Archive for March, 2017

The Word “Science” Has Disappeared From The EPA’s Mission Statement

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is under a communications blackout, has its long-time archenemy as its new chief, is having its funding dramatically cut, is having all its major climate change mitigation provisions and water protection rules rolled back, and may be entirely abolished by the end of 2018. Times are bad, to summarize.

The newly minted powers-that-be are also having a fiddle with the EPA’s website, something which is being tracked by the non-profit group, the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI). Although plenty of references to climate change have been slipping away as of late, the most recent change is particularly egregious.

The EPA’s Office of Science and Technology (OST) once had a mission statement that began thusly: “OST is responsible for developing sound, science-based standards, criteria, health advisories, test methods and guidelines…” It talks about using “scientific and technological foundations” to achieve things like clean water and pristine aquatic environments.

Now, the mission statement notes that it works on “economically and technologically achievable performance standards to address water pollution.” The word “science” has been completely removed from the site – despite the fact that, lest we forget, this if the Office of Science and Technology.

This is ludicrous, that much is obvious. Worryingly, this goes in line with what Scott Pruitt and his anti-environmental cronies were saying at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland. One lawyer who handled the transition between the Obama EPA team and the Trump one even said that the EPA should not conduct science at all.

This situation is so bizarre that there aren’t enough superlatives or analogies to adequately convey its malevolence effectively. Taking the “science” out of the Office of Science and Technology is like taking the “space” out of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It’s like removing the spaghetti from bolognese, the coffee out of an espresso, or the alcohol out of a bar.

It’s like taking cats off the Internet – what is the point of it without them?

You can’t base environmental protection on anything that’s not scientific. Are they going to use the entrails of a chicken to guide them? Will they search their feelings and use the Force? Flip a coin? Consult a Magic 8-Ball?

Science, it seems, is just massively inconvenient for those that like to do whatever they want with no care for the consequences of it. With few exceptions, the GOP of 2017 is the party to beat when it comes to science denial.

EPA’s Environmental Justice Head Resigned After 24 Years. He Wants to Explain Why.

Friday, March 10th, 2017

“To move backward didn’t make any sense.”

By REBECCA LEBER for Mother Jones

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office on Environmental Justice submitted his resignation on Tuesday. First reported by InsideClimate News, the resignation of Mustafa Ali comes as the Trump administration considers layoffs and budget cuts at the EPA that, if enacted, would eliminate the environmental justice budget and cut funding to grants for pollution cleanup.

Ali, a founder of the program in 1992 who has worked there since, told Mother Jones he resigned because he was concerned the administration’s proposals to roll back its environmental justice work would disproportionately affect vulnerable communities. “That is something that I could not be a part of,” Ali says.

“Each new administration has an opportunity to share what their priorities and values are,” he says, adding that he has “not heard of anything that was being proposed that was beneficial to the communities we serve. To me, that was a signal that communities with environmental justice concern may not get the attention they deserve.”

The office, created during the George H.W. Bush administration, defines its mission as reducing the disproportionate impacts environmental problems have on minority, low-income, and indigenous people by integrating these concerns into all the EPA’s decision-making. Since its founding, the office has distributed $24 million in grants to 1,400 communities.

In his resignation letter, Ali attempted to make the case for the Office of Environmental Justice by appealing to Pruitt’s interest in economic growth. He described what happened in Spartanburg, South Carolina, which received a $20,000 grant from the EPA to address the community’s abandoned dump sites that were leaching toxic chemicals. The mostly low-income, African American residents of the region experienced high rates of cancer and respiratory disease. Local black leaders leveraged that grant into $270 million from investors and the government to revitalize the city, “creating jobs and improving their environments through collaborative partnerships,” Ali wrote. “When I hear we are considering making cuts to grant programs like the EJ small grants or Collaborative Problem Solving programs, which have assisted over 1400 communities, I wonder if our new leadership has had the opportunity to converse with those who need our help the most.”

Ali spoke to Mother Jones from Flint, Michigan, where he was attending a two-day environmental justice summit in the city that famously confronted an environmental crisis when the community’s drinking water was found to be contaminated with lead. He says he will continue the work he has focused on for 25 years as the new senior vice president of the Hip Hop Caucus, a national nonprofit that organizes and recruits activists to promote social justice, including on climate change. “I want to make sure I am investing my time and talents in a place that is going to be supportive of that work,” he says.

Ali hopes his resignation will bring attention to the effects on low-income and marginalized communities of the new administration’s program cuts and loosened regulations.

During his confirmation hearings, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt told Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) that he is “familiar with the concept of environmental justice” and acknowledged that the “administrator plays an important role regarding environmental justice.”

“Under his leadership, he has the ability to move to the next level if he chooses to,” Ali says. Environmental justice leaders “have dedicated decades to trying to gain traction and make progress. We’ve done some of that, and to move backward didn’t make any sense to me.”