conceived #WOTUS rule amounts to nothing but an unlawful assault on the Clean Water Act.
We’re prepared to go to court.
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CA is not interested in going back to the days when backroom deals and dirty water were the norm. https://t.co/f7eMQkFuLE
— Xavier Becerra (@AGBecerra) April 21, 2020
"The Trump replacement rule removes protections from a significant portion of the country's streams and wetlands, which will impair drinking water, affect fisheries, and reduce flood control for communities throughout the United States," the report warns. "State and local governments will have to spend more money to treat their drinking water and flood-proof their rivers, but they will not be able to replace streams and wetlands which, once filled or drained, will be lost forever."
EPN is made up of more than 500 former EPA officials including Elizabeth "Betsy" Southerland, whose 2017 resignation letter blasting the Trump administration's deregulatory agency spread virally online. In a statement Wednesday, the former science and technology director at the EPA water office acknowledged how the agency and federal environmental policies relate to the first Earth Day in 1970.
Congress authorized the creation of the EPA in December 1970, mere months after an estimated 20 million people took to the streets in cities across the United States to raise concerns about the state of the planet. In the wake of the historic event also came key environmental laws, including the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act.
"We simply cannot allow 50 years of hard-won environmental progress to be reversed in just four years," said Southerland, who spearheaded EPN's information collection project. "We owe that to the generation that will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Earth Day in 2070."
Southerland made similar statements in a op-ed published Wednesday by the Guardian, writing that "the Trump EPA has repealed or weakened almost 100 environmental regulations, even when affected industries have not objected to the rules. The number and speed of these repeals puts us in uncharted territory. Critical public health and worker protections are being rolled back solely to maximize corporate profits."
"President Trump often brags that he is boosting the economy through deregulation. But cutting costs for corporations is shortsighted at best," she added. "Deregulation translates into more pollution of our air, land, and water, and allows climate change to go unchecked. It comes with a huge price tag: increased health costs; lost work days as more people get sick; and devastating wildfires, floods, and prolonged droughts caused by a warming planet."