After EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler on Wednesday claimed his agency's evisceration of environmental regulations does "make things better" in the world, Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group responded by saying it appeared the Trump-appointed former industry lobbyist forgot to add the crucial caveat "better—for polluters" to his sentence.
"Will you stop writing rules that make things actually worse and not better," Wheeler was asked by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), ranking member the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, during testimony.
Wheeler's response to Carper that "All our rules make things better, sir" was appalling to outside critics like Cook, whose group has studiously documented the EPA's dismantling of protections and restrictions under President Donald Trump.
"For more than three years, the Trump EPA has done everything it can to remove the safeguards meant to protect Americans' exposure to toxic chemicals, dirty air, and contaminated drinking water," Cook said in a statement. "For Wheeler to claim these rollbacks were for the good of the nation is absurd and insulting."
Carper had made clear before Wednesday's hearing that he planned to ask tough questions and demand explanations from Wheeler:
EPA owes the American people an explanation.
I plan to ask EPA Administrator Wheeler for one tomorrow. https://t.co/WOnHqOSi87
— Senator Tom Carper (@SenatorCarper) May 19, 2020
As part of its retort against Wheeler's public testimony, EWG offered just a partial list of the EPA's recent failures to protect public health and the environment:
- Refusing to limit perchlorate, a toxic rocket fuel chemical, in the nation's drinking water supply.
- Relaxing rules on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.
- Rolling back auto fuel efficiency standards to allow more than a billion additional tons of carbon dioxide pollution from tailpipes.
- Citing the coronavirus pandemic as reason for halting enforcement of critical environmental laws for the fossil fuel, chemical, manufacturing and electricity industries.
- Proposing to scrap protections for children from atrazine, a toxic pesticide linked to birth defects and cancer.
- Ignoring worker safety in the decision to keep methylene chloride, a lethal paint-stripper chemical, legal and in use.
- Quashing safety rules at chemical plants to ease the "burden" on industry.
- Rolling back regulations on how coal-fired power plants store coal ash waste and dispose of waste water contaminated with heavy metals.
- Proposing a new rule that will leave millions of American children exposed to dangerous levels of lead in drinking water.
- Repealing a clean water rule, imperiling drinking water sources for 117 million Americans.
- Repealing rules curbing methane pollution from oil and natural gas operations.
- Over the recommendations of EPA’s own scientists, refusing to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that can cause brain damage in children.
- Repealing a federal mandate to combat climate change by lowering coal plant emissions.
- Ignoring career agency scientists who called on the EPA to ban the notorious carcinogen asbestos.
- Siding with Monsanto, claiming the cancer-causing weedkiller glyphosate is "safe."
- Rejecting calls to adopt health-protective plan to clean up PFAS contamination.
Trump's EPA has made nothing but enemies among U.S. green groups, but the Covid-19 outbreak has only intensified focus on the administration's grotesque failures when it comes to protecting the health and well-being of the American public.
"At a time when our government should be doing all it can to protect us from the COVID-19 pandemic, the EPA actually has been rolling back critical public health safeguards in a way that will increase our exposure to mercury, soot, toxic chemicals, super-polluting HFCs, and perchlorate," said Vijay Limaye, science fellow in the Science Center at NRDC, just ahead of Wheeler's testimony on Wednesday. "Lawmakers must hold Wheeler accountable for these indefensible actions that are making us sick."