***Cynthia Giles is no longer at the University of Chicago***
By Evan Halper
One year into the Trump administration’s unrelenting push to dilute and disable clean air and water policies, the impact is being felt in communities across the country. Power plants have been given expanded license to pollute, the dirtiest trucks are being allowed to remain on the roads and punishment of the biggest environmental scofflaws is on the decline.
The real-time impact of the most industry-friendly regulatory regime in decades is at times overshadowed by policy battles that are years from resolution. President Trump’s moves to shrink national monuments, return drilling to the waters off the West Coast and allow natural gas companies to release more methane into the air are destined to be tied up in court for the foreseeable future. The contentious Keystone XL pipeline may never get built as volatile oil prices threaten its profitability.
Yet under EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, the air and the water are already being affected as the administration tinkers with programs obscure to most Americans, with names like “Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for Steam Electric Power Plants” and “Air Quality Designations for Ozone.”
Pruitt sued the EPA more than a dozen times when he was Oklahoma attorney general, challenging the agency’s restrictions on the fossil fuel industry and authority to protect the nation’s air and water. Now under his leadership, the agency’s enforcement actions against scofflaws have plummeted, agency data indicate.
The numbers emerging from the federal government’s database of enforcement actions against polluters show that from the time Pruitt took the helm early last year through November, the dollar amount of pollution-control equipment and cleanup activity the EPA demanded dropped by more than 85%. Even compared with the dollar amount required during the same period of the George W. Bush administration, there is a dropoff of more than 50%.
“It is one thing to say we have a change of administration and a different level of emphasis and focus,” said Cynthia Giles, who led the EPA’s enforcement office during the Obama administration and has analyzed the recent data. “But this kind of drop is not a change of emphasis. That is abandonment. That is a very, very big deal.”