POLITICS
04/24/2017 02:08 pm ET

EPA Quietly Asked The Public Which Clean Air Rules To Cut. Industry Answered Loudest.

How many working people are able to sit through a three-hour call on a Monday morning?

A utility lobbyist called on regulators to do less work monitoring greenhouse gas emissions. An oil and gas lobbyist praised the Trump administration’s retreat from safeguards and urged federal rulemakers to limit regulations on carbon emissions and smog. A lobbyist for wood-product manufacturers complained about the “ever-tightening” public health standards for ozone pollution and asked regulators to change the permitting process.

Those were just some of the requests made by industry advocates during a conference call Monday, when the Environmental Protection Agency held the first of several sessions to ask the public which rules should be eliminated under President Donald Trump’s executive order instructing agencies to slash regulations. The three-hour call, held by the Office of Air and Radiation, focused on clean air and ozone pollution rules.

In March, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced plans to hold the public hearings, but environmental advocates say the agency scheduled the events with little notice, in some cases just days in advance.

“New meetings appear on a website that the EPA has set up to coordinate the process, so unless you check it every day, it is easy to miss when a new hearing is announced,” Andrew Wetzler, deputy chief program officer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote in a blog post ahead of Monday’s call. “All of this is made worse by the fact that EPA staff are offering only limited slots for in-person comments. In fact, some of the meetings aren’t public at all.”

President Donald Trump, left, is greeted by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, right, prior to signi
Ron Sach-Pool via Getty Images
President Donald Trump, left, is greeted by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, right, prior to signing an Energy Independence Executive Order on March 28, 2017. The order reverses the Obama-era climate change policies.

The EPA’s Office of Water, Wetzler noted, is offering an in-person meeting with local water agencies, but only offering a “virtual listening session” over the phone to the public.

“And the deadline for the public to comment on rolling back all these crucial safeguards?” he added. “It ends in a mere three weeks.”

The EPA has already taken drastic steps to gut a host of rules, claiming they hold back businesses and stymie job growth. In March, the agency scrapped a rule requiring oil and gas drillers to report methane emissions, a greenhouse gas up to 86 times more heat-trapping than carbon dioxide. A week later, the White House shredded an Obama-era EPA assessment of fuel efficiency standards, a move celebrated by automakers that claimed complying with the regulation cost too much. By the end of the month, Trump signed an executive order instructing the EPA to rewrite the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s embattled rule to reduce emissions from electrical utilities.

“Regulations ought to make things regular,” Pruitt said in his first speech as EPA chief in February. “Regulations exist to give certainty to those they regulate. Those we regulate ought to know what’s expected of them so they can place and allocate resources to comply.”

Based on Monday’s call, the regulated heard him loud and clear. Lobbyists and business proponents vastly outnumbered ordinary citizens on Monday’s teleconference. Environmental advocates, however, made a considerable turnout to urge the agency not to press ahead with its rollbacks.

A handful of ordinary citizens also spoke during the call, with each given a strictly enforced three-minute limit. One man, who said he lives in Austin, Texas, said that when he testified on behalf of the Clean Power Plan during Barack Obama’s presidency, people filled two conference rooms at the EPA’s Atlanta office for a full day.

I’m horrified, absolutely horrified, at the degenerate level of contribution we’ve seen from representatives from industry. A man who spoke during Monday's public comment call

“Out of that process came a very robust and very responsible regulation and now we’re being asked to roll it back,” he said. “These are people’s lives. These are my children’s lives. This is the future of the planet. We cannot move backward on that. We need to have a strong, robust process, at least as robust as what we had in the past.”

Another man slammed the agency for limiting the opportunities for public comment to a mere phone call on a weekday morning.

“This process today has been extremely enlightening in how the new administration is completely curtailing and cutting out public comment by reducing this to a three-hour conference call on Monday, that no working person would be able to attend reasonably without being an activist in the space or a representative of a major corporate interest,” the man said, adding that his background is in economics. “This is not really fair and should be outright illegal.”

“I’m horrified, absolutely horrified, at the degenerate level of contribution we’ve seen from representatives from industry who have seemingly no concern for the massive, sweeping deleterious effects that are about to be suffered nationwide, should this repeal happen the way it is about to happen,” he added.

The operator promptly moved on to the next caller.

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