What Is Next Mr. Pruitt? Will EPA Declare That Smoking Is Good For You?

Nothing seems to be off the table when it comes to protecting industry, and not the laws that protect the health of American citizens.
08/01/2017 11:22 am ET Updated Aug 01, 2017

The near-constant White House shenanigans means that many Americans have missed that President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) has been quietly shredding America’s environmental protections. In just four months, Scott Pruitt seems to be trying to outdo the infamous Reagan-era EPA Administrator, Anne Gorsuch.

Pruitt’s destructive agenda includes plans to slash the agency’s budget by nearly a third, undoing the Clean Power Plan, repealing an Obama-era rule curbing pollution in the nation’s waterways, reopening the 2025 greenhouse gas(GHG) car standards, delaying a rule limiting methane leaks from oil and gas wells, and reversing a ban on pesticides that damage children’s nervous systems. He also helped engineer the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate accord.

All this is just for starters. While his boss is busy attacking the media, Pruitt has declared war on science. He is gutting EPA’s Science Advisory Boards by dismissing 38 of its 49 members, and has suggested setting up a televised “red team-blue team” debate to test the idea that human activity is the main driver of recent climate change.

Pruitt’s debate idea is just a ploy – part of the oil industry’s decades-old climate denial strategy, which in turn, is borrowed from the tobacco industry.

This comes in the face of what 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists agree on: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. Based on 2 million gigabytes of data, 800+ scientists provided input to the landmark 2013 Fifth Assessment Report by the International Panel on Climate Change(IPCC) stated that unless the world acts to curb carbon pollution, we are facing irreversible harm.

But Pruitt’s debate idea is just a ploy – part of the oil industry’s decades-old climate denial strategy, which in turn, is borrowed from the tobacco industry. It is something I witnessed first-hand when, as the Director of EPA’s Office of Indoor Air and Radiation in the early 1990s, we released the Second Hand Smoke report that classified it as a dangerous carcinogen. .

By the mid-1960’s, clear medical evidence linked cigarettes to poor health and premature deaths. The tobacco companies were in a tight corner. Faced with the threat of regulation, traditionally companies would argue that proposed rules would cost jobs and make their companies uncompetitive. But the tobacco industry knew they wouldn’t win the battle this way. Their innovation: Declaring war on the science itself.

Beginning in the 1960’s, tobacco companies created public relations materials and bogus third party front groups to repeatedly question and obfuscate proven medical facts with pseudo-science, selective editing of medical reports and simply repeating lies about their products’ negative health impacts. The trick worked! Cigarette companies succeeded in sewing doubt in Americans’ minds.

Americans need to understand that the attacks on EPA’s protections are no less of an assault on their health.

For forty years, the medical science was scuttled and serious regulatory actions were avoided while hundreds of thousands of Americans died. This was one of the most cynical and deadly campaigns in American history. That is, until the fossil fuel companies began using the same techniques to muddy climate science in the 80’s.

Sensing a danger to their core business, their front groups funded questionable experts to confuse the science of human-driven global warming. Largely as a result, it wasn’t until 2009, with the 2025 fuel economy standards that the EPA took the first federal action to combat what is, in effect, an existential threat to all of us.

In the midst of a presidency that is dominated by a social media circus, one of the few actual policy proposals to be vigorously debated has been the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. From townhalls to media debates, citizens have risen up to reject loss of healthcare for more than 20 million citizens.

Americans need to understand that the attacks on EPA’s protections are no less of an assault on their health. Since its inception in 1970, the EPA has helped reduce emission of common air pollutants by 70%– and did so while the US GDP grew 212% and total private sector jobs increased by 88%. In fact, since weakening environmental protections stands to adversely impact the health – and even welfare - of virtually every American, the devastating effects of reversals in policies can be much more far reaching.

So, I keep wondering what Mr. Pruitt will roll back next. Nothing seems to be off the table when it comes to protecting industry, and not the laws that protect the health of American citizens.

As much as it may seem ludicrous to imagine, should we next expect Mr. Pruitt to pronounce that smoking is once again good for your health? At the rate he is going, nothing will surprise me anymore.

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