Column: Never mind the facts. White House says it gets an A+ on environmental issues
You may not have known this is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, but the Trump administration did. It marked the occasion with a “call to action” aimed at protecting “current and future generations from exposures to lead-containing paint and dust.”
I can only assume the White House is punking the American people after months of undermining and throwing out environmental rules and regulations.
“No president has ever cut so many regulations in their entire term, OK, as we have cut in less than a year,” President Trump proudly declared in February.
Analysts say that’s not true. But the dozens of regulations he has cut, or intends to cut, are primarily rules that prevent businesses from harming people and the environment. Trump’s so-called Affordable Clean Energy proposal, for example, would relax emissions standards for coal-fired power plants.
A recent essay in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. by Harvard University researchers concluded that Trump’s environmental agenda “is likely to cost the lives of over 80,000 U.S. residents per decade and lead to respiratory problems for many more than 1 million people.”
Yet the heads of Trump’s Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children characterized the administration this week as being singularly focused on keeping Americans, and particularly kids, safe from dangerous industrial practices.
The task force’s activities are “a continuation of the Trump administration’s commitment to preventing future generations from being affected by lead exposure,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, citing “great progress” in safeguarding public safety.
Andrew Wheeler, a former coal-industry lobbyist who now serves as the acting head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said reducing exposure to toxic lead “is a top priority for EPA.”
Not really. Not if you define “reducing exposure to toxic lead” as reducing exposure to toxic lead.
“Like meat bees on baloney, the pollution lobby has swarmed the Trump administration from its inception,” said Ken Cook, president of Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization.
“No number of press releases and statements by Mr. Wheeler or others claiming environmental and public health protection is a ‘top priority’ for this administration can change that indisputable fact,” he told me.
In December, a federal appeals court gave the Trump administration 90 days to propose tougher standards for levels of lead in paint and dust. Trump had wanted six years to deal with the matter.
Although lead-based paint was banned in this country in 1978, it wasn’t until 2001 that the EPA set standards for lead contamination — the point at which lead levels in paint and dust require cleanup. In 2009, health and safety advocates petitioned the agency to tighten those standards to “more adequately protect” kids.
President Obama backed the move, but the EPA dragged its feet. So the appeals court was asked in 2016 to get things moving.
Trump’s attempt to stall for another six years was rejected by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. “The children exposed to lead poisoning due to the failure of EPA to act are severely prejudiced by EPA’s delay,” it ruled.
The agency, after receiving an extension on the court order in March, proposed stricter regulations in July. It has until next summer to finalize the rule change.
Scientists say even small amounts of lead can cause permanent harm to kids, including lower IQs, as well as learning and developmental problems.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “at least 4 million households have children living in them that are being exposed to high levels of lead.”
This month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review lower-court rulings requiring the lead paint industry to pay more than $400 million to clean thousands of California homes built before 1951. The high court’s rebuff ended an 18-year legal battle and means the remediation program will proceed.
All evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, the Trump administration wants Americans to believe it takes environmental dangers such as lead poisoning very seriously.
It said this week it is “launching a new Healthy Homes-Youth app that teaches children about health hazards within the home.”
The Department of Housing and Urban Development also has cooked up a Partner Information Kit to help state and local governments stage their own National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week activities. (Step one, which I’m not making up, is “form a task force.”)
The Trump administration depicting itself as a champion of the environment is as ludicrous as its recent attempts to portray itself as a defender of protections for people with preexisting medical conditions.
It’s neither. The opposite, in fact.
“This rhetoric from the Trump administration is just painting over its refusal to keep our kids safe, not just from lead poisoning, but from toxic air and water pollution,” said Melinda Pierce, legislative director of the Sierra Club.
“Propaganda won’t disguise the reality that Trump is responsible for the most serious attacks on clean air and water by any administration ever,” she said.
Trump followed up on this week’s we-love-kids news release with a tweet claiming the United States “has the best air in the world BY FAR!”
It featured a map purporting to show that the entire country is safe from air-pollution levels deemed hazardous by the World Health Organization.
In fact, the map was from 2016, so it reflected Obama’s environmental stewardship, not Trump’s. And it was for a single pollutant — fine particles — not overall air quality.
Even on that score, we’re hardly the best. Levels of fine particles, which have been linked to a variety of ailments, are better in Finland, Estonia, Sweden, Canada, Norway and Iceland, according to the United Nations.
Erik Olson, senior director for health and food at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said he’d give the Trump administration’s environmental track record “a strong F.”
“They repeatedly say things that aren’t true,” he said. “They make promises to do things and then they do exactly the opposite.”
This is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week. That much at least Trump got right.
As for the rest, maybe we should form a task force to pick apart the lies.