Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers Friday to confirm the agency’s promise to clean up areas with staggeringly high lead levels.
EPA’s recent tour through Indiana city East Chicago “signals our renewed commitment to restore public trust by improving communication and coordination and delivering real solutions for protecting health and public safety in the community,” Pruitt said in a joint press statement Friday.
Pruitt was referring to a small community in East Chicago where officials last summer began evacuating citizens from the West Calumet Housing Complex after they found some yards with lead levels more than 70 times the federal safety standard. There are nearly 50 people remaining in the housing complex.
The city was affected by contamination from a closed lead production facility owned by the firm U.S. Steel – East Chicago was designated a Superfund cleanup site by the agency in 2009.
“The painful personal stories of East Chicago residents will guide us as we chart a new path forward, and we are extremely grateful to each person who bravely shared their comments,” Pruitt said in the statement, which was signed by Indiana Sens. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat, and Todd Young, a Republican.
Pruitt is trying to refashion the EPA, transitioning the agency from one that fights man-made global warming to one that protects human health and the environment. His comments on Friday come as rumors the EPA is considering scuttling East Chicago’s Region 5 office have continued to abate.
Other areas in that region have also wrestled with stubbornly high lead levels. Flint citizens filed a lawsuit in January, for instance, claiming the agency failed to take the proper steps to ensure that state and local authorities were addressing last year’s water crisis. The defendants were seeking a civil action lawsuit for $722 million in damages.
Michigan officials switched the small Eastern Michigan city’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River in a bid to save money. But the state applied the wrong regulations and standards for drinking water, which ultimately resulted in corroded pipes.
Pruitt, who sued the EPA more than a dozen times as Oklahoma’s attorney general, awarded Michigan $100 million to help replace Flint’s badly eroded and damaged water infrastructure. Former President Barack Obama initially signed off on the funding, but money was not distributed to citizens until after Pruitt approved.
Environmentalists and Democrats have criticized proposed cuts to the EPA budget and claim such actions would hurt the agency’s ability to clean up the areas. The Trump administration’s budget blueprint called for significant cuts across a variety of environmental programs.
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