ActivePaper Archive EPA chief gives Foxconn break on smog - Houston Chronicle, 5/3/2018

EPA chief gives Foxconn break on smog

Scott Bauer / Associated Press file

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said this week that “we continue to search for ways to balance between environmental stewardship and a positive, pro-jobs business environment.”

CHICAGO — The Trump administration this week exempted most of southeast Wisconsin from the latest federal limits on lung-damaging smog pollution, delivering a political victory to Gov. Scott Walker as he makes a new Foxconn Technology Group factory the centerpiece of his re-election campaign.

By dramatically reducing the size of the areas required to crack down on smog, Trump EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt overruled the agency’s career staff, a move that will save Fox-conn from having to make expensive improvements as it builds a sprawling new electronics plant in Racine County, just north of the Illinois border in an area with some of the state’s dirtiest air.

Pruitt also pared back the list of counties with dirty air in Illinois and Indiana, a decision that could add to Chicago’s chronic problems with pollution linked to asthma attacks, heart disease and early deaths.

Tweaking the list of counties in violation of federal smog standards is the latest attempt by Pruitt to roll back or delay environmental regulations enacted during the Obama administration. It comes as a new peer-reviewed study found that improvements in air quality across the U.S. have slowed significantly in recent years.

The EPA did not address the last-minute changes in a news release that quoted Pruitt as saying he was “following the data and the law.”

But the areas removed from the list were suggested by Republican elected officials who have sought to curb the EPA’s authority to force industries to clean up the air.

“We are working with the EPA to implement aplan that continues to look out for the best interest of Wisconsin,” Walker, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, said in a Twitter post. “We continue to search for ways to balance between environmental stewardship and a positive, pro-jobs business environment.”

Walker blames Chicago for making the air unhealthy to breathe in parts of Wisconsin. However, an EPA staff analysis of industrial pollution, traffic patterns and weather patterns concluded Wisconsin is at least partially responsible for its own smog problems, and documents filed with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources show Foxconn would be a major new source of smog-forming pollution.

If Pruitt had followed the EPA staff report, Foxconn and other industrial sources of smog-forming pollution in Racine County would have been required to install more effective pollution-control equipment, scale back production or broker costly emissions-trading agreements with cleaner facilities.

Environmental groups and a union representing EPA employees predicted Pruitt’s action won’t survive a court challenge. The smog standards likely will remain in legal limbo past the November elections.

“This is another ridiculous attempt by Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration to violate the law,” said John Walke, a former EPA attorney who leads the clean air program at the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council. “We are looking forward to seeing them in court again.”

Pruitt has said one of his top priorities is delegating more authority to states to enforce environmental laws, though one of the reasons the EPA was created in 1970 was states either were unwilling or unable to hold polluters accountable.