The Texification of the EPA

by jim on November 13, 2017

In the last year one thing the Trump Administration has done well is transplant the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ’s) approach to its job to the EPA.

Up until the last month or so that mimicking was in spirit only for the most part. But with two high-profile appointments, Trumps’ EPA has imported the very worst aspects of TCEQ’s cynical negligence.

Kathleen Hartnett-White was appointed by then Governor Rick Perry to be a TCEQ Commissioner on behalf of Big Ag in 2001 and served until 2007. She’s a West Texas cattle rancher who served as a National Cattleman’s Association lobbyist and with her stint on the TCEQ expanded her portfolio to include the usual laundry list of industry grievances.

In 2007, she voted to give the TXU an air permit for coal-fired power units at its Oak Grove site in Texas – the last coal plant permitted in the state.

“She has been an apologist for polluters, consistently siding with business interests instead of protecting public health. White worked to set a low bar as she lobbied for lax ozone standards and pushed through an inadequate anti-pollution plan. She also voted to approve TXU’s pollution-intensive Oak Grove coal units, ignoring evidence that emissions from the lignite plant could thwart North Texas’ efforts to meet air quality standards.” Sierra Club? Downwinders? Nope. Try the Dallas Morning News.

Downwinders’ representatives have been in small conference rooms negotiating with White over DFW clean air plans. She was no different in private than she is in public: industry can do no wrong and is never at fault.

Up until recently she’s been making money as an industry mouthpiece at the Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation, funded by a who’s who of energy and utility companies, including Koch Industries Inc., Exxon Mobil Corp., and pieces of the former TXU, such as Luminant and Oncor.

Now she heads up the White House Council on Environmental Quality, a position that coordinates environmental and energy policies across the federal government.

Michael Honeycutt is TCEQ’s Chief Toxicologist. You know him as the guy who says smog isn’t so bad for you. Same thing for Mercury, the risks of which are “overstated” and Arsenic, which is viewed unrealistically toxic by the (old) EPA.

Now he’s Head of the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board. This is a little akin to putting the head of the Inquisition in charge of Galileo’s astronomy lab. In announcing his appointment EPA administrator Scott Pruitt praised Honeycutt as a “wonderful scientist.”

It’s the culmination of a long lobbying campaign to get Honeycutt imbedded somewhere in the federal regulatory apparatus. In 2016,  he sent more than 100 emails to industry representatives, state air pollution regulators, university professors and scientists asking them to support his nomination to the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. At the time, he wrote that it would be a “minor miracle” if he were selected. It took a major one with the election of Donald Trump.

These selections make it clear that the EPA is closed for business as long as the current crew is in charge. It won’t have the money to do its job, it won’t have the employees, and it won’t have the motivation. Indeed, the object is to dismantle the Agency.

After years of Republican statehouse control, this lazaire-faire approach to pollution is easily recognizable to us here in Texas. What’s new is its wholesale arrival in DC. Neither Bush Senior or W put these kind of science deniers in charge.

These appointments make it crystal clear that states or cities that want to protect air quality are on their own.

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