Not All the Trump Administration Wants a Wall

Washington, DC, Jan. 7, 2019 —  Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency has issued guidance that non-physical means may be just as effective as walls and fences, according to an agency document posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  EPA’s position appears at odds with President Trump’s current insistence that only a concrete border wall can be a deterrent to access.

A “Revised Policy on Exclusions from ‘Ambient Air” draft issued in November 2018 declares:

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“This change replaces the specific concept of a fence or other physical barriers with the more general concept of measures, which may include physical barriers, that are effective in deterring or precluding public access.”

This new guidance is in the context of assessing standards for ambient, as opposed to indoor, air. Thus, defining where people have access is a key regulatory element. This new guidance explains:

“With advances in technology…EPA believes there are various measures other than fencing or other physical barriers that…serve as an effective deterrent to public access. These measures may include …video surveillance and monitoring…routine security patrols, drones, and other potential future technologies.”

“For Trump, walls are essential; for Trump’s EPA, walls are obsolete,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, adding that EPA is at least making an effort to marshal empirical information. “Certainly, consistency is not one of the hallmarks of the Trump Administration.”

The guidance also assesses the effectiveness of natural barriers, stating that “in some situations, EPA has subsequently found that a natural barrier, such as a steep cliff or rugged terrain, may be an adequate substitute, in lieu of a fence to prevent public access.”

Significantly, EPA is trying to enlarge the areas where ambient air standards do not apply.  This will allow industry to exceed current ambient air standards over a larger area, such as rivers, mountains, and other inaccessible areas. Ambient standards address air pollutants with known harmful effects on human health and the environment, including sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, lead, carbon monoxide, and ozone.

Besides protecting public health, ambient air standards are a key component of the Clean Air Act mandate that EPA prevent any significant deterioration in the air quality in places such as national parks, seashores, monuments, and other areas of special national or natural value.  Expanding these exemptions undermines those key safeguards.

“A breath of fresh air will be harder to come by under these changes,” said PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA.  “The only consistency we see is that Trump and his appointees do not care about the negative effects their policies have on ordinary people.”

Read the EPA guidance

View EPA’s efforts to enlarge ambient air exemptions