EPA push to gut regulations is a case study on 'pay to play’
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On May 15, the public comment period ended for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulatory reform process triggered by President Trump’s Executive Order 13777 requiring all federal agencies to identify regulations that could be weakened or repealed.

What is striking about the nearly 70,000 comments that were received is the overwhelming number of ordinary people writing individualized testimonials objecting strongly to any effort by the Environmental Protection Agency to weaken environmental protections.

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And it’s more than a little revealing when the EPA held hearings on the issue this month, industry interests like Dow Chemical or ExxonMobil felt no need to stand up in public and describe what regulations they would like to see cut by the EPA.

 

The reason is simple: these special interests have paid to pave their own special access lanes deep inside the Beltway that allow them to influence the EPA far from the public eye.

Dow — no stranger to D.C. power games — has spared no expense in recent years to expand its political footprint. Indeed, it has spent far more than other pesticide companies — nearly $14 million in 2016 alone — on political contributions and lobbying. And after Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Trump Jr. declines further Secret Service protection: report Report: Mueller warned Manafort to expect an indictment MORE’s election, the pesticide giant made a million-dollar donation, one of the largest, to  his inauguration.

There can be no question that this spending is being rewarded. When President Trump signed Executive Order 13777, he handed the ceremonial pen to Dow CEO Andrew Liveris,  who gushed that the president was making the United States “not a red-tape country, but a red-carpet country for America’s businesses.”

And when Scott Pruitt was finally sworn in as EPA administrator, one of his first decisions was to reverse his own scientists’ recommendations and allow the brain-damaging pesticide chlorpyrifos to continue to be used in agriculture, and to allow residues of this highly toxic pesticide to continue to be permitted on non-organic fruits and vegetables.

Following the victory on chlorpyrifos, Dow quietly sent a letter to Pruitt asking him to stop the EPA’s efforts to protect endangered species from chlorpyrifos, despite a four-year review of the pesticide that resulted in thousands of pages of analysis showing that it harms over 97 percent of endangered species. The EPA is now considering Dow’s request for the agency to continue violating the Endangered Species Act indefinitely by refusing to consider impacts to protected plants and animals before approving dangerous, highly toxic pesticides.

Dow’s new-found hubris, backed up by Liveris’ role as Trump’s choice to head of the American Manufacturing Council, was vividly displayed by the fact that no one from Dow bothered to testify at the public hearings on scaling back environmental protections that regulate the company’s pesticides. That was clearly because Dow’s wish-list had been delivered and heard long before the hearings ever started.

Dow’s open wallet has given it access to a wholly separate system of governance, one that’s far beyond the reach of ordinary taxpaying Americans. As a result, there is little chance the EPA will listen to the majority of Americans who overwhelmingly oppose cutting the common-sense, life-saving regulations that protect our water, our food and our environment.

Lives are quite literally at risk from what Trump, Pruitt and Liveris are seeking to accomplish. During the public comment period, 50 farmworkers in California were exposed to chlorpyrifos while they were working in the field. Many reported vomiting, nausea and fainting, and several went to the hospital. Meanwhile the Pruitt EPA was considering whether to delay the very rules designed to protect farmworkers from the most toxic pesticides.

Americans have made clear they strongly oppose the “pay to play” political system that purposefully muzzles their voices in the halls of power, even when those voices are part of the majority opinion. Those citizens who actually pay taxes overwhelmingly support reasonable limits on political contributions and elections where small, individual donors rather than corporations play the leading role.

The EPA’s public hearings offered only the latest evidence  that the American people overwhelmingly support protecting human health and the environment.

 Unlike Trump, Liveris and Pruitt, they understand that protecting the health of our waterways and landscapes and safeguarding the long-term health of our economy are one in the same.

Brett Hartl is government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity.


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