The State of Our Environment

Yesterday morning, a few hours before President Trump delivered his first State of the Union address, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee heard testimony from the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt. Nearly one year into his tenure as our nation’s chief environmental protector, Administrator Pruitt had yet to visit the Senate EPW Committee, on which I serve as the top Democrat.

Before Mr. Pruitt visited our committee, I released a report highlighting the dozens of actions that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under his leadership, has taken to move EPA and our country basically backward to a time before environmental protections. In the last year alone, Administrator Pruitt oversaw the proposed repeal, reconsideration or delay of at least 25 environmental and public health protections. Needless to say, I had a lot of questions for Mr. Pruitt on the potentially disastrous consequences of his actions at EPA.

Delaware sits at what I like to call the end of “America’s Tailpipe,” downwind from some of our nation’s dirtiest coal-fired power plants. In fact, over 90 percent of air pollution in Delaware comes from other states. We, more than most, rely on federal clean air rules to keep our neighbors honest and protect our families from air pollution created elsewhere. Unfortunately, Mr. Pruitt continues to take actions that are making the problem worse. The Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan would have cut carbon emissions from our country’s power plants by 30 percent. But last year, Administrator Pruitt proposed to repeal the Clean Power Plan and replace it with an industry-backed proposal that would likely increase air pollution. At the same time, Mr. Pruitt has taken numerous actions to undermine air toxic and other clean air regulations, some of which have been on the books for decades.

The EPA rollbacks go beyond clean air protections. Mr. Pruitt also moved to repeal the Obama Administration’s Clean Water Rule, put in place to protect the drinking water sources of 117 million Americans. But again, he offered no new plan to ensure clean, safe water for almost half the country. And for Delaware, the Trump Administration’s proposed 2018 budget recommended cutting all $73 million designated for efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay Watershed on which so many Delawareans rely for clean water and their livelihoods.

In 2016, Congress overwhelmingly approved bipartisan legislation I championed to overhaul our nation’s outdated chemical safety law – the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA reform gave EPA more authority to review chemicals being sold across the country and ensure they are safe for families. Unfortunately, Mr. Pruitt’s EPA is slowing down this process and failing to follow Congress’s clear instructions to protect Americans from harmful chemicals and give families confidence in the household products that they use every day.

Finally, as the lowest lying state in the country, Delaware is already feeling the effects of climate change. Yet, instead of spending time and resources trying to tackle what many of us believe is the greatest environmental challenge of our lifetime, Mr. Pruitt’s EPA is choosing to wage a war on climate science, scrubbing its website of nonpartisan climate science data and replacing science advisors with individuals backed by industry. Doing nothing would be bad enough, but Mr. Pruitt’s efforts to discredit and hide the clear science of climate change are the height of irresponsibility.

As a result of the actions of this administration, led by Mr. Pruitt at EPA, the State of Our Environment is nowhere near as strong as it should be. Yesterday, I confronted Mr. Pruitt about his systematic efforts to undermine some of our most fundamental clean air, clean water and toxic chemical protections. In the year to come, I will continue to hold Mr. Pruitt accountable and call attention to any instances in which his agency fails to uphold the most fundamental mission of the EPA – to protect our environment and the health of all Americans.