Almost 600 EPA Veterans Call for Investigation into Trump’s Political Abuse of Agency Authority

Washington, D.C. October 10, 2019 – Almost 600 former EPA officials sent a letter today to the U.S. House demanding an investigation into President Trump’s abuse of EPA authority by threatening California with enforcement actions while ignoring worse violations in other states.

At least six states – Ohio, New York, Iowa, Missouri, Texas and Indiana – have had more major pollution sources in significant noncompliance with environmental laws over the last three years than California. Ohio leads the nation with 42, more than twice the 20 in California, according to EPA records.

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“The public depends on EPA to set priorities guided by law and science and make decisions that are objective and nonpartisan,” said the letter signed by 593 former EPA officials that was circulated by the Environmental Integrity Project.  “While those principles have served the public well under both Republican and Democratic Presidents, they are in serious trouble today.”

The letter sent to U.S. House committees on Oversight and Government Reform and Energy and Commerce was in part a response to President Trump’s Sept. 19 claim that homeless people are responsible for “tremendous” amounts of ocean pollution in California and EPA’s Sept. 26 follow-up letter threatening enforcement action against the state.

“No evidence supports targeting the homeless for Clean Water Act enforcement, given the much greater damage done by the huge volume of waste discharged from industrial plants, factory farms, and sewage treatment plants and many other sources,” wrote the former EPA officials, including Dr. Elizabeth “Betsy” Southerland, former Director of Science and Technology at EPA.

“Considering its enthusiasm for de-regulation and reluctance to enforce the laws still on the books, President Trump’s threat to wield EPA’s authority against the most vulnerable members of our society is shameless and morally repugnant,” wrote the EPA veterans.

In a second letter sent to EPA Administrator Wheeler yesterday, the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) included a list of 429 major polluters nationally that are currently in significant noncompliance with federal environmental laws for discharging illegal amounts of pollutants including lead, arsenic and fecal bacteria.

While 20 of these power plants, factories and other major pollution sources in California, 42 are in Ohio, 37 are in New York, 36 are in Iowa, 33 are in Missouri, 29 are in Texas, and 23 are in Indiana, according to EPA records cited in the EIP letter to Wheeler.

“Your letter cited several facilities in California that recently discharged pollutants far above their permit limits,” says the letter to Wheeler from the Environmental Integrity Project.  “We agree that either the state or EPA should take appropriate enforcement actions to stop these illegal discharges. But we ask that you apply the same yardstick to other states, where violations of the same magnitude are a frequent occurrence.”

EPA enforcement records show 30 facilities across the U.S. that have had at least 100 pollution violations over the last three years, and 10 facilities with more than 200 violations. None of them is located in California. The top 10 are listed in the chart below:

Facilities with 200 Pollution Violations in the Last 3 Years

State Facility No. of Pollution Discharge Violations
WV Martinsburg sewage treatment plant 371
LA City of Franklin sewage plant 361
LA City of Oakdale sewage plant 318
LA City of Springhill sewage plant 297
LA City of Ponchatoula sewage plant 229
GA Atlanta sewage plant 217
CO Fort Morgan Facility 210
OH Reserve Environmental Services 209
TN Lafayette sewage plant 205
PA New Castle sewage plant 200

 

In the letter sent to the House oversight committee demanding an investigation, the 593 former EPA officials objected to a September 24 letter from Wheeler to California Governor Gavin Newsom that threatened to withhold federal highway funds based on California’s failure to meet air quality standards.

That letter was sent shortly after the Trump EPA announced it would undermine California’s efforts to reduce air pollution by blocking the state’s limits on greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.

“EPA’s political appointees have worked overtime for the past two years to delay or water down standards that limit emissions from power plants, the oil, gas and chemical industries, and other major sources,” the former EPA officials wrote. “We hope that your investigation will weigh the effect that all of these federal rollbacks in emission standards will have when evaluating Mr. Wheeler’s sudden interest in air quality in the state of California.”

Among the 593 EPA veterans signing the letter to the House are former EPA Director of Civil Enforcement Eric Schaeffer, now Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project; former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy; and Cynthia Giles, former EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance; among many others.

For a copy of the letter sent to the U.S. House with a list of the co-signers, click here.

For a copy of the letter sent to EPA Administrator Wheeler, click here.

For a list and detailed data on the 429 facilities with significant pollution violations, click here.

The Environmental Integrity Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in Washington, D.C., and Austin, Texas, that protects public health and the environment by investigating polluters, holding them accountable under the law, and strengthening public policy.