It’s a standard play from the polluter-friendly playbook: Change the rules so that only polluters get a seat at the negotiating table. The Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is preparing to release a change in rules which would bar impacted individuals or community groups from appealing pollution permits to the agency’s appeals board. But the polluter receiving the permit could still appeal to that review board in an effort to discharge more pollution. The proposal has not yet been formally released for public comment, but was described to the New York Times by sources who said they had seen the documents.
Patrice Simms, a former staff lawyer for the EPA appeals board who is now an attorney for environmental advocacy group Earthjustice, commented to the Times, “What EPA is proposing means communities and families no longer have the right to appeal a pollution permit that might affect them.”
Other environmental law experts note the ability for impacted communities to directly challenge the terms of these pollution discharge permits is especially important for environmental justice. Communities of color and low income are disproportionately likely to live near major pollution sources.
Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory similarly tried to eliminate environmental advocates’ ability to participate in pollution permit administrative cases. Those efforts were ultimately dropped, in part because they clearly ran afoul of EPA’s then existing rules for permits administered by the state under federally delegated Clean Air and Clean Water Acts’ authority. Undermining those EPA rules now would therefore have cascading negative impacts on state programs as well.
The timing of this leaked news is particularly ironic, since it came out the same week President Trump made a speech devoted to portraying himself as an environmentally friendly president.
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