Energy

Obama’s EPA Chief Lectures Scott Pruitt About Tackling Flint Water Scandal

A former EPA chief during former President Barack Obama’s era harangued President Donald Trump’s administration Tuesday for laying the groundwork for a recurrence of a water scandal like the one that hit a small Michigan city last year.

EPA chief Scott Pruitt’s willingness to allow states to regulate themselves could cause another Flint crisis, former agency chief Gina McCarthy said during a podcast episode of “Got Science?” She accepted some of the blame for the scandal, but believes her successor could compound the problem.

“The state just let it go, and EPA, while they questioned it, we did not aggressively pursue it in a way that you would expect a federal government to pursue,” McCarthy said of the EPA’s initial handling of the Flint water crisis under her tutelage.

She also suggested the Trump administration’s willingness to allow states to “go it alone” could result in a similar problem.

“There was failure at all levels, so the lesson learned is that this (Trump) administration really thinks that the federal government is best off if we let the states do their own thing,” she said. “Let every state do what it wants.”

Michigan officials switched the city’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River in a bid to save money. The state applied the wrong regulations and standards for drinking water, that ultimately resulted in corroded pipes. The EPA was slow to react and culminated in a lawsuit arguing the U.S. federal government failed to handle the issue appropriately.

The lawsuit claims that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) failed to take the proper steps to ensure state and local authorities were addressing the crisis. The defendants are seeking a civil action lawsuit for $722 million in damages.

Recent reports appear to indicate much of the crisis could’ve been avoided if the applicable agency acted more quickly to enforce regulations governing Michigan’s water supply.

One report published in March claims the EPA only acts to enforce clean drinking water regulations when public outrage reaches a deafening pitch, implying negligence on the part of agency officials. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) conducted another report in 2016 detailing how the EPA fails to force state regulators to comply with federal drinking water laws.

Pruitt has criticized McCarthy and Obama in the past for focusing too narrowly on tackling climate change and not enough on state and local ecological disasters.

“Everyone looks at the Obama administration as being the environmental savior. Really? He was the environmental savior?” Pruitt asked a reporter earlier this year before rattling off a list of examples where Obama’s EPA stumbled on environmental matters.

“Well, he left us with more Superfund sites than when he came in,” he said of Obama’s EPA. “He had Gold King [the 2015 mine wastewater spill] and Flint, Michigan [drinking water crisis]. He tried to regulate CO2 twice and flunked twice. Struck out. So, what’s so great about that record? I don’t know.”

Pruitt was referring to toxic waste sites folded into the government’s Superfund program, that is intended to clean the most dangerous and polluted places in the U.S. The agency has either been unable or unwilling to decontaminate many of the program’s 1,300 locations, allowing pollution to fester.

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