EPA plans to make it harder for people to keep polluters out of their communities


A proposed rule would allow companies to petition a review board to pollute more, but stop those affected by pollution to petition that board at all.

The Trump administration is continuing its spree of rolling back protections for the environment, all so that wealthy Republican backers can see record profits.

This time, they're doing it by proposing to significantly weaken regulations that, as the New York Times reported, "[give] communities a voice in deciding how much pollution may legally be released by nearby power plants and factories."

This proposal is so lopsided that it is almost comical.

Here's how things work right now. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), currently helmed by the notoriously pro-pollution Andrew Wheeler, issues permits that regulate how much pollution can be emitted by large factories or power plants. Unsurprisingly, people living near polluting factories and plants often wish there was less pollution spewing from large factories, while corporations often want to maximize their emissions — and their profits.

Right now, everyone — private citizens, advocates, communities, and industrial pollution permit-holders — can appeal to a panel, the Environmental Appeals Board (EAB). People and communities appeal to argue emissions should be less, while corporations appeal to allow them to increase their pollution.

Under the proposed new rules, those people and communities could no longer appeal to the EAB at all. In other words, there would be no recourse for them, at least at that stage, to ask EPA judges to limit pollution under the permit.

The big companies, though — the ones spewing the pollution — could still go to the EAB and ask to be allowed to increase their pollution.

The industry loves this idea, of course. One lawyer said that often a trip to the EAB is "just sort of an expensive and time-consuming stop along the way to the court of appeals" and praised the proposed rule because "this would eliminate that step for my clients.”

Another industry lawyer, Jeffrey Holmstead, was actually surprised by the move, saying that it seemed "odd" to have an "asymmetric appeals process" where one side could appeal but not the other.

Meanwhile, environmental advocates, including a former staff lawyer for the EAB, pointed out that this move will maximize corporate pressure on the EPA to allow more pollution. In turn, more pollution will disproportionately affect poor and minority communities, as those are "statistically more likely to be located near polluting sites."

Though it seems almost cliche to put it as such, this administration's EPA isn't interested in protecting the environment, regardless of its name. Under Trump, the EPA now exists to ensure that corporations make profits and that no pesky environmental concerns ever get in their way.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.