Ever since Scott Pruitt joined EPA, there have been a slew of reversals and delays of various rules already on the books. A birds-eye view of this regulatory shift shows that Pruitt’s EPA is taking a cavalier approach to children’s health, hobbling multiple rules that specifically protect the health of children.
It should be especially galling to parents that EPA itself has acknowledged the disproportionate impact on children in several cases; in others, EPA is delaying or reversing rules that the agency previously acknowledged would have benefited the health of children.
The explicit mission of EPA is to “protect human health and the environment.” That bears repeating at a time when the agency is taking action after action that threatens children’s health. Here, we explain how 12 of Pruitt’s regulatory actions harm the health of our children – using the words of the agency itself.
- Mercury and Air Toxics Standards
In court filings in litigation, EPA has stated that it is reconsidering the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards rule. As the agency wrote in the initial rule, now being reconsidered, “The protection offered by this rule is particularly important for children, especially the developing fetus… We also estimate substantial health improvements for children in the form of 130,000 fewer asthma attacks, 3,100 fewer emergency room visits due to asthma, 6,300 fewer cases of acute bronchitis, and approximately 140,000 fewer cases of upper and lower respiratory illness.”
- Clean Power Plan
EPA has proposed to repeal America’s Clean Power Plan, which would have reduced particle pollution and smog, air pollutants harmful to children. As EPA admitted, the Clean Power Plan would lower pollution levels, “and some of the benefits of reducing these pollutants would have accrued to children.”
- Clean Car Standards: Model Years 2022-2025 and Model Year 2021
Pruitt’s EPA is reconsidering a rule that would limit greenhouse gas emissions from cars. As the agency wrote in the initial rule, now being reconsidered, the rule benefits the health of children because “certain groups, including children, are particularly vulnerable to climate-related health effects.”
- Coal Ash Waste Rule
EPA is reconsidering provisions in a rule that regulates disposal of coal ash, including requirements for lining waste pits. As the agency acknowledged in the initial rule, now being reconsidered by Pruitt’s EPA, “composite liners required by the rule for new waste management units showed the ability to reduce the 90th percentile child cancer and non-cancer risks for the groundwater to drinking water pathway to well below EPA’s criteria.” The final rule was to go into effect October 17, 2017.
- Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles – Phase 2
EPA is proposing to repeal emissions requirements for a kind of truck called glider vehicles. Those emissions requirement would reduce harmful particle pollution. As EPA admitted, “some of the benefits for children’s health as described in [the Phase 2 Rule] analysis would be lost as a result of this action.”
- Steam Electric Power Generating Effluent Guidelines – 2015 Final Rule
EPA has delayed provisions of a final rule that regulates wastewater from coal fired power plants. The delayed rule limits the neurotoxic heavy metals lead and mercury in water. The agency acknowledged in the final rule, now being delayed, that the regulation would avoid “neurological damage to preschool age children from reduced exposure to lead” as well as “neurological damages from in utero exposure to mercury.” The agency explained that “among approximately 418,953 babies born per year who are potentially exposed to discharges of mercury from steam electric power plants, the final rule reduces total IQ point losses over the period of 2019 through 2042 by about 7,219 points.”
- Oil and Gas Sector Emissions Standards
EPA has proposed a 2-year stay of certain emissions requirements from the oil and natural gas sector. The agency admitted that this action “may have a disproportionate effect on children.”
- Chlorpyifos Pesticide Ban
EPA denied a petition to ban agricultural uses of the pesticide, which has been linked to neurodevelopmental effects in children. (Household uses of the chemical were banned in 2000 due to its potential to harm children’s brains.) Instead of following the advice of EPA’s own scientists, Pruitt’s EPA reversed an EPA recommendation to proceed with a ban, writing that “the science on this question is not resolved” and that it wanted more time to “achieve greater certainty as to whether the potential exists for adverse neurodevelopmental effects [in infants and children] to occur from current human exposures to chlorpyrifos.”
- Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA Rule)
EPA delayed finalizing a rule that establishes a minimum age of 18 for certified applicators using restricted use pesticides. As the agency acknowledged in the initial rule, now being delayed, “since children’s bodies are still developing, they may be more susceptible to risks associated with RUP [restricted use pesticide] application and therefore will benefit from strengthened protections.”
- Municipal Solid Waste Landfills
Pruitt’s EPA is proposing to put the brakes on standards of performance and compliance times in a rule that reduces greenhouse gas emissions from landfills. As the agency wrote in the initial rule now being stopped, “children’s unique physiological and developmental factors contribute to making them particularly vulnerable to climate change. Impacts to children are expected from heat waves, air pollution, infectious and waterborne illnesses, and mental health effects resulting from extreme weather events. In addition, children are among those especially susceptible to most allergic diseases, as well as health effects associated with heat waves, storms, and floods.”
- Utah Regional Haze FIP
Pruitt has announced plans to revisit Utah’s Regional Haze Plan. As the agency asserted in the initial rule, now being revisited, the rule, which limits harmful nitrogen oxide pollution, “will have a beneficial effect on children’s health.”
- Formaldehyde Emission Standards for Composite Wood Products
EPA has moved the compliance date back for a rule that sets emission standards for formaldehyde, a carcinogen, in composite wood products. The rule would reduce nasopharyngeal cancer and eye irritation, and may also reduce asthma and allergies in children. As the agency wrote in the initial rule, now being delayed, “The emission standards and other requirements of this rule will reduce emissions of formaldehyde from composite wood products for individuals of all ages that are exposed and children may accrue higher benefits from the exposure reductions compared to adults.”
This post was prepared with the help of Martha Roberts, Senior Attorney, and Surbhi Sarang, Legal Fellow, both of EDF.