President Trump’s chaotic cruelty toward migrant children and their families dominates the news, but his administration is also sabotaging the health and future well-being of our own children and grandchildren. In its zeal to enhance the profits of fossil-fuel, chemical, and other industrial polluters, this administration is exposing many millions of American children to dangerous and often life-threatening poisons and contaminants.
Lead, asbestos, poisonous insecticides, fossil-fuel emissions, and many other toxic pollutants contaminate our air, water, food, and homes. Children are much more vulnerable to these toxic substances than adults. Their central-nervous, immune, and other systems are still undeveloped, and exposure to toxic substances can cause irreversible damage; a child’s lungs are particularly sensitive. Even a fetus is at risk if a woman is exposed to toxins during pregnancy.
Our protection against these threats depends on the Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement of the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, and other anti-pollution laws. For all their foot-dragging and other faults, prior Democratic and Republican administrations did enforce these laws, significantly reducing some of the worst air and water hazards.
No more. Trump’s entire administration is packed with sworn enemies of the laws they are supposed to administer, but nowhere more so than at the EPA. Almost as ethically challenged as his boss, former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, one of Trump’s earliest nominees, initially made his reputation as Oklahoma’s attorney general, where he filed 14 largely unsuccessful challenges to federal and state environmental regulations. At the EPA for nearly 17 months, Pruitt turned the agency over to fossil-fuel and other industry lobbyists, both within the agency and outside. Pruitt’s nonstop scandals became so embarrassing that he was forced to resign, leaving Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler as acting administrator.
This will likely produce not a change in policy but only in style. In his first statement to EPA employees, Wheeler told them he plans to continue the Pruitt-Trump agenda, and he’ll probably do it more effectively. Pruitt’s rush to cut regulations led to sloppy work and greased the skids for legal challenges; Wheeler is less likely to make such hasty mistakes. A savvy Washington operator for over 25 years, Wheeler began his career at the EPA and then for nearly two decades was a chief counsel for Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, the Senate’s most vehement climate-change denier. Between 2009 and 2017 Wheeler was a prominent lobbyist who represented many clients with business before the federal government, including the Domestic Fuels Solution Group, chemical manufacturer Celanese Corporation, and biodiesel producer Darling Ingredients; his main client was coal baron Robert E. Murray.