Culture of secrecy

Tuesday, May 29, 2018 7:17 PM
(AP Photo/Carla K. Johnson) Environmental Protection Agency employees and environmental activists protest the nomination of Scott Pruitt for administrator of the agency.

One of the challenges of environmental protection is that human activity produces pollution. Driving is a good example, from the extraction of mineral resources that eventually will become a vehicle, through the manufacturing process, the consumption of petroleum or electricity, and the car’s eventual disposal.

Food comes at an environmental cost. And environmental protections come at their own cost, which industry would prefer not to incur and consumers prefer not to bear.

Southwest Colorado has visible reminders of the problem: an orange-running river, piles of toxic mine tailings, tap water that burns, an ever-present brown cloud. We need local, state and national regulatory agencies.

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency convened a national summit of states, tribes, chemical companies and environmental groups to discuss PFAS – per- and polyfluoroalkyls found in consumer products, from cookware and stain repellents to packaging and firefighting foam.

The EPA website says the chemicals “are very persistent in the environment and in the human body – meaning they don’t break down, and they can accumulate over time. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to severe adverse human health effects.

That’s a significant cause for public concern, and one way the public learns about such concerns is through the media.

But the EPA had initially intended to prohibit the media from covering any part of the summit save EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s remarks. After protests, the summit was opened to some media members, but others – apparently those viewed as not having provided supportive coverage in the past – were excluded.

A reporter from The Associated Press, an organization through which member media outlets around the world share coverage, was physically pushed away from the entrance. The excluded media organizations (including CNN and E&E News, which covers energy and environmental issues) pushed back, and their representatives eventually were allowed into the meeting.

The media acts as proxy for the public in such meetings, which means the public should be very concerned about the intent of such actions.

Pruitt needs to understand that he works for the American people, not just for a president who is hostile toward the media.

Environmental protection is not a political game. The need to produce the materials Americans use, and to maintain the jobs of those who do that work, must be balanced against the responsibility of not harming, let alone destroying, interdependent ecosystems of humans, other animals and plants.

That’s the purpose of the EPA, not simply to loosen industry from regulation and to undo the work of past presidential administrations.