Ep. 50: Inside the Industry Takeover at EPA

 In this Feb. 24, 2017 photo, President Donald Trump gives the pen he used to sign an executive order to Dow Chemical President, Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris, as other business leaders applaud in the Oval Office. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s schedule shows he met with Liveris for about a half hour on March 9 during a conference held in Houston. Twenty days later Pruitt announced his decision to deny a petition to ban Dow’s chlorpyrifos pesticide from being sprayed on food, despite a review by his agency’s own scientists that concluded ingesting even minuscule amounts of the chemical can interfere with the brain development of fetuses and infants. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

In this Feb. 24, 2017 photo, President Donald Trump gives the pen he used to sign an executive order to Dow Chemical President, Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris, as other business leaders applaud in the Oval Office. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s schedule shows he met with Liveris for about a half hour on March 9 during a conference held in Houston. Twenty days later Pruitt announced his decision to deny a petition to ban Dow’s chlorpyrifos pesticide from being sprayed on food, despite a review by his agency’s own scientists that concluded ingesting even minuscule amounts of the chemical can interfere with the brain development of fetuses and infants. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

When President Donald Trump took office, he promised to bring pro-business policies to his administration. And since then, he has delivered on that promise, and then some. In the words of one team of scientists, the Environmental Protection Agency is on the verge of ‘regulatory capture’ by industry, with business interests weighing so heavily that the agency is moving away from its stated mission to “protect human and environmental health.” 

Eric Lipton, an investigative reporter for The New York Times, spoke with Trump on Earth about the deep ties between the Trump Administration, polluting industries and top agency officials.

Lipton says it was clear from the beginning that one of the main priorities of the Trump administration would be to eliminate Obama-era regulations across the federal government.

Much of this deregulation is being carried out by those in the EPA who have come directly from industry, like Bill Wehrum, assistant administrator at EPA in the Office of Air and Radiation.

To me, it's a perfect anecdote that defines one of the most typical things that has occurred in the Trump administration,” Lipton says. “Bill Wehrum was the leading lawyer for the coal burning power companies, refineries, brick manufacturers, the American Petroleum Institute, Koch Industries. He’s been in court dozens of times, suing the EPA or defending companies against regulatory actions. And he literally walked out of his job as an industry lawyer and into the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, which sets policy on air pollution. He takes over the same agency that he had been fighting in court for the last decade. And he then begins to implement the exact agenda that he's been pushing on behalf of the industries for the last decade.”

It’s not just air or climate programs that are being rolled back. Lipton says it’s much broader than that.

“Almost every aspect of environmental policy is on the table and is in the midst of a transformation that is of a level of intensity that we haven't seen in the United States in decades,” he says. “Everything from the pesticides that are on the market, to the toxic chemicals that you can buy at your Home Depot, to water that gets let out of factories and into streams and rivers.”

Lipton says he is motivated to continue reporting on the Trump administration because he feels a duty to bring to light how people at the highest levels of government are making decisions.

I just find when people manipulate the system to their own advantage, it really motivates me to out them, and bring transparency, and not let the game-playing [keep] going on without at least exposing the game-playing,” he says. I'm really driven to bring light to behind-the-scenes maneuvers by the regulated parties to get their way. That doesn't mean that the outcomes are going to change, but at least the public is aware of how this came to be. It's fascinating. It's a challenge.”

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This episode is hosted by Reid Frazier. Follow him on Twitter. Trump on Earth is produced by The Allegheny Front, a Pittsburgh-based environmental reporting project.

Follow Eric Lipton on Twitter and read his New York Times reporting here.

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