Government Agencies Are Hobbled as the White House Pushes to Eliminate Public Protections

Government Agencies Are Hobbled as the White House Pushes to Eliminate Public Protections

The following article by Sarah Okeson appeared in on March 11, 2017:

Government offices with authority to stop dangerous business practices are doing nothing except rolling back long-time policies and practices. Stalled decision-making and inaction in the White House is spilling over elsewhere in the federal government.

There has been a dramatic slowdown in enforcement actions at agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which Trump plans to eviscerate, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which had repeatedly cited the fast-food restaurants run by Trump’s first pick to head the Labor Department. And the little work that is being done is largely undoing long-standing regulatory policies or practices.

The inaction of federal agencies meant to protect people from unsafe working conditions and polluters is in line with controversial adviser Steve Bannon’s call for “deconstruction of the administrative state.” Bannon, one of Trump’s top advisers, has been admiringly called the “Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party movement.”

“The way the progressive left runs is if they can’t get it passed, they’re just going to put in some sort of regulation in an agency,” Bannon said in February at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “That’s all going to be deconstructed, and I think that’s why this regulatory thing is so important.”

More than 40 press releases have been posted on the EPA website since Feb. 1, including a puff piece with praise for the agency’s new head, oil industry stooge Scott Pruitt, as someone “who will bring a necessary balance.”

Some press releases tout excellence awards for sewage treatment plants in Great Barrington, Mass., and South Kingstown, R.I. Others detail rolling back or stalling protections the agency planned under President Barack Obama—such as making sure mining companies have enough cash to pay cleanup costs.

In December, the EPA put out more than 80 press releases including enforcement actions such as Sinclair Casper Refining paying $655,000 to clean up a refinery site in Wyoming and seeking fines of more than $4.8 million from Syngenta Seeds LLC for accusations of harm to farm workers.

On Saturday, Gina McCarthy, the former EPA administrator, warned that people’s health could suffer because of what polluter enabler Pruitt is overseeing. “I don’t know why they’ve decided that our core values no longer include clean air and clean water,” McCarthy told MSNBC.

At OSHA, the nonprofit news site FairWarning reported that the agency founded to protect workers had gone silent about enforcement since Trump took office. Trump’s first choice to head the Department of Labor, Andy Puzder, withdrew after questions that included his record as CEO of CKE Restaurants. CKE’s restaurants, Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., had at least 98 safety violations cited by OSHA after Puzder became the chief executive.

OSHA did announce it planned to stall a long-planned regulation to increase safety for workers who could be exposed to the lung-cancer-linked metal, beryllium.

Meanwhile, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) doesn’t have enough members to hold meetings. At its last meeting under Obama, the commission announced it would investigate the rates set by two natural gas pipeline companies.