Child Health Day, celebrated on Monday, was meant to highlight efforts taken by the nation to protect children’s health. As it turned out, Child Health Day, which kicked off Children’s Health Month, served as a moment for the nation to come to terms with how the Trump administration has prioritized the removal of industry regulations over health protections for children.
Since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken numerous actions that do not bode well for the future health of American children.
And in the past week alone, the administration has introduce plans to rollback back key pollution rules, removed the head of the EPA’s children’s health office, and was shown to have scrubbed any mention of the impact of climate change on children from a draft document.
On Monday it was revealed that the Trump administration is moving forward with a proposal to rollback limits on lead, mercury, and other dangerous air pollution from the nation’s coal-fired power plants, putting children at risk from known brain poisons and toxic pollutants.
The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, finalized in 2011, were projected to prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 asthma attacks yearly, while delivering annual health benefits totaling up to $90 billion.
“What the Trump EPA is pursuing — the fraudulent denial of real-world benefits from clean air and climate safeguards — is the unholy grail of the polluting industry and its lobbyists,” John Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Monday in a statement.
An earlier draft of an EPA proposal on hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) contained language about how children are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. That language was removed during a review by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), according to E&E News.
“Every day we see more evidence that this administration is actively working against the health and safety of the most vulnerable Americans — our children,” Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, said Wednesday in a statement. “Tragically, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the Trump administration is waging a war on children.”
HFCs are used in refrigeration and air-conditioning appliances and are a significant contributor to the depletion of the ozone layer. Their atmospheric concentrations and contribution to greenhouse gas emissions are known to be rapidly increasing.
Scientists are concerned about the rise in HFC use because they are thousands of times more potent on a pound-per-pound basis than carbon dioxide. The Obama administration, as part of its climate action plan, issued a rule aimed at reducing the amount of HFCs released from appliances that use them as coolants.
The news of the administration deleting language from the chemical rule came just days after the head of EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection was placed on administrative leave with no explanation, fueling speculation that the office itself may be eliminated.
In a letter written by Ruth Etzel, the head of the office, she said: “I appear to be the ‘fall guy’ for their plan to ‘disappear’ the office of children’s health.”
Meanwhile, the EPA is also fighting a federal court ruling ordering the agency to ban of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which can cause brain damage and development disabilities in children at even low doses. In 2017, former EPA chief Scott Pruitt reversed an earlier decision to ban of the pesticide only weeks after meeting with the head of Dow Chemical, which manufactures the chemical.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ordered the EPA in early August to bar the widely used chlorpyrifos within 60 days. The court decided the EPA had been ignoring its own science that allegedly showed chlorpyrifos is a danger to children.
The EPA, however, filed a petition with the court last month asking for a hearing on the decision before all the judges on the Ninth Circuit. If the court order stands, chlorpyrifos would be officially banned as of next Tuesday.
The White House’s OIRA has removed references to climate change from other EPA proposals, including its proposed Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, E&E News reported. The ACE rule would replace the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s signature climate rule that would cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
The new plan could result in up to 1,400 more premature deaths and up to 120,000 more asthma attacks every year, according to the EPA’s own analysis.
But, in celebration of Children’s Health Day on Monday, acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler held an event at the EPA courtyard. He did not address any of the changes at the agency that could harm the health of children.
Instead, Wheeler touted the EPA’s efforts on behalf on children, despite the long list of clean air and clean water rules the Trump administration has sought to undo. “Children’s health is a top priority at EPA, and we have made tremendous progress improving air and water quality and helping kids and families lead healthier lives,” he said at the event.
— Timothy Cama (@Timothy_Cama) October 1, 2018
“The fact that Wheeler reportedly finalized a plan to repeal protections against mercury pollution just one day before he stood in front of a school bus celebrating Children’s Health Day is an insult to American families,” Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign Director Mary Anne Hitt said in a statement on Monday. “While Wheeler’s former employers reap the profits from rollback after rollback, our kids will be paying with their health.”
Prior to joining the Trump EPA, Wheeler served as a top lobbyist for Murray Energy, a major U.S. coal company.
In other attacks on children’s health, the Trump EPA announced to staff last week that it will move forward with plans to reorganize multiple offices housed under its Office of Research and Development (ORD). The National Center for Environmental Research, an EPA office that works to test the effects of chemical exposure on adults and children, will be shuttered as part of the reorganization.
Under the reorganization, David Dunlap, a former Koch Industries chemical engineer, will head the ORD as a deputy chief, a role that will not need Senate confirmation. Prior to his eight years with Koch, Dunlap worked for the Chlorine Institute overseeing health and environmental safety.