Undoing the damage Pruitt and Zinke did to our environment

After 17 ethics investigations, Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkePuerto Rican police fire tear gas at crowds protesting governor Overnight Energy: Trump officials gut DC staff for public lands agency to move West | Democrats slam EPA over scientific boards | Deepwater Horizon most litigated environmental issue of decade Trump officials gut DC staff as public lands agency preps to move out West MORE, like former EPA administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: EPA halts surprise inspections of power, chemical plants | Regulators decline to ban pesticide linked to brain damage | NY awards country's largest offshore wind energy contracts EPA allows continued use of pesticide linked with brain damage Overnight Energy: Trump officials gut DC staff for public lands agency to move West | Democrats slam EPA over scientific boards | Deepwater Horizon most litigated environmental issue of decade MORE before him, was brought down by his own bad behavior. Although both were ousted, we still face with the painful and lasting damage they inflicted on our environment, our communities and our public lands.

Investigations into Pruitt and Zinke’s ethics violations — even the odd stuff — are necessary and prudent. Americans deserve to know how their tax money was shamelessly abused to fund lavish lifestyles and trips around the world. Any public official who abuses their position as grossly as Pruitt and Zinke did deserves to be excoriated for their actions.

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We must not lose sight of the incredible damage these two cabinet members inflicted on communities across this country. Rolling back essential environmental and safety protections, handing over our public lands and waters to fossil fuel corporations and placating the agrichemical industry at the expense of public health are the real crises here — not soundproof phone booths or ridiculously expensive office doors.

The good news is that we can stop the worst of these actions and prevent any further damage. Now in the majority, Democrats in the House must use their mandate to investigate, expose and end the worst of Pruitt and Zinke’s policies.

Instead of protecting our environment and public health, Pruitt’s Environmental Protection Agency reversed a number of regulations meant to protect our clean air and water, curb the worst pollution from the fossil fuel industry and safeguard America’s waterways. Perhaps most alarming, Pruitt ignored scientists at the EPA and refused to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which is known to cause brain damage in children.

Zinke took a similar track at DOI. He stripped nearly 2 million acres from Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments over the objections of tribes on whose ancestral lands the monuments sit. We know from unredacted emails accidentally released by DOI that they did so to benefit the oil and coal industries. This is just the latest affront to communities that have suffered centuries of exploitation, oppression and violence at the hands of our government.

The courts have stepped up to enforce a chlorpyrifos ban and to rein in some of the other attempted rule changes and rollbacks at DOI and the EPA. But Democrats cannot sit back and rely on the courts alone. It is time for the Interior and the EPA to return to their central mission: protecting our health, our public lands and our environment. We need the Democrats to push them.

Science, including climate change, must also return to the EPA and DOI. Under Pruitt and Zinke, these agencies dismissed the role of fact-based science in their decision-making, and dangerously ignored the undeniable reality of climate change.

In the past year, both the EPA and DOI limited the kind of scientific research that can be used in rule-making, filled advisory boards with industry insiders instead of actual experts and eliminated or reassigned a number of key roles, including an EPA children’s health expert and DOI climate scientists.

The Trump administration’s trademark climate denialism found its way into DOI and the EPA under Zinke and Pruitt. Frontline communities around the world, including in the United States, are already feeling the impacts of climate change, and it will only get worse. The decision by Pruitt and Zinke to deliberately ignore this issue is perhaps the most consequential and immoral action they each took during their time in the administration. Nothing brings this home more than Zinke refusing to acknowledge climate change while touring California towns destroyed by wildfires.

Under Trump, DOI and the EPA were filled with political appointees that have deep ties to the industries they are supposed to regulate. Democrats in the House must hold hearings and use their subpoena power to expose how industry has profited from these relationships, and they must insist that both agencies go back to working for the American people, not polluting industries.

Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke seemingly handed the EPA and DOI over to corporate polluters. They debased these agencies and endangered public health. Americans are relying on the Democrats to stand up, stop these destructive actions and protect people and the planet.

Nicole Ghio is Friends of the Earth’s fossil fuels program manager.