OPINION: What does the ‘P’ in EPA stand for nowadays?

By: Chris Kernan-Schmidt, Columnist

Since President Trump took office in January of 2017, the leaders of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have taken a vastly different approach to environmental protection compared to their Obama-administration predecessors. Under Trump-appointee Scott Pruitt, the main focal point of the EPA seems to have shifted from protection to pollution. Senior leadership at the agency is infested with close ties to business interests such as Pruitt’s friendly association with the oil and gas industry. While none of Pruitt’s relationships and dealings with the oil and gas industry have been deemed illegal, they highlight a dramatic and dangerous shift from the agency’s core values.  

It is clear the EPA is undergoing a regulatory capture, “[a process in which] public interest agencies that come to be controlled by the industry they were charged with regulating,” according to Investopedia. Much of the current EPA leadership are strong-willed in their fight against the agency they are serving.

For example, Deputy Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Nancy Beck previously served in a top position in the American Chemistry Council (ACC). The lobbyist group ACC has been looking out for the interests of major oil, gas, and agricultural companies for years and it seems that now the ACC has a direct route to key policy-making decisions affecting their clients. It is a scary and dangerous situation when the companies that the EPA is designed to regulate begin to infest the leadership of the agency.  

Regulating polluters and protecting the environment are not only critical to the future success of the United States, but the human race as a whole. While the U.S. may have been only one country out of many fighting for the health of our planet, our removal of domestic regulations and withdrawal from international agreements sends a message that we no longer find climate change prevention a serious issue. Countries that look up to the U.S. may follow suit and begin to humor the notion that environmental protections are not that important. Much like the U.S., these countries will opt for short-term monetary gain rather than lookout for long-term health of its citizens.

There is a lot wrong with the EPA and President Trump’s toxic fight against the agency, but like most bad situations, there is a silver lining. A majority of Americans, more than 50 percent according to a recent study by Yale, believe that climate change is caused mostly by humans. According to the same study, this is the highest percentage since 2008. This is positive news. While our current leaders may vehemently deny climate change, the majority of people who are responsible for voting them in do not.

Climate change may not be at the top of your list of policy issues, but I think it should be important to consider a candidate’s stance on the issue. It is ignorant and dangerous for someone in a position of power to ignore scientific evidence in pursuit of monetary gain. You as a voter can help change who is in charge of these momentous decisions. Like most policy issues, it boils down to getting yourself and your friends out there on election days (local, state and national) and voting.

The EPA is a critically important agency. It is the spearhead in the U.S.’s fight against harmful climate change and provides the protection for our beloved environment. To see its mission degrade at the hands of individuals whose pockets are filled by the oil industry is disgusting. The agency needs to “drain the swamp” and work to revive its mission of protecting our country’s beautiful environment, our health, and our future.

If you feel strongly about environmental protection, lobbying or helping others get out and vote, consider joining some of the great clubs we have here at Mason. Green Patriots and Virginia Student Environmental Coalition are two great organizations promoting sustainability and environmental activism. Also visit Mason’s Office of Sustainability (green.gmu.edu) to learn more about what you can do!

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