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Conservation In Mind – Environmental protection sees new rollback

By Frances Lamberts

When Robert C. Byrd, the late Senator from West Virginia, reproached President G.W. Bush for speed of rushing the country into an ill-begotten war with Iraq, he used musical expressions. In a speech on the Senate floor he termed the operational tempo of the armed forces to have moved “from adagio (slow) to allegro (fast), and rapidly moving to prestissimo (‘as fast as possible,’ or ‘too fast’).”

The tempo of regulations to the nation’s environmental laws being weakened or stymied by the current White House occupant seems equally breathtaking. Before year’s end, “95 environmental rules being rolled back under Trump,” the New York Times reported. Though being touted as lightening “burdens” on corporate industry, they come at increased health risks and costs to average people, and at serious loss of protections for Americans’ environmental heritage.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced formal suspension of environmental laws during coronavirus. The agency has, justifiably, often used temporary enforcement discretion, for a particular business or industry sector in special and perhaps unavoidable circumstances, yet a blanket and time-unlimited compliance waiver is unprecedented. It is reprehensible, one might judge, especially during a national health crisis.

The EPA states that violations of air emissions, wastewater or other pollution controls won’t require routine monitoring and reporting – and won’t be fined if reported – during the pandemic. As the Union of Concerned Scientists judges this, “EPA Gave Polluters Free Rein” to “now enjoy the profits they garner during the pandemic, while poisoning the public, free from repercussions.”

Many companies with permits for harmful water effluents or toxic air emissions no doubt will continue to abide by the requirements, to prevent or limit pollution harm to their communities and surrounding public.

Yet in the suspension order’s blanket compliance waiver, the administration almost seems to be inviting industry to take advantage of the health crisis under which communities now are suffering.

Known to be most affected are elderly people and those suffering from asthma or chronic lung diseases, serious heart problems or compromised immune systems. They will be at extra risk from more hazardous air or other pollution that industries now can “legally” emit, in the midst of a pandemic which can kill via respiratory failure.

As Senator Byrd warned about war making under President Bush, in relinquishing health and environmental protections under the nation’s laws, the Trump administration, too, is going much “too fast” and “too far.”