The former head of the Environmental Protection Agency responsible for banning pesticides for political reasons warned the Trump administration against reducing the agency’s regulatory might.
William Ruckelshaus, who served as former President Ronald Reagan’s EPA chief in the early 1980s, suggested Tuesday that President Donald Trump will erode the public’s trust in the energy industry. He also argued for an EPA that acts as a political agent for the American people.
“A strong and credible regulatory regime is essential to the smooth functioning of our economy,” Ruckelshaus wrote in an editorial to The New York Times Tuesday. He was responding to what he sees as Trump’s unwillingness to beef up the EPA’s regulatory might.
Ruckelshaus was responsible for banning DDT, a pesticide that helped kill insects that spread various blood-borne viruses, during his first go-around at the agency in 1972. The first EPA administrator would later admit that the ban had more to do with politics than with the environment or public health.
Environmentalists like activist-author Rachel Carson claimed DDT caused cancer and killed wildlife – their claims were later found without merit, but not before the pesticide was outright banned inside the U.S. and later around the world.
Ruckelshaus, an environmental activist himself, rejected a court ruling in the early 1970s dismissing Carson’s claims and instilled the ban — mosquito-control agencies in southern Florida and Puerto Rico have resorted to using less effective, more toxic pesticides to control the mosquitoes that transmit Zika virus.
The EPA’s ban eventually led to the suffering of tens of millions of people from mosquito-borne disease. Alternatives haven’t worked, and WHO director-general Margaret Chan recently blasted the ban in a speech to the World Health Assembly.
“Above all, the spread of Zika, the resurgence of dengue, and the emerging threat from chikungunya are the price being paid for a massive policy failure that dropped the ball on mosquito control in the 1970s,” she told a WHO panel in 2016. Her comments were addressing the history of curbing the use of pesticides like DDT.
Policy experts are lobbying to bring back DDT, which they say could eventually eradicate Zika.
“Perhaps there is one legitimate solution: DDT,” Dr. Gilbert Ross, a senior director of medicine and public health at the American Council on Science and Health, wrote in 2016. “While it is not perfect (some resistance to the chemical may have emerged in the past), it may represent the best chance to hold this epidemic at least partly in check.”
Rucklshaus now believes the agency has a responsibility to return to the days when it placed politics at the forefront of its actions.
“To me, the E.P.A. represents one of the clearest examples of our political system listening and responding to the American people,” Ruckelshaus wrote.
The American people “don’t want their kids choking on polluted air or drinking tainted water any more than Hillary Clinton voters,” he noted, “and as soon as the agency stops doing its job, they’re going to be up in arms.”
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