The Future of Environmental Policy in the U.S.

Since its enactment by President Nixon in 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has served to ensure the adequate relegation of pollutants in the United States. It is not uncommon for regulations to go through multiple iterations with the advent of new technological innovations, scientific discoveries, and economic realities. For example, in 1990, the 1972 Clean Air Act was amended and strengthened to include the Acid Rain Program, further regulating and reducing levels of SO2 and NOX in the atmosphere. More recently, under the Obama administration, the Clean Water Act was revised into the Clean Water Rule. The Clean Water Rule expanded the regulatory power over which bodies of water were to be held under EPA regulation. In recent years, the EPA has experienced general trends towards the increased stringency of pollutant regulation. The Trump Administration, however, is upsetting this precedent.

President Trump issued an executive order on February 28th, calling for the review and subsequent rescindment or revision of the Clean Water Rule. The narrowing of the Clean Water Rule is likely to affect wetlands, which serve as a habitat for a wide variety of plants and animals. Additionally, Trump’s order calls for a lifting of regulations on ephemeral streams, which flow only during times of snow or heavy rain. This is particularly unsettling, as ephemeral streams play a role in the health of the larger bodies of water that they flow into. Some experts assert that the narrowing of the Clean Water Rule will also adversely affect the quality and amount of drinking water.

Aside from the specific implications that a weakening of the Clean Water Rule may have, since the beginning of the Trump administration, the EPA has undergone changes in its leadership, mission, and funding. The newly appointed EPA head, Scott Pruitt, has zero scientific experience, and has actually spoken out against scientifically backed claims on climate change. Despite an overwhelming body of evidence stating otherwise, on the topic of CO2’s relation to global warming, Pruitt states that he does “not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming.” In accordance with this attitude, a myriad of federal and state programs aimed towards protecting and preserving the environment have experienced drastic cuts in funding.

The EPA appears to be heading towards a mode of regulation that is governed not by objective truth, but rather by political and economic agendas. While he served as Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt worked closely with representatives from Devon Energy, a corporation that specializes in oil and gas exploration, in efforts to combat environmental regulations. Long story short, on the basis of Pruitt’s past associations and actions, as well as the degree of credence (or rather, lack thereof) that he affords to the scientific community, his motives as the head of the agency charged with promoting environmental health are questionable.

The EPA has also removed all mentions of science from its mission statement. While subtle, this change is startling, as sound environmental regulation relies on a sound scientific understanding. It is true that it’s important to consider not only the human health and environmental impact, but also the economic reality of a situation when drafting and revising environmental regulation. However, to blatantly ignore the science behind climate change and to lift regulations that are paramount to ensuring standards of public and environmental health is contrary to the purpose of the Environmental Protection Agency. Ultimately, Pruitt’s agenda, as well as the agenda of the Trump administration as a whole, could wreak havoc on the health and safety of American citizens.