A pandemic seems like a great time to *checks notes* weaken regulations on toxic pollutants?

In case you weren't panicking enough about the way that ambient environmental factors might be surreptitiously destroying your body, the EPA decided that right now would be a great time to change the rules about how they calculate the risk associated with mercury and other toxic metal factory byproducts.

From The New York Times:

The new Environmental Protection Agency rule does not eliminate restrictions on the release of mercury, a heavy metal linked to brain damage. Instead, it creates a new method of calculating the costs and benefits of curbing mercury pollution that environmental lawyers said would fundamentally undermine the legal underpinnings of controls on mercury and many other pollutants.

By reducing the positive health effects of regulations on paper and raising their economic costs, the new method could be used to justify loosening restrictions on any pollutant that the fossil fuel industry has deemed too costly to control.

The real insult-to-injury here is that it would be easy for the EPA to turn a blind eye to these sort of regulations. Offices are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and with so much chaos in the world, shady actors in the EPA could deliberately let these rules slip by while still maintaining plausible deniability.

In fact, the EPA already did something like that earlier in this lockdown crisis. In late March, it announced that it was suspending  enforcement of environmental compliance — essentially leaving it up to private companies to decide for themselves if they're following pollution laws. Read the rest

Federal court rules that Scott Pruitt’s sham EPA can’t ban scientists from its scientific advisory board

Back in 2017, the new EPA Director Scott Pruitt -- a fantastically pampered shill for corporations whose income is proportional to the noxious effluvia they eject into our air, soil, and water -- passed a policy barring scientists from participating on the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board if they had ever received a grant from the EPA.

This sneaky-clever move was clearly designed to create the illusion that it was “draining the swamp” by preventing any potential conflicts of interest between scientists and money. Except that most academic scientists rely on EPA (and other) grants. Which limited the pot of scientific advisors on the scientific advisory board to scientists who worked for corporations. Who … somehow … didn’t have any conflicts of interest between their money and their science?

It was, as the NRDC put it, a “pernicious scheme to stack the deck in favor of big polluters by trying to shut out the voices of scientists—all to pump more pollution into our lives.” They added:

Pruitt claimed that his 2017 directive reduced bias on the EPA’s nearly two dozen advisory panels, which offer scientific expertise that then guide policy decisions on environmental pollutants, such as industrial chemicals or airborne particles from power plants. But unsurprisingly, Pruitt’s rule was not extended to scientists and consultants with ties to chemical or fossil fuel companies, allowing the agency to soon fill some open seats with industry insiders who disputed the known harm of pollutants, like ozone and PFOA.

Fortunately, Judge Denise Cote of the U.S. Read the rest

Former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler is new EPA administrator

The GOP-led U.S. Senate today confirmed ex-coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to run Environmental Protection Agency, in a 52-47 vote mostly along party lines. Read the rest

Trump EPA nominee Scott Pruitt ordered to release his fossil fuel emails, as EPA staff revolt

A state judge today ordered the office of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to release thousands of documents, including emails, related to Pruitt’s conversations with energy industry executives. Tomorrow, the United States Senate votes on Pruitt’s nomination to run the Environmental Protection Agency, for the administration of Donald Trump. Read the rest