It might have been forgotten in the midst of the travel ban and all the other things going on, but the gag orders put on the EPA and the USDA are still significant. Barred from talking about environmental policy, taxpayer-funded research or even stating climate facts, the administration has been doing a lot to pull the chair out from beneath the EPA.
Now there are bills in congress to disband the EPA altogether and Scott Pruitt, Trump’s nominee for the head of the EPA, has actually spent many years as an official in Oklahoma trying to dismantle it.
The restrictions placed on the EPA have been uncharacteristic and antithetical to what makes America so successful — the encouragement of a free flow of scientific information and innovation. While research is still allowed to be published in peer-reviewed journals, something which costs money to access, releasing that same information through public channels, like twitter or the media, has been cut off. In other words, the link between the non-academic public and the EPA has been severed and its methods of communicating with the public blocked.
The EPA has been the target of a lot of hate and criticism. Not all of it is unwarranted. The regulatory arm of government can often stretch too far and be too sensitive. When you’re a property owner or business that gets hit with fines because some rare Sri-Lankan bottle-nosed lizard wandered onto your property and set up shop, it can be incredibly irking. Sometimes, instead of searching for solutions, our regulatory agencies instead take the easiest route and put the burden on people and workers who don’t have the training or the capital to deal with an issue. Blocking off vast swaths of land, or slapping fines on farmers who build a pond so their cows can get a drink of water.
The job of these agencies isn’t just to regulate, it’s to help accommodate, and often that mission is lost. Regardless of what is lacking, Science is not something that should be targeted. Even if all of the regulations and laws were stripped away, at the very core of these agencies is their ability to inform the public, and at least let citizens make the decision whether or not they should be more proactive when it comes to the environment. That’s the core element of an informed and successful democracy, allowing people to make their own decisions based on science and fact. Stripping away that ability and silencing scientists at the EPA is simply negligent.
Even if you’re someone that doesn’t believe in global warming or climate change, or if you do but simply think there’s no way to stop it, think of all the other things that these agencies do. Think of all the other ways in which pollution and the environment can directly harm you.
Think about the fact that for 15 years, Pacific Gas and Electric poured 370 million gallons of carcinogenic wastewater into Hinkley, California. Or that before the 1980’s, Asbestos was not meaningfully regulated and cases of lung cancer and mesothelioma correspondingly shot through the badly-insulated roof. Think about the deepwater horizon or the many hundreds of mining incidents that have contaminated water supplies. The water sources of you, your children, and your neighbors. Think about Flint, Michigan, and think about what your reaction would be if you had to drink that red and brown water.
Take a look at this picture of Beijing and think about what it would be like to live in a place that always had this much smog. China is one of the worst offenders when it comes to environmental regulations, but this is also a picture I see in Salt Lake City nine or ten times a year, and it’s getting worse. The EPA and many other agencies play a large role in regulating these real and tangible effects on your life and that can’t be forgotten or discounted.