I was wondering the other day how that human wrecking ball – Scott Pruitt – was getting on as Director of the US Environmental Protection Agency; specifically, I was interested in how his plan to undo environmental protection in the US was developing as this has a direct bearing on environmental education (the EPA funds a lot of EE in the States, at least at the federal level), and the link between EE and the EPA goes back a long way.
So, I had a look at NEEF – the National Environmental Education Foundation – which had nothing to say. Indeed, you have to search hard to find the search facility – and when you do manage to look up EPA, the top spot goes to a two-year old story.
I had a look at NAAEE – the North American Association for Environmental Education where searching is much easier – but the top story was from 2015 (and the 6th from 2001).
Neither of these champion of environmental education seem to use their websites to monitor what's going on in the EPA. Understandably, perhaps, given the toxic politics involved. I expect there's really quite a lot of monitoring actually going on.
Happily (actually, unhappily), the Economist had plenty to say in a very recent article detailing Pruitt's progress. The headline set the tone:
Scott Pruitt embarks on a campaign to stifle science at the EPA – New policies would hamstring clean-air and pesticide standards
... and there's a lovely picture of a smokestack. The article begins with an update on the many scandals engulfing Pruitt at the EPA and then says:
"On April 24th he unveiled a new policy which would prohibit the agency from using studies backed by confidential data, like medical records, when drafting environmental regulations. He has removed scientists affiliated with universities from the department’s scientific advisory committees. Staff morale has plunged. This is the culmination of a decades-long campaign against the “secret science” underpinning environmental regulation. In 1993 researchers at Harvard published the “Six Cities study”, which definitively linked air quality to premature death using confidential medical records from 8,000 people. The study prompted the first regulations on fine particulate matter issued under the Clean Air Act in 1997. Manufacturers spent millions in an effort to dispute the science and called for release of the raw data, which the researchers, bound by a confidentiality agreement, refused. Today the findings are established science—and the rules they inspired will prevent more than 230,000 early deaths by 2020. Nevertheless, Lamar Smith, a Republican congressman who chairs the science committee, has subpoenaed the EPA for the underlying Six Cities data. He has also unsuccessfully sponsored a bill, dubbed the Honest Act, which would bar the EPA from issuing any new rules based on such studies. Mr Pruitt’s recently announced proposal would sidestep Congress and impose such a policy anyway."
There's more. Pruitt has barred university academic with EPA grants from sitting on advisory boards (think conflict of interest) but has no problems with those working in industries regulated by the EPA from doing so. The Economist says that "the result is that the number of university scientists on the boards has fallen by half, while the number from regulated industries or consulting companies has increased threefold."
Many officials have left the EPA; others are sticking it out till better times arrive as they surely will – but when ...