People in Science and Health

Trump Administration’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Gets Embroiled in Controversies

Trump Administration's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Gets Embroiled in Controversies
PHOTOGRAPH: U.S. EPA Water | Progress can be made for clean and reliable water.

Science in the age of  Donald Trump appears to be headed for a major upheaval. Recently, the Trump Administration tweaked the language of some government websites. Among the prominent changes made were those for the Environmental Protection Agency pages.

Many people regarded the move as a sign of “a new era” for the EPA, Of particular interest was the deletion of the word “science” from the Office of Science and Technology (OST) Policy.

In the official website of the U.S. government (Environmental Laws and Regulations) The U.S. EPA addresses several issues, from setting limits on certain air pollutants to enforcing federal clean water and safe drinking laws. In addition, EPA enforces federal regulations to reduce the impact of businesses on the environment.

Regulatory Implications

Gretchen Gehrke, a member of the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (which documented the changes) website tracking team, commented, “The language changes here are not nuanced — they have really important regulatory implications.”

The OST portion of the website originally described the standards as “science-based” which referred to the scientific, peer-reviewed recommendations for safe levels of water pollutants, whether for drinking, swimming, or fishing. When Donald Trump assumed office, the OST changed it to “economically and technologically achievable standards.”

The explanation offered for the change from “science-based” to “economically achievable” is that it is a reference to ongoing conflicts over the regulation of environmental polluters, consisting mostly of businesses. The sad reality of big businesses polluting waterways and other resources is not lost on staunch environmental advocates.

The EPA noted that performance-based regulations are usually called for by environmentalists. The shift, as officials stated, underscores technology-based standards instead.

New EPA Administrator Steps In

Scott Pruitt, who was confirmed by the Senate to lead the EPA on Feb. 17, 2017, tweeted upon his assumption to office, “I’m dedicated to working w/stakeholders – industry, farmers, ranchers, business owners – on traditional values of environmental stewardship.” The post triggered a barrage of reactions from environmental advocates.

One online follower tweeted, “We need the government’s help to be a watchdog to protect our air and water, people and wildlife.” Another commented, “All of us who live, breathe, work and eat in the US are stakeholders, not just businesses.” More recently, Pruitt has been the subject of criticisms by American media for spouting off controversial statements about climate change.

Raging Controversies

Some sectors fear that the changes may have an underlying meaning, such as a new purpose for the EPA.  Environmentalists surmised that business interests may be favored over public health and the environment.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, they noted, has not mentioned public health nor environmentalist stakeholders this far.  Recent decisions halting emissions reporting requirements for certain businesses and Pruitt’s statements on carbon dioxide emissions have created an online furor.

While controversies rage, a growing number of organizations and individuals — including young celebrities — have been doing their share to be good stewards of the environment, beginning with taking simple steps to lessen carbon footprint.

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