EPA Mission Tracker

Since Donald Trump became President, and Scott Pruitt and most recently, Andrew Wheeler, his EPA administrators, the EPA has worked assiduously to remove, weaken, or delay a host of pollution-cutting rules. Ultimately, the Pruitt/Wheeler EPA has created a set of markers pointing clearly to an intent to dismantle the EPA’s very ability to do its job. Can the EPA maintain its mission? See below for our updated posts on the dismantling of EPA, and here to learn what it takes to get from dirty to clean (an overview of the EPA rulemaking process).

Can the EPA Maintain its Mission?

Since Donald Trump became President, the EPA has worked assiduously to remove, weaken, or delay a host of pollution-cutting rules. As a result, the agency is on a “reverse mission”. Instead of focusing on delivering what the public has always counted on the EPA to deliver – the protection of the environment and of human health from illnesses and premature deaths inextricably linked to pollution – the Trump EPA’s signature work is to deliver higher levels of pollution for longer periods of time. At the same time, the Trump EPA has created a set of markers pointing clearly to a larger, if less noticed, project of dismantling the EPA’s very ability to do its job.

The depth of the commitment to this reverse mission is illustrated by the sheer volume of individual pollution reduction rules they have put the agency to work on withdrawing or delaying. Yet, even that inventory tells only part of the story. In fact, the Pruitt/Wheeler EPA seems to be working equally hard on dismantling its very capacity to develop, implement, and enforce effective pollution reduction rules and programs and to carry out other vital public service functions, like advancing scientific research, sponsoring projects that promote community environmental health, and providing the general public complete and accessible information about public health and environmental issues. Pruitt has, and Wheeler is, also undermining the public’s legal right to hold the agency accountable when it fails to meet its obligations.

If it continues, the Pruitt/Wheeler dismantling project will leave behind not just a pollution-control regime that delivers fewer reductions in health-threatening pollutants. It will also leave behind an agency that – even beyond a shriveled budget and losses in experienced professional staff – will be bereft of the very institutional tools that have proven indispensable to carrying out the agency’s mission. These changes will have the effect of undermining the EPA’s capacity to fulfill its public health and environmental protection obligations.

While many of these changes can be reversed by a successor administration, the task will present that administration with a much greater challenge at the very beginning of its tenure, diverting resources and attention to institutional repair and away from pressing programmatic work to address substantive health and environmental protection.

We have begun to list and describe what amount to markers on the path to dismantling the EPA’s capacities. Below are many of the changes Administrators Pruitt and Wheeler have made to critical practices that the agency has relied on to carry out its public health, environmental and scientific mission. The list links to longer posts with more details.

Thanks to these changes, Pruitt/Wheeler’s EPA has already willingly compromised its ability to ensure compliance by sources with pollution-reduction requirements – or even to detect non-compliance in the first place. It has blunted the public’s ability to hold the agency accountable for carrying out its obligations, diminished its capacity to access high-quality scientific advice, introduced politics into competitive public benefit grant-making, and curtailed the public’s access to critical information about environmental changes and hazards.


Tracker Entries

Action
Overview
Details

ActionMisrepresenting EPA’s Actions – the 2018 Year in Review

OverviewUnder the Trump administration, EPA has subverted many of the agency's guiding principles and methods. This is abundantly clear in EPA’s 2018 Year in Review report where the agency presents a distorting snapshot of its "accomplishments." Despite EPA’s selective use of data points and actions, the report reveals how little it has done to advance the agency's public health mission and the extent to which it has worked to undermine it.

ActionDenying the Health Benefits of Pollution Reduction

OverviewThe agency has started to change the way that the benefits of pollution reduction are calculated and considered. These changes will shift cost-benefit analyses and can justify lowering standards and inaction.

ActionSubverting the Process of Setting Health-Based Air Quality Standards

OverviewThe EPA has released a memo changing the process for reviewing and setting science-based National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The new process shifts away from the purely science-based approach outlined in the Clean Air Act, potentially compromising public health. The memo introduces the influence of economic and technical factors as other new EPA policies limit the scientific evidence to be considered and change the scientists involved. You can listen to a more detailed explanation of what is at stake in this new process in our new podcast featuring Janet McCabe, former Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA Office of Air and Radiation and current Assistant Director for Policy and Implementation at Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute and a Senior Law Fellow at the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Details

See Subverting the Process of Setting Health-Based Air Quality Standards Part 1 and Part 2

Listen to our podcast with Janet McCabe

ActionMisleading on Climate Science

OverviewThe EPA distributed “talking points” to its regional offices instructing them to use language that casts doubt on the validity of climate change science.

ActionDiminishing Public Accountability

OverviewThe public’s ability to hold the agency accountable for meeting its obligation to implement the laws that protect public health and the environment from pollution has been diminished.

ActionCurtailing High Quality Science

OverviewThe agency’s capacity to elicit objective and disinterested advice from highly qualified scientists and other experts – advice that is critical to a host of EPA obligations, including, for example, setting standards for what levels of toxic chemicals are safe for children and pregnant women – has been curtailed.

ActionCurtailing High Quality Science – Air Pollution

OverviewThe EPA intends to change which scientific studies it will consider in a thinly veiled attempt to undermine settled conclusions about the health impacts of air pollution.

Details

See Changing What Science the EPA Will Consider: Part 1Part 2Part 3, and The Ruse of Results-Oriented Science

ActionStepping Back From Air Program Enforcement

OverviewThe EPA has effectively announced its retreat from a crucial enforcement step against regulated sources that increase their air pollution, thereby abandoning its responsibility to ensure that these sources are not increasing how much they pollute. This parallels other changes in the EPA’s enforcement policies, including a recent initiative focusing on the oil and gas industry.

ActionImpairing Critical Information-Gathering

OverviewEPA’s nationwide network of regional and field offices can no longer move on their own authority to collect compliance information from polluting sources. Instead, they must seek approval from EPA headquarters before acting, a change almost certain to introduce delay even where the regions have reason to believe that sources are polluting at levels above their legal limits.

ActionPoliticizing Grants

OverviewCompetitive grant-making meant to provide resources to projects aimed at delivering public health education or reduction of environmental hazards that meet objective quality criteria are now, for the first time, subject to political review.