What I read in The New York Times wasn’t a surprise. Without a high-powered telescope, you could see the deregulation coming from 500 miles away. When a coal-industry lobbyist was given the reins of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), quid-pro-quo actions were 100 percent predictable.
When the president talked with Andrew Wheeler, the conversation might have gone this way:
“Mr. Wheeler, I promised to save the coal industry.”
“Mr. President, I love the coal industry, too.”
“Mr. Wheeler, how about I put you in charge of the EPA?”
“Mr. President, if you make me EPA director, I will help save the coal industry.”
And on Halloween, America’s environment got tricked, not treated, with the EPA’s announcement to roll back the rules on toxic metals, especially the ones in coal ash. In Latin, “quid pro quo” is “this-for-that.” The EPA director got the job he wanted, and he did what the president wanted. In the meantime, communities across America are put at risk of poisoning from arsenic, mercury, lead and a host of other dangerous heavy metals.
Industries often gripe about government overreach and lobby for rollback of rules. I get that. Some rules are burdensome, but that doesn’t mean an anything-goes philosophy should override commonsense logic. Any government—local, state or national—should be committed to the health and safety of its people.
We’ve had enough spills of toxic coal ash to know disasters can and will continue to happen. Why would the EPA ignore tragedies such as the Kingston, Tennessee, coal-ash spill and loosen its what’s-in-the-public’s-best-interest grip when making decisions? What’s happening in the EPA on this issue exposes the ugly underside of politics, where leadership loses sight of the people who entrusted them to serve. Decisions shouldn’t be for sale to the highest bidder.
Score a victory for industrial lobbyists and their clients. Wheeler whined that the old rules “placed heavy burdens on electricity producers across the country.” The coal industry’s fox in the EPA’s henhouse went on to say: “The proposed revisions support the Trump administration’s commitment to responsible regulations by taking a commonsense approach that will provide more certainty to U.S. industry while also protecting public health and the environment.”
So that’s his commonsense approach? Pardon me, but that is nonsense. As we say out on the farm, “You can’t pee on my leg and convince me that it’s raining.” The EPA caved. Big money won. For now, the people and the environment lost. Where is the “commonsense” in ignoring the damage toxic coal ash has already inflicted on America?
If the EPA doesn’t think coal ash is a threat to “public health and the environment,” here’s an idea. Let’s send some water—laced with coal ash’s toxic heavy metals—and ask Congress, the EPA and the current administration to make their morning coffee with it. But don’t stop there. Load big rigs with thousands of bottles of that same tainted water, and deliver them to all those federal offices in D.C. with a note—“Here, drink this.” Whose “heavy burden” would that be then?
Pardon me, again, but I don’t think the EPA really cares about America’s “public health and the environment.” And as I read The New York Times, I got the impression the Wheeler appointment is another quid-pro-quo arrangement which converts the EPA’s abbreviation to stand for the Environmental Pollution Advocates.
But that doesn’t mean we have to surrender to reckless public-be-damned decisions.