Shared from the 5/3/2017 Philadelphia Inquirer - Philly Edition eEdition

EPA asks what to cut, but gets abacklash

Most of the commenters are opposed to rolling back regulations and want to hold polluters accountable.

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration got an earful Tuesday from people who say federal rules limiting air and water pollution aren’t tough enough, even as it was seeking suggestions about what environmental regulations it should gut.

The Environmental Protection Agency held a three-hour “virtual listening session” on Tuesday to collect public comments by phone about which clean water regulations should be targeted for repeal, replacement, or modification. The call was part of the agency’s response to President Trump’s order to get rid of regulations that are burdensome to business and industry.

Both the phone-in session and the nearly 6,000 written comments submitted so far and published on a federal website were dominated by those staunchly opposed to the planned regulatory rollback. Many identified themselves as being affiliated with environmental groups. Others said they were taxpayers worried about maintaining safe sources of drinking water.

“I actually enjoy breathing clean air and drinking clean water and would find it quite burdensome not to,” said Emily Key, who identified herself as a citizen worried about what cancer-causing chemicals children may be exposed to.

Some said they rejected Trump’s argument that strong environmental regulations impede job creation.

“I’m from Pittsburgh, where our skies were dark at noon and people changed their shirts at lunch because they were filthy from the smoke from the mills,” Doug Blair told the EPA. “I oppose any rollback of environmental protections premised on the ‘jobs vs. the environment’ dilemma. We can have both.”

Since his appointment by Trump, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been accepting confidential petitions from lawyers and lobbyists for businesses asking him to eliminate regulations affecting their profits. Typically, those petitions have only been made public after Pruitt intercedes on their behalf.

An example came last month when Pruitt acted against the recommendations of his own agency’s scientists to reverse an Obama-era effort to bar the use of a widely used pesticide on fruits and vegetables. Recent peer-reviewed studies found that even tiny levels of exposure of Dow Chemical’s chlorpyrifos could hinder the development of children’s brains. Pruitt has also moved to kill or delay regulations limiting toxic air emissions and water pollution from coal-fired power plants.

During Tuesday’s listening session, only a handful of callers said EPA regulations were too strict. The operator of a paper mill in Washington said new rules reducing the allowed limit of cancer-causing PCBs dumped into in rivers put his company at risk. The manager of a municipal water plant suggested that the agency start accepting required reports electronically, rather than just fax.

But the overwhelming majority of those who called or wrote to EPA urged the agency to strengthen its enforcement measures to hold polluters accountable.

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