“I really believe that at the end of eight years [of the Trump administration], we’re going to have better air quality, we’re going to have better water quality,” the controversial former EPA Director Scott Pruitt told audiences at 2017’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
“I think when we have a mutually exclusive kind of approach, when if you’re pro-energy you’re anti-environment, when you’re pro-environment, you’re anti-energy, what that means is that we’ve been used to serve political ends. We, as a nation, are better than that,” he continued. “Because we can do both. We can grow jobs; we can also take care of our children, and we can take care of our air and our water.”
It was a speech that generated quite the excitement from President Donald Trump’s base of right-wing social justice warriors. The special brand of conservatives who, suddenly, give a damn about policy said to protect the environment when it’s their boys wielding power.
Let’s imagine you hold America’s highest office. You’re given a mandate of anti-establishment populism. You credit the country’s success to its working individuals, its devoted families and the military service who, through the sacrifice of their blood and liberty, preserve the innocents’ prosperity. Naturally, there’s an expectation that our representatives, wielding public power on our dime, should return the favor.
A report from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) comes across your desk. It reveals that chemicals, commonly used by the nation’s big business, big government and big military institutions, have infested the water supply of 126 military bases, chemical plants, and other prominent sites all the way from New York to Michigan to West Virginia since the 1970s. As the nation remains unaware of the dangers, you’re among the few who know a contamination has even taken place, continuing to worsen the daily lives of the public. As their representative, you are in control.
There’s the response of common-sense, notifying citizens of the contamination and ordering clean-up operations as soon as possible. It was Vanity Fair who stated this is both the obvious moral position, given there are over 110 million Americans lives at stake, as well as the politically smart position since water-crises in Flint, Michigan and more forgotten regions remain active problems in people’s minds. Or, for those of the malicious variety, there’s the Trump administration’s position, exposed via Politico email leaks, where the EPA and the White House prioritized big entities over their citizens in classic, quite literally dirty politics fashion: cover-ups.
“The public, media, and Congressional reaction to these numbers is going to be huge,” one unidentified White House aide said in a leaked email dated back to January 30, reportedly forwarded by James Herz, a Trump political appointee who oversees environmental issues at the OMB. The email continued: “The impact to EPA and [the Defense Department] is going to be extremely painful. We (DoD and EPA) cannot seem to get ATSDR to realize the potential public relations nightmare this is going to be.”
The study was not published for five months.
That is, until Wednesday earlier this week.
The 852-page HHS study from The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that the chemicals known as perfluoroalkyls, or PFAS, “used in everything from carpets and frying pan coatings to military firefighting foams,” endanger the health of humans at 10 times more severe levels than the EPA had previously declared safe for consumption. A 2016 study from Harvard estimated that 6 million Americans got their drinking water from sources that exceeded the EPA health guidelines.
“All told, the report offers the most comprehensive gathering of information on the effects of these chemicals today, and suggests they’re far more dangerous than previously thought,” writes ProPublica journalists Abrahm Lustgarten, Lisa Song and Talia Buford. “People who drink from these systems, even if their exposure to PFAS is low, now have a potentially increased risk of cancer; of disruptions in hormones and the immune system; and of complications with fetal development during pregnancy.”
Vanity Fair also cited a statement from Ryan Jackson, the current EPA chief of staff, who claimed suppression of the study was just to “ensure that the federal government is responding in a uniform way to our local, state, and Congressional constituents and partners,” continuing to say the agency “is eager to participate in and, contribute to a coordinated approach . . .” This comes over a year after the report from Axios where “massive, transformational cuts” to the EPA were announced by Pruitt, including ones that undermined Obama-era regulations on clean drinking water.
So what’s the motivation for this cover-up? Is it just tight-ass libertarianism, showing the Trump administration has no desire to piss billions into costs that benefit the military? This can’t be true given their $80 billion increase to the enormous military budget in September 2017. Spending money, especially on defense, certainly isn’t an issue for the likes of President Trump and his wealthy administration. Or is it an issue of distribution and conflicting interests from where that money originates in the first place?
We have no evidence of Pruitt’s records with officials tied to the chemical industry, and that’s no accident. Before his Thursday resignation, Pruitt was facing new questions about whether aides deleted sensitive information about his meetings from his public schedule, which could be seen as a serious violation of laws such as the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA). It’s said these meetings were with unspecified lobbyists. One of his senior schedulers, Madeline G. Morris, told The New York Times she was fired by Kevin Chmielewski, Pruitt’s former deputy chief of staff while at the EPA, for questioning why the bureaucrat was retroactively deleting meeting records from his calendar maintained in Microsoft Outlook. Chmielewski, avoiding the media, has failed to give Morris any reasons for her termination.
Pruitt is known for picking winners and losers among aides who play along with his politics. The Atlantic reported that other aides to the former EPA director, such as his senior counsel Sarah Greenwalt and his director of scheduling, Millan Hupp, were given pay raises of $56,765 and $28,130 despite criticisms this was a waste of taxpayer funds, according to two White House sources who oversaw internal email chains. Even Fox News was forced to call this behavior out, questioning why this decision was reversed only when media criticism grew.
This is small compared to the 14 times Pruitt, as Attorney General of Oklahoma, sued the EPA for clean air and water safeguards while defending and receiving large funds from companies who regularly undermined the EPA safeguards. Whether they’re just his former clients, friends and bosses, it’s the appearance of corruption that should have concerned those “drain the swamp” Trump voters from the start. Any rational person, untied to monied interest, would see immediate response as necessary to citizen safety. Instead, it was delayed for the safety of corporations, given five months to prepare for the inevitable lawsuits that would arise and time for public records to be scrubbed cleaner than the water.
And the public relations nightmare begins.