It’s ironic that the same day we were reading about important monitoring and restoration work that continues on the Upper Clark Fork river in connection with ongoing mining cleanup, we began this letter about new dangers facing all our rivers. The regulations that help protect and restore Montana’s water and air quality and promote health are in the crosshairs of an executive order signed by President Trump.
Executive Order 13777, “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda,” formed a task force to “alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens” on the American people, and “make recommendations regarding their (the regulations) repeal, replacement or modification.”
Republican President Richard Nixon consolidated environmental agencies under the Environmental Protection Agency in l970, and further regulations were approved by following presidents, including Reagan and the two Bushes. This executive order potentially guts those protections and directly targets the EPA.
What are these “unnecessary regulatory burdens” anyway? Agencies and programs under the EPA umbrella include: the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Toxic Substances Control Act (think asbestos and lead-based paint), Ocean Dumping Act, Nuclear Waste Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, Food Quality Protection Act and Protection of Children from Environmental Health and Safety Risks.
According to the American Lung Association, last year the Clean Air Act prevented 160,000 premature deaths, 1.7 million asthma attacks, 54,000 cases of chronic bronchitis and 45,000 cardiovascular hospital admissions, resulting in billions of dollars in savings for the American people. Which of these protections don’t we want for ourselves, our children and future generations?
Why would we think the task force will bring a sledgehammer to the table? In February, President Trump squashed a rule restricting dumping mining waste into rivers (including arsenic, mercury and lead). Candidate Trump vowed to get rid of the EPA “in almost every form,” leaving only “little tidbits.”
Montana is a mythical place, and it is our responsibility to sustain it. No one wants to return to conditions that could allow the early bad air in Missoula and contamination around Anaconda.
The executive order purports to save jobs. How many Montana jobs in tourism would be lost if our rivers and drinking water are polluted and the air is unhealthy? Thousands of people are employed in cleanup and maintenance projects. What will happen to the Superfund sites that dot Montana, including Bozeman, Helena, Butte, Libby and the Clark Fork River to Milltown/Missoula, mediating contamination to soils, groundwater and surface water? This executive order is a life-threatening step backward and a poke in the eye to all Montanans.
Fortunately, public comments are being sought. Unfortunately, the period is short, beginning April 12, with the deadline less than two weeks away, May 15. The comment process does not seem to be public-friendly. As of April 25, only 19,000 comments were received — not because people don’t care, but because this is happening under the radar of a public that cares greatly about these matters. If word was out and with sufficient time, there’d be millions of comments, as there were on the proposed Pacific coal export terminals.
Scott Pruitt (the new administrator of the EPA who sued the EPA 14 times as Oklahoma’s attorney general) hopes we continue to doze and don’t send our comments. Public comments give support to the EPA staff and to those who might want to fight back with legal challenges. You can help by commenting and spreading the word online (Go to www.regulations.gov and in the search bar enter epa-hq-oa-2017-0190) or by mail (Send letters to Office of Policy, Attn.: Regulatory Reform, Mail Code: 1803A, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington, D.C. 20460. Include Document number EPA-HQ-OA-2017-0190 with comments).
—This opinion is signed by Montana Elders for a Livable Tomorrow, including Julie Devlin, Harold Hoem, Jan Hoem, Don Hyndman, Dr. Jackie Jones, Laura Morris and Gail Pohlman.