By Karen Berner, ACE Communications Team Leader
Former senior manager at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Dale Bryson called cuts the Trump administration wants to make to the organization “Draconian.” Bryson was in charge of all water programs at the EPA, including water pollution control, water protection, safe drinking water, and wetland protection.
“They want to cut fifty-eight programs totaling 3,200 jobs in the EPA,” he told ACE-Naperville members at the May 2017 meeting. “The number one office they want to eliminate is Chicago, which could endanger 100% of funding for Great Lakes protection.”
Before Bryson retired from working more than thirty-four years at the agency, he managed all water programs, including water pollution control, ground water protection, safe drinking water, and wetland protection. He reminded ACE members why the EPA was created. “In the 1960s, there were very serious air and water pollution problems. Rivers were catching on fire. There was smog in the big cities, and there were no strong federal pollution control laws. The states had primary responsibility to control pollution, but they were not doing it,” he said.
Key environmental laws enacted in the EPA’s early days benefitted every American, from the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969 and the Clean Air Act in 1970, to the Clean Water Act in 1972 and the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974.
Along with stating the EPA was created to protect human health and the environment, Congress also mandated the EPA must base its rules on a rigorous scientific process that evaluates public health. “This process has worked for some fifty years,” Bryson said. “But that could change.”
Administration to abolish EPA protections
“President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt want to abolish environmental protections,” he said. “They have already started to repeal the Clean Power Plan, as well as weakening and eliminating almost all regulations.” Plans are also in the works to cut state grants to monitor public water supplies (think Flint, Michigan), completely cut the Lead in Paint program, and eliminate funding for many programs, including Great Lakes protection.
Bryson said Pruitt has fired 50% of the scientists from the EPA’s Science Advisory Board and plans to replace them with representatives from the regulated industries. All decisions of any consequence are now mandated to go to the top for approval, which limits state flexibility.
Two rules that must be saved are the Clean Water Act and the Clean Power Plan, according to Bryson.
‘Small streams and lakes provide drinking water to roughly 1 in 3 Americans.’
“The first sentence of the Clean Water Act states,” Bryson said, “The objective of this chapter is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters.” The goal is to have all waters safe for fishing and swimming. All pollution discharges should be controlled at the source.
Bryson said President Trump says he is paving the way to eliminate the Waters of the U.S. Rule, which will put millions of miles of streams and thousands of acres of wetlands at risk of pollution and destruction, potentially jeopardizing safe drinking water and destroying natural habitats.
‘Clean Power Plan would reduce pollutants that contribute to smog and soot by 25%.’
Bryson is a big proponent of former President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which requires stronger emission controls on power plants, which, he said, are the main source of acid rain and other pollutants. Bryson estimates the plan would save American families $155 billion from the years 2020 to 2030 and create hundreds of thousands of jobs.
“In spite of those benefits, the Trump administration is revoking the plan and rejecting the use of sound science in all decisions relating to the Clean Power Plan and climate change,” Bryson added.
Is there any good news? What can we do?
Bryson thinks time will be the enemy of this administration. “Modifying even a simple rule takes two to three years of intense effort. Major rules take much longer,” he noted. More senators are speaking up and challenging the proposals to cut environmental protections.
“We must send letters and call our senators and state representatives to voice our concerns and ask for their support,” Bryson urged ACE members. “Letters and calls really do make a difference. Send letters to the White House as well.”
Bryson also encouraged members to provide financial support and encouragement to national environmental organizations, such as the Sierra Club, the National Resources Defense Council, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Alliance for the Great Lakes to help them fund the inevitable lawsuits that will ensue.
“Act. Connect. Engage,” he urged. “Do not remain silent.”
ACE Communications Team Leader Karen Berner has been a professional writer/editor for more than 30 years. An award-winning journalist, her work has appeared in several magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including the Chicago Tribune, Writer Unboxed, Women’s Fiction Writers, Naperville Magazine, and Fresh Fiction. She also is the author of three contemporary women’s fiction novels and is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association.