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Friday, 15 June 2018 05:53

Scott Pruitt Delivers for the Chemical Industry and Endangers Us All

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pruittchemphotoWho will protect us from toxic chemicals? (Photo: KAdam)

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In an administration of grifters, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt stands out. Pruitt has ripped off taxpayers for personal first-class travel, ordered aides to perform personal tasks, used government connections to try and find a job for his wife, and even asked an assistant to pursue buying a “Trump Home Luxury Plush Euro Pillow Top” mattress from the Trump Hotel in Washington. Pruitt managed to get a lobbyist to charge him a bargain $50 a night to stay at a Capitol Hill condo. Then, to add to the list, at government expense he built a $43,000 soundproof phone booth in his office. What is stunning is that these actions are only a partial list of Pruitt's benefiting at the taxpayer's expense and his lack of ethics.

Trump has not drained the swamp with Pruitt; he has tolerated a cesspool of corruption.

However, Pruitt's profound harm to Americans is more due to his policies than his personal errant behavior. Take for example two recent developments in his capitulation to the chemical industry.

A June 7 New York Times article headline announces one big victory for loosening regulation of toxic chemicals, including those that can cause cancer:

The Trump administration, after heavy lobbying by the chemical industry, is scaling back the way the federal government determines health and safety risks associated with the most dangerous chemicals on the market, documents from the Environmental Protection Agency show.

Under a law passed by Congress during the final year of the Obama administration, the E.P.A. was required for the first time to evaluate hundreds of potentially toxic chemicals and determine if they should face new restrictions, or even be removed from the market. The chemicals include many in everyday use, such as dry-cleaning solvents, paint strippers and substances used in health and beauty products like shampoos and cosmetics.

But as it moves forward reviewing the first batch of 10 chemicals, the E.P.A. has in most cases decided to exclude from its calculations any potential exposure caused by the substances’ presence in the air, the ground or water, according to more than 1,500 pages of documents released last week by the agency.

It is common knowledge that cancer clusters occur around some chemical plants, along with other harmful health effects. Similarly, toxic chemicals in water supplies can lead to severe health problems, including cancer. The Pruitt EPA move to discount environmental harm caused by toxic chemicals -- leading to human illness -- will result in increased mortality and morbidity. By failing to perform a comprehensive chemical risk assessment, the EPA is perpetuating secondary exposure to toxic chemicals.

The New York Times article indicates that Pruitt stacked the EPA with former chemical industry execs. Most significantly, The Times reports, "Nancy B. Beck, the Trump administration’s appointee to help oversee the E.P.A.’s toxic chemical unit, previously worked as an executive at the American Chemistry Council, one of the industry’s main lobbying groups."

The new EPA practice of evaluating the toxicity of chemicals will only assess how the chemical affects individuals when it comes into personal contact with them, such as in home use or touching the chemical on a production line. Disregarding the risks of secondary exposure in this way has been an aggressive goal of the American Chemistry Council, and now it has been achieved under Pruitt.

Meanwhile, in another relaxation of monitoring chemical dangers, the EPA is proposing to dramatically reduce its oversight of potential chemical hazards in the workplace that might lead to catastrophes. An op-ed in the University of Texas news explains this ominous EPA action:

The rural town of West, Texas, recently observed the fifth anniversary of a horrible explosion at a fertilizer blending plant that destroyed or damaged 150 buildings (including two schools and a nursing home), killed 15 people (mostly first responders) and sent 260 people to the hospital.  

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt has now celebrated that anniversary by trashing the regulations that the EPA had announced during the Obama administration to reduce the risk of similar explosions and chemical releases in the future....

This is not the direction our nation should be heading when it comes to the safety of industrial facilities. Rather, we should build upon the modest Obama-era safety reforms and work to strengthen them so that we can prevent needless fires, explosions and toxic chemical leaks and the resulting injuries, illnesses and deaths. The Trump administration may not be interested in such sensible solutions, but we certainly should be.

Samuel Peña, fire chief for Houston, strenuously objects to Pruitt's proposal:

The proposed changes to the federal chemical disaster rule are unreasonable, illogical and in the opposite direction of where we need to go, especially after the Arkema chemical plant incident during Hurricane Harvey. Limiting information to the public will have an enormous effect in diminishing public safety. Emergency response agencies and community residents have a right to know where dangerous and potentially hazardous materials exist. It is critical to have this information in making proper operational decisions during an emergency incident or event. Without the information, it is difficult to assess public health risks or discover what went wrong after a disaster.

There has been speculation that Trump has not fired Pruitt for his corruption and unethical behavior because Pruitt is fulfilling the president's goals of deregulating the EPA. The EPA was created under Richard Nixon's presidency, when protecting the environment was a bipartisan issue. Under Trump, however, the EPA has become the chemical protection agency. The EPA now exists to benefit corporations, not the public good.