Pruitt Continues To Destroy The EPA

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Originally published on DailyKos.
The content below was published in multiple parts (multiple articles) on DailyKos.

Top staffers for Environmental Protection Agency-hating EPA chief Scott Pruitt announced the agency’s Smart Sectors program Tuesday. Under this, the EPA will work in close partnership with industries it regulates. In a press release, Pruitt said:

“When we consider American business as a partner, as opposed to an adversary, we can achieve better environmental outcomes” […] “The Smart Sectors program is designed to effectively engage business partners throughout the regulatory process. The previous administration created a narrative that you can’t be pro-business and pro-environment. This program is one of the many ways we can address that false choice and work together to protect the environment. When industries and regulators better understand each other, the economy, public, and the environment all benefit.”

Golly, that sounds just fantastic. Cooperative efforts to protect the environment are better than adversarial ones. And, in fact, there has been quite a lot of agency-industry-environmental-activist cooperation since the EPA was founded nearly 50 years ago.

But since the guy announcing this program of cooperation was at the forefront of the adversarial approach by initiating or joining 14 lawsuits against the EPA while he was attorney general of Oklahoma, it’s time to break out the salt shaker. What Pruitt is really talking about is making the EPA knuckle under whenever industry raises objections to the mildest agency initiatives.

Naturally, industry loves this plan. The press release includes laudatory comments from representatives of aerospace, agriculture, automotive, chemical manufacturing, construction, electronics, forestry and wood products, iron and steel manufacturing, hard-rock mining, oil and gas, and utilities. Notably absent, however, are comments from environmental advocates.

Pruitt has a very interesting approach to cooperation. As The New York Times informed readers in July, he “has moved to undo, delay or otherwise block more than 30 environmental rules, a regulatory rollback larger in scope than any other over so short a time in the agency’s 47-year history, according to experts in environmental law.”

Then late last month, based on an analysis of his calendar from May to September, reporters at The Washington Post revealed that Pruitt has been on an intensive schedule of meeting with representatives of various industries. Soon after these little chats, he makes decisions favorable to those corporate interests. The New York Times researched its own version of this story:

Since taking office in February, Mr. Trump’s E.P.A. chief has held back-to-back meetings, briefing sessions and speaking engagements almost daily with top corporate executives and lobbyists from all the major economic sectors that he regulates — and almost no meetings with environmental groups or consumer or public health advocates, according to a 320-page accounting of his daily schedule from February through May, the most detailed look yet at what Mr. Pruitt has been up to since he took over the agency.

The Times’ headline writer called this a “stream” of meetings. More like a tsunami.

As for the cooperative approach, Reuters reported late Tuesday that the EPA has taken its first formal step in Pruitt’s crusade to crush the Clean Power Plan, which was designed by the Obama administration to cut carbon emissions from fossil fuel-burning power plants by 32% by 2030 compared to emissions in 2005:

The EPA document, distributed to members of the agency’s Regulatory Steering Committee, said the EPA “is issuing a proposal to repeal the rule.”

The agency now intends to issue what it calls an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to solicit input as it considers “developing a rule similarly intended to reduce CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel electric utility generating units.”

No other details are yet available. But it’s obvious that the EPA’s new rule is intended to be a pale shadow of the CPP and will fall far short of the U.S. non-binding pledge as part of the Paris Climate Agreement. Pr*sident Trump signed an Executive Order on Energy Independence in March that commanded a review of the CPP. In June, he announced first steps in withdrawing the United States from the agreement that the vast majority of nations on the planet have signed.

Reuters reported that the EPA’s replacement rule for the CPP could be announced by the end of this week. Whenever the agency rolls it out, a 60-day public comment period will be set. Americans should bury the EPA in comments.

EPA’s Polluting Pruitt really delivers for his bosses — polluting corporations

Environmental Protection Agency-hating EPA chief Scott Pruitt has been meeting regularly behind closed doors with executives of the fossil fuel, mining, and automobile industries. Soon afterwards, he makes decisions favorable to those corporate interests, according to an analysis of his April-September schedule by Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin at The Washington Post.

For instance, in the second week of May:

…he met at EPA headquarters with Fitzgerald Truck Sales, the nation’s largest manufacturer of commercial truck “gliders,” which are truck bodies without an engine or transmission.

On Aug. 17, a little more than two months after meeting with Fitzgerald, Pruitt announced that he would revisit an October 2016 decision to apply greenhouse gas emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks to gliders and trailers,  saying he was making the decision following “the significant issues” raised by those in the industry.

Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, said that the manufacturers of gliders have been using their products’ lack of engines to evade stricter air pollution standards, which is why EPA issued its 2016 rule in the first place. “It is a classic special-interest loophole- one that would mean dirtier air and public health damage,” he said.

And that’s just one of many examples.

Liz Bowman, spokeswoman for the EPA, claims that all Pruitt is doing is reversing the previous administration’s “regulatory overreach” by gathering the points of view of corporate leaders whom Obama appointees ignored in establishing rules on fuel efficiency, polluting emissions, coal ash, etc.

In fact, those corporate views weren’t ignored. The Obama administration simply disagreed with them. The idea that Pruitt is eager only to inject balance among competing interests is belied by the fact that during the four-month period covered in the schedule he met with two environmental advocacy groups and one public health group.

Paranoid Pruitt spends taxpayer $$$ on “cone of silence.” What’s he hiding?

It’s not enough that the paranoid EPA-hating chief of the EPA Scott Pruitt has diverted a dozen of the agency’s already understaffed investigative team to do round-the-clock bodyguard duty, even when he is in his office at headquarters. Now Brady Dennis at The Washington Post reports that Pruitt ordered an expensive customized acoustic booth to ensure his phone calls remain secret.

No doubt this updated “cone of silence” will make it easier to keep the contents of his lickspittle conversations with executives of the fossil fuel, mining, and automobile industries away from prying ears.

Sources did not say whether the booth is big enough to allow both Pruitt and a bodyguard to occupy it at the same time:

The agency signed a $24,570 contract earlier this summer with Acoustical Solutions, a Richmond-based company, for a “privacy booth for the administrator.” The company sells and installs an array of sound-dampening and privacy products, from ceiling baffles to full-scale enclosures like the one purchased by the EPA. The project’s scheduled completion date is Oct. 9, according to the contract.

Typically, such soundproof booths are used to conduct hearing tests. But the EPA sought a customized version — one that eventually would cost almost several times more than a typical model — that Pruitt can use to communicate without fear of being monitored. […]

No previous EPA administrators had such a setup.

In the past, the agency had a so-called Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) on a different floor where anyone with the proper clearance could go when sharing classified information.

The cone of silence is just the latest of Pruitt’s efforts to keep whatever pollution-friendly shenanigans he’s up to out of the wrong hands.

In a change from longstanding practice, he doesn’t post his appointment schedules. And, after scrutiny of his emails as attorney general of Oklahoma were pried loose by The New York Times and a lawsuit from the Center for Media and Democracy — exposing his close ties to energy companies in his efforts to smash regulations affecting them — Pruitt avoids email exchanges with EPA staffers, preferring face-to-face meetings and verbal instructions. Plausible deniability enabled.

The obvious question: Given how bad Pruitt’s known activities are, how much worse is the stuff he’s hiding?

Pruitt Will Let Lease Expire On EPA’s Houston Lab

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to let the lease on its state-of-the-art Houston laboratory expire in 2020. And nobody at the agency is saying whether space for the laboratory will be leased somewhere else in Houston or nearby or even whether the lab itself will continue at all. Environmental advocates and labor union officials are not happy. They have reportedly been meeting with members of the Texas congressional delegation in hopes of keeping the lab running.

Houston’s Region 6 Environmental Services Laboratory, one of 10 regional EPA labs, serves a five-state region. Much of the work of the 50 chemists, biologists and other staff at the lab has been focused on Superfund sites in the region. In Harris County where Houston is, there are 13 such sites, many of which were flooded during Hurricane Harvey.

The lab has been a staging area since Harvey struck, and a scientist there told the Houston Chronicle that the staff was told they would be doing water testing during the long recovery from the massive storm. But closing the lab would mean water and soil samples would either have to be sent to another EPA lab — the closest is 400 miles away in Ada, Oklahoma — or to private contractors.

An EPA official confirmed to a Chronicle reporter that the lab’s lease is being allowed to expire. But he also said that the American Federation of Government Employees’ concern that the lab’s work will be ended is overwrought, noting that “alternatives that will continue to provide the analytical services to support our mission critical work in the Dallas office.” The Chronicle’s Matt Lambrecht reports:

Clovis Steib, an EPA employee and the union president in the Dallas region, said in an interview that EPA officials told him in April about the decision to close the lab.

“The sobering news given to me was that in 2019 they would start tying together loose ends and in 2020 the facility would close because they are not going to renew the lease. They would shutter it. And people there wonder, of course, what does that mean for me?”

The EPA recently offered buyouts to 12 people at the lab; three of them accepted the packages, Steib said.

The Trump regime proposed cutting the EPA’s overall budget by 31%. But while that slash-and-burn approach has been scaled back in congressional committee, the $8.2 billion budget is still slated for major cuts, even though it’s at its lowest level in 16 years, and staffing is at its lowest level since 1989. The cuts are in part to cover for the $54 billion the regime seeks to add to the Pentagon’s budget.

Extremist Republicans would like to eliminate the EPA altogether, but that’s not politically palatable even in the Trump era. Hollowing-out the agency, however, can wreck it while keeping its name over the door. Elected officials and the executive branch can thus pretend the agency is still doing all it can to protect people and the environment.

This methodical, death-by-a-thousand-little-cuts approach instead of trying to crush the agency all at once is exactly what environmental advocacy groups and progressive lawmakers warned about when Scott Pruitt was announced as Donald Trump’s choice to run the EPA.

Reprinted with permission.

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