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Misguided Policies Threaten Public Health, Environment

Six former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrators are calling for reform at the agency. Although most of the former EPA leaders were critical of management under the Trump administration, they were optimistic about the EPA’s future in an open letter. The letter reads:

As former leaders of the Environmental Protection Agency serving both Democratic and Republican administrations, we take great pride in the agency’s many successes improving the quality of the air we breathe, safeguarding the water we drink, and protecting the environment that sustains us and our economy. As EPA celebrates its 50th anniversary, we believe the time has come to reset the future course for EPA in a new, forward-looking direction to address the environmental challenges we face today and those that lie ahead.

The nature of the environmental and health challenges our nation faces have changed. Fifty years ago, pollution was visible and unrelenting throughout our country. Today, less visible but equally dangerous environmental hazards threaten communities in many ways.

Climate change is having far-reaching impacts on air quality, infectious diseases, and water quantity and quality, as well as intensifying destructive climate events such as floods, storms, wildfires, and droughts. Environmental injustices are putting lower-wealth communities, communities of color, and indigenous communities at disproportionately high levels of exposure, risk, and vulnerability to toxic pollution, not to mention the pandemic we are now facing.

Speedier, more effective assessments and responses are needed to face pandemics, new toxic hazards, and other emerging or unmitigated health risks. The Environmental Protection Network (EPN) and its over 500 EPA alumni have developed detailed recommendations for setting new directions at EPA. We invite everyone to review this important report

Not everyone will agree with every recommendation, for there is no single roadmap for the way forward.

The following recommendations for EPA are essential to meet the environmental challenges of the 21st century.

  1. EPA must reaffirm its commitment to fully protect public health and the environment;
  2. EPA must conduct its scientific and economic analysis free from political interference;
  3. EPA must incorporate environmental justice in every aspect of its work in order to address and resolve inequitable environmental conditions;
  4. EPA must focus on the most significant and pervasive public health and environmental risks, prioritizing actions that provide the greatest health benefit for the greatest number of people, including vulnerable populations;
  5. EPA must innovate and collaborate with states, tribes, local governments, and federal agencies as co-regulators, as well as with stakeholders, including the private and non-profit sectors and community groups; and
  6. EPA must earn and maintain broad public trust by demonstrating the best ethical behavior, transparently considering all stakeholder viewpoints, and providing objective environmental information. To do the job well, EPA will need additional resources. As new threats to the health and environmental needs of a growing population have multiplied, EPA’s budget has declined. In inflation-adjusted dollars, EPA’s budget was more than 50 percent higher under President Ronald Reagan than it is today. The steady deterioration of resources has undermined EPA’s readiness for the challenges ahead and the agency’s ability to adapt and respond to emerging needs.

While we are concerned about the current state of affairs at EPA, we are hopeful for the agency’s future.

EPA has a strong foundation on which to build. Capable and talented staff members are ready to answer the call. They have labored in good faith across administrations of both parties to fulfill EPA’s mission by following the law, applying the best available science, and displaying openness and transparency with the public. America’s bedrock environmental laws have delivered enormous health and economic benefits to the American public, as documented by Republican and Democratic administrations alike.

The public values clean air, clean water, and a healthy natural environment, notwithstanding differences in priorities and approaches. The years ahead will bring new and often far-reaching environmental and health risks. They also hold great potential for new approaches, new opportunities, and new technologies to confront environmental problems.

Read the full story about reforming the Environmental Protection Agency

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