Trump Administration’s “Out of Control” War Against EPA

A city worker in San Francisco cleaning sidewalk near a tent city in 2016.           Photo: Eric Risberg, AP

The Washington Post editorialized yesterday that EPA is “out of control” and abusing its power brazenly to wage a regulatory war against the state of California, and experts argued that EPA had little to back up its accusation.

“No self respecting EPA scientist or regulatory staffer is going to claim there’s a direct connection between the homeless and the issues raised in that [water] letter. It’s a pure political stunt,” Steve Fleischli, senior director of water initiatives at the Natural Resources Defense Council told The Hill.

Late last week, the Administration boasted that it had sent the state of California letters accusing it of ” failing to carry out its most basic tasks under the Clean Air Act” and of not addressing “potential water quality impacts from pathogens and other contaminants from untreated human waste entering nearby waters. San Francisco, Los Angeles … that may result from the homelessness crisis.”

Why This Matters:  The President’s use of the environmental laws to exact a political and actual price from California in the form of threatening to withhold federal aid is certainly an abuse of power given its lack of factual basis. 

  • As The Post points out, the Trump Administration’s punitive actions toward California are completely inconsistent with its approach towards other states, particularly those that backed the President in prior elections.

The hypocrisy of the Trump Administration — and the Republican Party’s — position on this could not be more blatant.  Whatever happened to their states’ rights principles and cries of overzealous regulation and enforcement alleged against prior Democratic Administrations?

  • And it is particularly disingenuous given the Administration’s concerted efforts to take away California’s power and funding to address these problems, as well as to blame them on a homeless population that could not possibly be responsible.

California’s Air and Water

There is no doubt that California’s air and water need improvement — but the failures cited by the Administration have nothing to do with homelessness and runoff from non-point sources like stormwater.  “They’re trying to connect the dots, but there is no connection between the two things. The drinking water issues they cite have nothing to do with homelessness. Homeless people are not contributing arsenic to tap water,” Fleischli said to The Hill. “It’s completely nonsensical.”

  • In fact, according to The Post, San Francisco (the place the letter referenced regarding homelessness) is doing more than most other cities to deal with its stormwater problems — it is “spending billions to upgrade its aging infrastructure, including $4.8 billion to improve regional and local water systems used by 2.7 million people. It has also launched a 20-year, multibillion-dollar sewer system upgrade.”
  • The Post also points out with respect to the air pollution problems, “about three dozen other states also have counties that failed to meet national benchmarks for air pollution.”
  • With respect to water treatment, according to The Post, the EPA estimated that 3,508 community water systems were out of compliance with health standards.

The double standard being applied to California is patently obvious. The state alleges that EPA’s letters are in retaliation to the more than 60 lawsuits the state has filed against the Trump Administration, many of which involve loosening environmental standards improperly.

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