The Trump EPA’s Deregulatory Agenda Takes the Greatest Toll on Communities of Color
This was written by Stephanie Klein, District of Columbia field organizer for Moms Clean Air Force:
As a former career employee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) turned activist, I have been watching with dread as the Trump Administration has worked swiftly to reverse or weaken more than 100 environmental and public health protections that Agency staff put in place over decades. My faith in the EPA and other federal agencies tasked with protecting the environment and public health has withered under the current so-called leadership. Under Trump, the EPA has become a tool to line the pockets of fossil fuel executives. After all, the two EPA administrators who have served under Trump’s tenure have deep loyalties to the oil and gas industries.
But in the wake of Covid-19, and as protests for racial justice have swept the nation since May, a greater understanding of the toll that the Trump EPA’s aggressive, deregulatory agenda is taking on Americans of color has come into sharp relief. It is no exaggeration to say that the Trump EPA’s agenda is not just anti-environment, but also blatantly racist.
A Harvard study released in April showed that people who live in areas that have poor air quality are more likely to die from Covid-19. We know that people of color are more likely to live in such areas as a result of decades of racism, classism, and government policies such as redlining. And Trump’s EPA is complicit in adding to the health disparities that already exist in communities of color. The Trump Administration is going out of its way to ease regulations that will increase pollution in low-income neighborhoods already highly susceptible to the coronavirus and environmental hazards. The EPA is also ignoring requirements to study the impact of proposed environmental policy changes on communities that face environmental injustices.
The Hill published an article in July about one such U-turn that will have an outsize impact on vulnerable communities. Environmental groups are suing the Trump Administration over its decision to weaken the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which is considered a bedrock environmental law. In February, I testified at a White House Council of Environmental Quality hearing on the Administration’s proposed changes to this law. I said then that weakening NEPA would be bad for our kids and our communities — especially communities of color, which are often disproportionately impacted by health problems associated with poorly planned development projects, and for whom NEPA is a critical tool for civic engagement.
Yet, the rollback of NEPA is just one more example of the Trump Administration’s attack on the environment and communities of color. Trump’s EPA is working overtime on a cynical campaign to loosen regulations for industrial polluters, even though both air pollution and COVID-19 place a disproportionate burden of harm on Black people. The most recent EPA review of the research on the health effects of particle pollution concluded that nonwhite populations, especially Black Americans, faced higher risk from particle pollution. And yet in May, EPA declined to strengthen existing particle pollution standards. The Trump Administration also put people of color at higher risk of negative health impacts when it weakened the fuel efficiency requirements in the Clean Car Standards, the result of which will be an additional 250,000 asthma attacks and more than 18,000 premature deaths.
And while the country has been suffering this pandemic that attacks people’s lungs, the Trump EPA made the decision to weaken the lifesaving Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which limit mercury and acid gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. The overwhelming majority of such facilities are located in low income communities and communities of color. The fact is, in this country, we are watching the living breath being taken from Black people, over and over again — in so many different ways. And the federal government must provide the leadership needed to make our society fair and just for all Americans.
In 1994, President Clinton signed Executive Order 12898 requiring all federal Agencies to consider the impacts to communities of color, indigenous communities, and low-income communities of any policies or programs that they administer. During my 15-year career at the EPA, staff were regularly reminded of this responsibility, and we took it seriously. I can only wonder if this important requirement has even come up in discussion since Trump took office.
It is the federal government’s job to protect all Americans, not only those who attain a certain level of wealth or look a certain way. The Trump Administration has not only made a mockery of this responsibility, it’s radical anti-regulatory agenda is threatening the very lives of many of the people it is supposed to protect.