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.”
For our podcast, Trump on Earth, Reid Frazier spoke with Eric Lipton, an investigative reporter for The New York Times, 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.”
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Wehrum 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. And then he began to implement the exact agenda that he’d been pushing for on behalf of the industries he represented, explains Lipton. And 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, a three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, says he is motivated to continue reporting on the Trump administration because he feels a duty to expose 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.”
Photo (top): In this Feb. 24, 2017 photo, President Trump gives the pen he used to sign an executive order to Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris, as other business leaders applaud in the Oval Office. Then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s schedule shows he met with Liveris on March 9. 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. Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP