ALBANY. NY: Judith Enck, former EPA Regional Director of New York State’s Region II, and until recently the first visiting Scholar at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, spoke at the Save the Pine Bush vegetarian lasagna dinner at the Westminster Presbyterian Church on June 21. Like many Americans, January 20 was a sad day for her. It was the day she lost her position in the EPA. “It was hard to leave the position,” she said especially remembering water skiing on the Hudson River in Greene County back in the 70s, with a film of oil underneath her and now much cleaner. “I was greatly honored to be appointed by former President Obama.”
Judith accomplished a tremendous amount during her 8-year tenure. She was in charge of not only the New York and NJ EPA offices, but Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and eight Indian Nations. This included a staff of around 800 with an average annual budget of 700 million dollars. During her watch, 845 million dollars was granted to her from the Obama Stimulus Plan, for improved water infrastructure. A few years later, her office made sure that the 500 million dollars granted to replace the Tapan Zee Bridge actually went directly to replacing the bridge. They added the Gowanus Canal, Newton Creek and Wolff Alert radioactive waste site to the Federal Superfund list. They are still waiting to make sure Hoosic Falls is added to the list having discovered that the town’s water supply was riddled with Perfluorooctanoic Acid (BFOA), the stuff that makes teflon stick, but very toxic to drink. They had already sounded the alarm in that town that the water was unsafe to drink.
The EPA started recycling in Puerto Rico, promoted green infrastructure, citizen science and reduce plastics in the ocean. Judith reported that 883 schools in NYC replaced light fixtures, removing those with PCBs that can fatally harm children. She and her staff finally broke a 32-year jam, forcing GE to remove 72% of the PCBs in the Upper Hudson, as required by the Superfund Federal Law. Today, the state of New York is well positioned to get more PCBs out of the Hudson, by dredging the Champlain Canal.
Regarding the Trump Presidency, Judith stated, “Today, the EPA is at a very different place. President Trump’s policies will reverse decades of progress in protecting the environment.” She further added, “The first 160 days of the Trump Presidency have been an environmental disaster, and the future is likely to be worse. If the policies of the Trump administration are fully implemented, make no mistake: kids in the South End of Albany will suffer more asthma attacks; there will be more pesticide residue on our food and farm workers will be directly exposed to more pesticides. Cities like Troy will not get enough funding to deal with lead poisoning. The EPA won’t have the staff to make sure drinking water is fully protected. Manhattan, will struggle with sea level rise. Unless Congress stands up, the proposed Trump budget will not only make it harder for millions of people to receive good health care, but it will actually make people sick.”
As Judith was packing her bags to leave her Brooklyn home, Trump’s assault on the 47-year old EPA began. He signed into law, a repeal of a recent regulation that the EPA had implemented requiring dental offices to install simple filters preventing mercury from rinsed out old fillings to get into the water supply. The simple process of having dental patients rinse out after dental work, puts a surprising amount of mercury into the water system but the filters prevent most if not all mercury from getting past the office. About half the states already have such a rule in place and NY State has had it for a while. The American Dental Association has actually supported the ruling. Judith did not think it made sense that this was the first repeal Trump went after.
Five days after taking office, Trump signed a memo ordering the Secretary of the Army to expedite the approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline. “This action dealt a severe blow to the Standing Rock Sioux, whose water supply and sacred sites are directly threatened.”
On the 10th Day of Trump, another Executive order was signed that for every new Federal regulation, two others MUST be repealed.
On Day 13, Rex Tillerson was sworn in as the Secretary of State. On April 27 Exxon was fined 21 million dollars by a judge for violating the Clean Air Act 16,386 times at its Baytown Texas facility. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has launched an investigation to determine if Exxon concealed information it had on the effect of its activities on climate change
On Day 29, Scott Pruitt was sworn in as the new director of the EPA. As the Oklahoma Attorney General, he had attempted to sue the EPA 14 times. He was quoted as saying “The dangers of lead in gasoline have not been evaluated.” During his confirmation hearing he was asked if he could name one EPA regulation that he supported. He could not name one. In a written questionnaire from the US Senate he was asked if he supported the old EPA regulation that removed lead from gasoline. His response was. “I have not evaluated this issue.”
On Day 36 The President signed an Executive Order to facilitate the elimination of regulations supposedly harmful to the economy. In a stark illustration of where this administration’s priorities are, the CEO of Dow Chemical Company who leads the Trump Advisory Council on Manufacturing, stood at the President’s side as Trump signed the Executive Order and gave him the signing pen. Dow Chemical, by the way, gave $1 million to the Trump inauguration committee.
On Day 42 of Trump’s Presidency, Rick Perry was sworn in as in as Energy Secretary, becoming the head of the agency he proposed to abolish during his failed Presidential campaign. Perry was until recently a board member of Energy Transfer Partners, the people behind the Dakota Access Pipeline. Earlier in the week, Rick Perry said that, “ Carbon dioxide is not a primary driver of climate change.”
On Day 55, the President announced the re-opening the most recent improvements to fuel efficiency standards for cars, known as the CAFÉ standards. CAFÉ standards ,which were established in the 1970s to reduce gasoline consumption and are supported by 85% of the public.
Judith described Day 56 of Trump’s President as “Armageddon Day” for the EPA. The new proposed budget slashed 31 percent of funding to the agency and half of the science funding as well, far more than other Federal Agency! This was not done to save significant tax payer dollars, since only around 8 billion dollars goes into the EPA, a scant 0.2% of the total Federal Budget. The proposed cuts to the EPA are designed to diminish the agency’s effectiveness, not save tax dollars. EPA Administrator Pruitt has said he wants to shift environmental responsibility to the states, but he proposes cutting EPA grants to the states by 44 percent. The proposed budget would reduce the EPA staff by 3,200 employees. Furthermore it would eliminate EPA climate programs, including climate research as well as the voluntary Energy Star program and the voluntary Water Sense program. The proposed budget Slashes funding for EPA’s estuary programs, including Long Island Sound and Lake Champlain as well as cutting the Superfund program by 30%. In addition, the proposal would completely eliminate the US Chemical Safety Board. Established by Congress, the Board investigates whenever there is a major chemical accident and makes important recommendations on how to PREVENT future accidents. The annual budget consists of $12 million dollars and 40 staff. Judith argued “It makes absolutely no sense to eliminate the Board.”
Steve Bannon, Senior Adviser to Trump, called for the “deconstruction of the Administrative State including the EPA.” All of Trump’s appointees were selected for a reason, including Pruitt running the EPA, with the goal to eliminate or greatly reduce it. The budget also proposes a 68% reduction at the Dept. of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (from $2 billion to $636 million dollars).
On Day 64, an Executive Order was signed. The Trump Administration granted federal permits for the Keystone XL Pipeline, a 1,200-mile pipeline that will carry tar sands crude from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast.
The second part of this article was published in the Save the Pine Bush October/November newsletter, click to read it here.