Former EPA Chiefs Slam Agency’s Targeting of California

(CN) – Former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials called for a formal investigation of the Trump administration’s focus on environmental violations in California despite other states racking up more compliance violations.

Environmental Protection Administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks at a press conference in Philadelphia on Feb. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

The letter from the group of nearly 600 former EPA officials comes after President Donald Trump threatened to pull highway funding from the Golden State over what he described as “chronic” smog following a trip to California last month. He also slammed California for the ongoing homelessness crisis.

During his trip Trump said, “We can’t let Los Angeles, San Francisco and numerous other cities destroy themselves by allowing what’s happening.”

Last week the EPA accused San Francisco of sending “raw and partially treated sewage” to seep into the ocean and blamed the city’s sewer system.

The Golden State has become a constant legal challenger of the Trump administration, filing lawsuits over environmental rollbacks, immigration policies and various other issues. California has sued the federal government nearly 60 times since Trump moved into the White House in 2017.

The former EPA officials asked the House Oversight Committee to investigate the Trump administration’s enforcement actions against California while seeming to ignore other states’ pollution violations.

Eric Schaeffer, former director of the EPA’s office of Civil Enforcement from 1997 to 2002, and current director of the Washington-based nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project, joined nearly 600 other former EPA heads in the call for an investigation and says there are at least six states with more environmental noncompliance issues in the last three years

The Environmental Integrity Project included a list of 429 major polluters throughout the country, including discharging illegal amounts of pollutants including lead, arsenic and fecal bacteria. That includes power plants, factories and other sources – 42 violators in Ohio, 37 in New York, 36 in Iowa and just 20 in California.

“No evidence supports targeting the homeless for Clean Water Act enforcement, given the much greater damage done by the huge volume of waste discharged from industrial plants, factory farms, and sewage treatment plants and many other sources,” the group wrote.

The group notes a letter EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler sent to the California Air Resources Board threatening to withhold highway funds based on California’s failure to comply with air quality standards set by the federal government. California has sought to set its own standards with car manufacturers which require higher restrictions for vehicles to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“EPA’s political appointees have worked overtime for the past two years to delay or water down standards that limit emissions from power plants, the oil, gas and chemical industries, and other major sources,” wrote the former EPA officials. “We hope that your investigation will weigh the effect that all of these federal rollbacks in emission standards will have when evaluating Mr. Wheeler’s sudden interest in air quality in the state of California.”

In a letter to Wheeler on Wednesday, California Air Resources Board chair Mary Nichols said the EPA’s letter threatening to withhold federal highway funds contained many inaccuracies and misleading statements.

EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said the agency’s targeting isn’t political.

“Highlighting that California has the worst air quality in the nation along with other serious environmental problems is not a political issue. The Trump administration, unlike the previous administration, will act to protect public health and the environment for all Americans,” Abboud said in an email.

“Additionally, California’s inability to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act has been an ongoing challenge, and the failure to properly operate and maintain the city’s sewage collection and treatment facilities creates public health risks. EPA expects California leaders to share its concern for the protection of public health,” Abboud added.

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