Once upon a time, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was a beacon of hope for the rapidly deteriorating well-being of the planet. It acted without the interest of politicians, implementing numerous measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions, protect wildlife, and limit the amount of toxins in our water, air, and soil. The EPA of yesterday was a guardian of environmental health, but the EPA of today works in pursuit of a different type of green: money.
President Trump, a serial climate change denialist, has consistently prioritized profit and short-term gain over long-term consequences. Thus, it should come as no surprise that to him, the EPA is an agency that must be weakened so that it cannot interfere with corporation profitability. With Trump’s appointment of Scott Pruitt as EPA administrator, the integrity of this government agency has been thrown out the window, and the steep moral decline has continued with new appointee Andrew Wheeler. Pruitt and Wheeler, who was previously a coal industry lobbyist, have repealed a staggering number of environmental regulations, granting fossil fuel industries greater liberty to exploit natural resources.
The New York Times, using research from Columbia and Harvard Law Schools, compiled a list of 78 EPA policies on the way out or already repealed under the Trump administration. What’s most frightening is that many of these changes never hit mainstream news, and thus go entirely unnoticed until someone suffers at their expense. I have chosen to highlight some of the most unnerving changes so that fewer are blind to these injustices.
1. The Keystone XL Pipeline
The history behind this pipeline is lengthy, but to summarize, energy company TransCanada hopes to build a pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast. It would transport massive amounts of crude oil found in tar sands to refineries in the United States. President Obama originally vetoed the construction amidst controversy from environmentalists and Native American tribes affected by the pipeline.
The proposed pipeline would run through two reservations: Rosebud Sioux Tribe Reservation and Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. Both groups cited concerns that the pipeline would interfere with their water systems and disrupt sacred cultural/historical sites that were supposed to be protected by the government. The probability of leaks and spills from such a pipeline is relatively high, as tar sands oil is more corrosive than conventional crude oil. As a result, existing pipelines for tar sands oil leak more frequently. In fact, one of TransCanada’s pipelines leaked twelve times during its first year of operation. However, when Trump came to office, he gave the green light on the project. It was temporarily stalled by a federal judge from Montana, but Trump issued another approval on March 29, 2019, stating that this exercise of presidential authority would not be up for judicial review.
2. Seismic Airgun Blasts
In the pursuit of ever-dwindling petroleum reserves, some fossil fuel companies have proposed a unique way of locating offshore oil reserves. Seismic airguns would send deafening 250-decibel sound waves down to the ocean floor and measure echoes to determine where offshore drilling should take place. Though such techniques were initially deemed too dangerous and were banned, they have now been approved by the current EPA administration. Conservationists are concerned that the sheer magnitude of the blasts could cause hearing loss in marine species. Since marine life relies heavily on sound in order to communicate through vast waters, many fear that the blasts will interfere with mating, predation, and migration. The fragile balance of marine ecosystems could be disturbed.
3. Arctic Offshore Oil Drilling
The Arctic is likely going to suffer the most from the drastic rising temperatures caused by climate change. The span of its ice has already decreased by hundreds of thousands of square kilometers since the 80s. Shrinking habitat size is threatening its wildlife, and to pour salt on the wound, the EPA approved the first offshore oil drilling in the Arctic on Oct. 24, 2018. The effects of an oil spill in the area would be more catastrophic than in warmer climates, such as the Gulf. Kristen Monsell, the litigation director of the Center for Biological Diversity, warned, “This project sets us down a dangerous path of destroying the Arctic. An oil spill in the Arctic would be impossible to clean up and the region is already stressed by climate change.”
4. OIAI is Dropped
"Once In, Always In" (OIAI) was a Clinton era EPA policy meant to regulate air pollution. Essentially, OIAI set maximums for the amount of hazardous air pollutants that corporations could release annually. Trump’s EPA rolled back OIAI out of fears that it may be too burdensome on industries who would probably prefer to spew these substances without limits or repercussions. To the Trump administration, industry clearly trumps public health. This particular rollback struck a chord with me because underprivileged communities will be hurt the most. For one thing, low-income housing is more likely to be near these polluting plants. When these people become sick from the contaminated air, the medications they need may be inaccessible due to high costs. For those that can afford the appropriate medication, its purchase would still put a strain on their budgets and could prevent them from paying everyday expenses. It is inhumane to subject vulnerable people to dangerous environmental conditions and then expect them to pay out of pocket to fix their health problems.
If carbon dioxide sounds sinister, how about a substance between 500 and 5,000 times more powerful when it comes to trapping atmospheric heat? A greenhouse gas monster long forgotten, hydrofluorocarbons may be making a comeback. The EPA has declared it will stop enforcing a 2015 rule that banned the use of HFCs in refrigeration and air conditioning. The entire world has put measures in place to drastically cut back HFC production, yet the U.S. continues to turn its back on progress.
The government is disregarding the welfare of its citizens, the very body it was created to serve. We cannot let this injustice happen in silence, and we cannot forsake those who will suffer the most—those who will experience frequent flooding, who will choke on the air they breathe, and who won’t have clean water to drink.