Las Vegas Sun

October 22, 2018

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Sun Editorial:

With millions dying from pollution, Trump’s war on EPA is unconscionable


Andrew Harnik / AP

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt arrives at Trump Tower in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016.

The potential ramifications of the Trump administration’s dark alliance with the fossil fuel industry and other polluters are coming into increasingly sharp focus, and they’re staggering.

Consider a major study released last month by The Lancet medical journal. The study’s authors found that 9 million premature deaths worldwide in 2015 could be attributed to toxic exposure. Further, the researchers estimated that pollution-related death, illness and welfare cost $4.6 trillion worldwide in annual losses, which translates to 6.2 percent of the global economy.

Pollution, they said, is killing more people than war and violence combined. It’s causing more deaths than smoking, malnutrition, natural disasters and such diseases as AIDS and tuberculosis.

And the actual numbers are undoubtedly much higher. Gaps in monitoring systems make it impossible to gauge the effects of bad air and contaminated water on public health in some areas, and hundreds of chemicals that have been released in the environment have yet to be tested for toxicity.

Enter Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator.

Acting as a blunt-object weapon for energy utilities, chemical companies and the fossil fuels industry, the Trump administration has targeted more than 50 environmental regulations for rollback or discontinuation, and has already overturned more than half of them. On the rest, rollbacks are either in progress or are in limbo.

These include the Clean Power Plan, fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, coal and ash discharge restrictions and limits on toxic discharge from power plants, to name just a few. The Trump administration’s loudest assault on the environment was a vow to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord effective in 2020, ending the nation’s commitment to battling global warming by meeting carbon emission standards.

Trump and Pruitt are blowing the door wide open for operators of coal-burning power plants to pump greenhouse gases and coal ash particles into the air, for automobile makers to produce cars that burn more fuel and release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, for energy companies to drill and frack, for manufacturers and developers to get around anti-pollution regulations, and much more.

Pruitt also has abetted Trump in an assault on science, dismissing scientists from the agency’s Board of Scientific Counselors and replacing dozens of members of the agency’s scientific advisory boards. A document obtained by several news organizations last month showed that his expected appointees to the EPA’s Science Advisory Board included representatives from such companies as Phillips 66, Total and Southern Company, and from a chemical industry trade association.

The EPA also has tried to squelch discussion on climate change, ordering its scientists not to present reports on the subject and removing references to it on the agency’s website.

Thank goodness there are still environmental scientists working in the federal government who, despite being under siege, are going above and beyond to keep information flowing to the public and contradicting the messages coming from the White House.

Their work resulted in a thunderclap of a report this month from 13 federal agencies showing that climate change was happening, was likely to become more severe and that it was “extremely likely that human activities” were fueling it.

How Trump and Pruitt let the report get out is anybody’s guess, but it’s a godsend that it did.

As such reports alarmingly point out, there’s a critical need for control of greenhouse gases and pollution. At a time when the nation should be taking the lead on developing renewable energy technology and protecting the environment, the Trump administration is going the wrong direction.

Last month, Pruitt declared, “The war on coal is over.” He failed to add that the war on the environment and public health had begun.