In the time he has left over from tracking down designer hand lotion, Scott Pruitt has been busy unraveling important environmental protections as fundamental as clean air and water standards. He’s even been turning back the clocks on asbestos policy.
Linda Reinstein, co-founder, Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization
Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is a staple of news coverage these days. It seems every week a new scandal about his questionable use of government resources hits the headlines: having staffers pursue a Chick-Fil-A franchise for his wife, private and first-class travel at taxpayers’ expense, $1,500 pens — the list goes on… and on, and on.
But while the media is busy reporting on the absurdities of Pruitt’s corruption, it is causing a smokescreen of sorts for the truly destructive actions Pruitt’s EPA is taking.
In the time he has left over from tracking down designer hand lotion, Pruitt has been busy unraveling important environmental protections as fundamental as clean air and water standards.
He’s even been turning back the clocks on asbestos policy.
Asbestos has been branded a carcinogen for decades, but until 2016 the EPA didn’t have the power to ban it in America. They tried once, in 1989, but because of weak chemical regulation policy, the ban was easily overturned on appeal.
“Life and death decisions shouldn’t be left to a corrupt puppet. We need a Congress that will stand up to Pruitt and, when necessary, take the reins on protecting the public.”
Each year, 15,000 Americans are dying from preventable asbestos-caused diseases, yet imports and use continue. In 2016, Congress came together in an (increasingly astonishing) act of bipartisanship and rewrote the chemical regulations law — the Toxic Substances Control Act or TSCA — to give the EPA more regulatory power.
When signing the law, President Barack Obama specifically pointed to asbestos and the failed ban as the typified cause for reform. Advocates, lawmakers, and EPA staff themselves thought an asbestos ban was a foregone conclusion.
And then came Donald Trump.
Trump has a long-standing and well-documented love for asbestos as witnessed in his 2005 Senate testimony that ”asbestos is 100% safe”. For many years it was the darling of real estate developers thanks to its near indestructibility and powerful fireproofing properties.
Trump has been adamantly against a ban, especially one that would address asbestos already present in existing structures. This is not surprising, as it would cost the president billions to abate the asbestos lingering in his own countless properties.
Now Pruitt, Trump’s puppet leading the EPA, is preventing the ban that TSCA promised. He recently announced that the agency would not evaluate the safety risk of million-plus tons of asbestos already in our homes, schools, workplaces and environment — meaning that any forthcoming rule on asbestos will not address the biggest current exposure risk.
The only regulation Pruitt’s EPA will implement around asbestos is a restriction on new uses of asbestos. But in addition to ignoring the looming dangers of the asbestos already in our environments, this provision is nothing but a veil to distract from the true inaction around asbestos.
Since its peak in the 1970s, asbestos has progressively become so unpopular that only one industry — a division of the chemical industry that makes chlorine — continues to use it in the U.S., and not because it is illegal, expensive, or difficult to obtain. It is none of those things.
They have stopped using it because the health risks were so great — as was the liability. Too many workers were sickened or killed, and any manufacturer with half a conscious switched to safer substitutes long ago.
When it comes to ending the deadly asbestos trade in America, nothing short of an exemption-free ban on imports will suffice. There is a bill currently live in the Senate that offers just that, but with the intractable partisan contention, a bill will almost certainly never come to a vote.
We as voters hold essentially no sway over appointed agency heads like Scott Pruitt, so it is very difficult to hold them accountable to acting in our best interest. We do, though, have a much stronger sway over the legislature, and they provide us an indirect but important check over the cabinet.
This November, we have the chance to wield that sway by voting for the men and women who will represent our interests in Congress. The reasons to show up for this midterm election are many — pick your cause: women’s rights, religious discrimination, global turmoil, you name it. Add asbestos to the list.
Life and death decisions shouldn’t be left to a corrupt puppet. We need a Congress that will stand up to Pruitt and, when necessary, take the reins on protecting the public.
Help us get the message to Pruitt and the EPA that the time in NOW to ban asbestos without any loopholes or exemptions and to keep the American public safe by signing our petition to the EPA.