Fight Washington’s Attack on Environmental Enforcement

By Kevin Curtis

On the morning of January 9, 2014, residents near Charleston, West Virginia contacted local officials with reports of an unusual sweet smell in the air, the source of which would soon upend their daily lives. Some 7,500 gallons of a chemical foaming agent used in coal production had leaked from a faulty storage tank into the Elk River, contaminating the main source of drinking water for thousands of area families. Soon authorities warned residents not to drink, cook with or even bathe in water from their taps.

Officials collect a water sample near Charleston, West Virginia after a chemical spill contaminated the water supply.

The devastating and expensive contamination of the Elk River isn’t an isolated case. Non-existent, weak or unenforced safeguards at the state and federal level threaten the health and safety of families across America. But now, just three years later, the Trump White House and Republican Congress are teaming up to pass legislation that would weaken the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies to write and enforce rules that are based on sound science and designed to protect all Americans.

A series of bills already passed in the House and now being considered in the Senate would undermine the whole enforcement system and tip the balance of power away from independent scientists and toward politicians. These bills make it easier for members of Congress to block or void regulations that would protect public health, public safety and the environment. Congress has also begun to permanently erase common-sense environmental safeguards issued in the last year of the Obama administration, including a rule that protects waterways from the polluting impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining. Other rules on the chopping block include cost-saving energy efficiency standards for home appliances and protections for fragile public lands and ecologically sensitive areas from coal mining and oil drilling.

President Trump supports these rollbacks. What’s more, Mr. Trump recently signed an executive order declaring that any new regulations, even ones aimed at fighting pollution, must be accompanied by the elimination of at least two others, an arbitrary and absurd sop to corporate interests that ignores the vast economic upside of protecting American families from costly health problems caused by dirty air and water.

Mr. Trump has also vowed to block the Obama administration’s landmark efforts to fight climate change. He has promised to initiate a repeal of the Clean Power Plan’s carbon pollution limits and cancel popular cost-saving fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, undermining our nation’s most important contributions to the historic Paris Agreement that finally set the world on a path to reduce the emissions that are the chief cause of our rapidly warming planet.

Mr. Trump and the GOP are peddling the false narrative that lax enforcement of our environmental laws will help businesses, but the record shows we can have both a clean environment and a vibrant economy. US economic growth over the last 50 years has been the envy of the world, and that success came while we also built up a strong national environmental protection framework, including regulations that helped clear our cities and waterways of choking smog, dangerous pollutants and even raw sewage. Without the EPA’s enforcement of groundbreaking environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act, American cities today might look more like Beijing or New Delhi, where residents often have to stay indoors to avoid eye-watering and asthma-inducing air pollution.

Today, younger Americans are growing up in a much cleaner and safer country than did their parents and grandparents. They support environmental protections that are now in place, and they won’t stand for weakening the enforcement of those laws and threatening the standard of living for them and their children.

Americans did not vote for contaminated water or polluted air last November. We will not allow polluters and their friends on Capitol Hill to weaken the standards that keep our families safe, and we will hold this Congress and this White House accountable if they fail to enforce our laws and protect the common-sense environmental safeguards all American families depend on.

Our common sense regulatory system has made us a stronger, healthier and more prosperous nation. The Senate must reject any legislation that damages it.