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EDITORIAL: EPA must face up to a new normal
With cleanup efforts in their early stages following Hurricane Harvey’s assault on the Texas coastline, and Florida girding for a possible strike from monster Hurricane Irma, the biggest climatological catastrophe to hit the U.S. this year may still be the Environmental Protection Agency.
Newly installed chief Scott Pruitt and a like-minded cadre of fossil fuel-friendly climate-change deniers are not only not equal to the task of responding to natural disasters, they are not interested.
Consider the agency’s ho-hum reaction to toxic Superfund sites in and around the Houston area — a region replete with industrial and refinery zones — following last weekend’s devastating hurricane.
There are concerns these heavily contaminated sites, some inundated with several feet of rainwater, may be spewing dangerous chemicals and other contaminants. But as the Associated Press reported last week, EPA officials had not visited or inspected any of the sites in the immediate aftermath of Harvey.
While the EPA said it used aerial surveillance to determine 13 of the region’s 41 Superfund sites were flooded and possibly damaged, they contended the locations were inaccessible. How then, did AP reporters visit several of the sites — all but one of which they accessed by foot or car?
Instead of redoubling its efforts to inspect possible safety hazards in the wake of the AP report, the EPA’s Pruitt — taking a page from the book of his boss, President Trump —instead had his agency issue a statement publicly insulting the reporter.
Just what’s needed during a time of crisis.
But ignoring the facts and shooting the messengers is par for the course from this administration, and from its EPA chief, who is actively working to dismantle the very agency with which he has been entrusted.
Pruitt’s short stewardship has been marked by secrecy, evasiveness and contempt for the work of the EPA. Data collection has been curbed, formerly public information has been discontinued, and hundreds of pages on topics such as climate change have been scrubbed from the agency’s website.
It has been nothing less than an all-out assault.
But, as we have noted before, it is reflective of a president who has gone out of his way to put in place agency chiefs intended to undermine the very interests they should be serving. From an Education secretary who seeks to slash funding for public schools, to an attorney general who is actively working to undermine civil rights, to an Energy department run by someone who once called for its abolishment, it has been nothing short of a Bizarro administration.
Still, the hostility EPA leadership demonstrates toward its basic duties in the wake of a serious storm like Hurricane Harvey — when its resources and expertise are most needed — is a dereliction of duty.
And Pruitt’s post-storm preoccupation with tamping down discussion of climate-change aspects of the hurricane is a distraction, a disservice and a disgrace. How can the agency adequately respond to major storms when it refuses to acknowledge their driving forces and the subsequent damage they portend?
As back-to-back hurricanes Harvey and Irma are demonstrating, there is a new climatological normal: Warmer ocean waters are fueling Atlantic storm systems with potentially greater power and more devastating rainfall.
There is little that can be done to prevent these storms from wreaking havoc, but much that will need to be done in response.
It is a basic function of the EPA to help protect the homeland and its people in the wake of such calamities. This mission cannot be met if its leader refuses to put public safety ahead of politics.