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The President of the United States nominates the Administrator of the EPA who, among other things, is responsible for the regulation of public drinking water. Does this mean that tap water quality is all about politics?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates our public drinking water a.k.a. tap water. The Administrator of the EPA, nominated by the President of the United States, is the organization’s head. This makes him responsible for enforcing our nation’s Clean Water Act among other environmental protection statutes.
Now, President Trump’s first EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, an American lawyer, lobbyist and Republican politician from Oklahoma, had sued the EPA at least 14 times as Oklahoma Attorney General prior to his nomination. Having received major corporate and employee campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, Pruitt opposed environmental regulations and the “EPA’s activist agenda”.
In other words: Pruitt had spent much of his energy denying Americans the benefits of clean air and clean water, fighting the very agency he then led between February 2017 and July 2018.
At least one of his lawsuits against the EPA – all of them failed by the way (as of June 2014) – aimed at blocking the so-called Clean Water Rule. The regulation which was initiated by the Obama administration as an update to the Clean Water Act should have provided clearer protection of our nation’s waters. The focus was to clarify water resource management under a provision of the Clean Water Act of 1972, for example in order to strengthen the categorical protections of wetlands to minimize flooding and aid pollution remediation.
These wetlands and other water bodies such as streams are significant for the quality of our public drinking water. Water relied on by as much as 117 million people would have been affected by the implementation of the rule. Water that if polluted can have detrimental effects on what comes out of our taps.
Unfortunately, parts of the political right see government regulation and protection of our waters as a burden on economic growth. And to not infringe landowner rights the Trump administration suspended the Clean Water Rule until February 2020.
Another of Pruitt’s dubious moves, this time as EPA Administrator, was to withhold a study from publication. It was conducted by the DHHS Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) on the dangers of two chemical water pollutants named PFOS and PFOA. The study suggested that both substances could be harmful to human health at far lower levels than the Environmental Protection Agency previously deemed safe.
And although PFOS and PFOA had been detected in samples of water served to approximately 10 million Americans from 2010 to 2015, the study was published with delay due to the fact that the EPA administration feared a PR nightmare.
The good news is that by July 2018 Pruitt was under at least 14 separate federal investigations. Some had to do with conflicts of interests and management practices, others with his spending habits. He resigned eventually.
The bad news: Former coal industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler started serving as acting administrator three days later and was confirmed as EPA Administrator in February 2019.
From 2009 until 2017, Wheeler had lobbied against the Obama Administration representing coal producer and tycoon Robert E. Murray. Unsurprisingly, Murray is a supporter of President Trump.
Coal mining can lead to increased concentrations of iron, manganese, aluminum, sulfate and overall acidity in nearby streams and rivers. This depletes the water’s ability to neutralize carbonate ions. As a result, the water becomes acidic and biodiversity decreases. Another consequence is contaminated drinking water.
Of course this is mere speculation, but we find it highly unlikely that Andrew Wheeler will set any new regulations on coal producers considering that he is buddies with one of them. In addition, Xcel Energy, a company which operates 18 coal power plants is another of Wheeler’s former clients.
It is also questionable whether or not Andrew Wheeler will take other steps necessary to improve tap water quality in our country. Under the guise of transparency, he argued in favor of a rule proposed under Scott Pruitt that would prohibit the EPA to work with studies that do not make raw data publicly available. This, however, would limit the research available to the EPA by a large extent and thus undermine its regulatory role.
Instead, Wheeler endorsed the use of double-blind studies and named the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a role model. This is only one instance where our current EPA chief has demonstrated his ignorance. Because what may be possible in drug trials is not necessarily feasible in the kind of research the EPA does. After all, the organization’s work revolves around tracking and measuring environmental impacts.
This is probably why the proposed rule was rejected by numerous large medical and scientific entities including the EPA’s own Science Advisory Board, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Lung Association, Nature journal as well as Cell, and a group of former EPA administrators.
One last comment, and this might be a little off-topic, but does it come as a surprise to you that both Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler reject the idea of human-made climate change?
It is hard to think of anyone who would be less suited than Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler to hold the office of the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – which is bad since we desperately need new rules to govern, control and improve the quality of our tap water.
But it is what it is and we must work with what we have, and that is very efficient and affordable home water filtration technology:
Bottom line: If we cannot trust the EPA to provide us with healthy, safe and delicious tap water, we will take care of it ourselves.
Questions? Don’t hesitate to ask – just leave a comment below!
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