‘New day’ long overdue at the EPA

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The New York Times last week highlighted a March 1 meeting in Washington, D.C., between officials of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington Farm Bureau in the weeks before rejecting a decade-old petition to ban chlorpyrifos, the most widely used pesticide in U.S. agriculture.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt joined the meeting briefly, telling participants that it was “a new day, a new future, for a common sense approach to environmental protection.”

Common sense at the EPA is something of an oxymoron given the agency’s recent history:

• Critics suggest the Farm Bureau and other groups have undue access to Pruitt, and that Pruitt is showing favor because he agreed to listen to their plea. Those same critics, however, were silent when it was discovered that environmentalists had direct access to Lisa Jackson, President Obama’s first EPA director, via her private email account and an official account she maintained under an alias — Richard Windsor.

• Critics were also silent when it was revealed that EPA staffers communicated with activists by text messages in an effort to thwart public record laws.

• Al Armendariz was EPA’s Region 6 administrator in 2010 when he gave a speech describing the agency’s regulatory enforcement tactics. “It is kind of like how the Romans used to conquer villages in the Mediterranean — they’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere and they’d find the first five guys they saw and they’d crucify them,” he said. He resigned when a video of the speech came to light in 2012.

• In 2015 contractors working for the agency to clean up an abandoned gold mine in Colorado accidentally dumped 3 million gallons of heavy-metal laced wastewater into the Animas River. The agency eventually took responsibility for the spill and spent millions to mitigate the disaster. But, it declared itself immune to private damage claims. “From the very beginning, the EPA failed to hold itself accountable in the same way that it would a private business,” said Ryan Flynn, New Mexico Environment Department cabinet secretary.

• John C. Beale, a $100,000-a-year lawyer for the EPA, for 13 years convinced his bosses that on Wednesdays he also worked for the Central Intelligence Agency. He went missing entirely for six months in 2008, and was gone “on assignment” from June 2011 to December 2012. He remained on the payroll the whole time, and even was awarded a 25 percent bonus.

• The EPA funded the “What’s Upstream” propaganda campaign launched by the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and Swinomish Indian tribe to advocate for greater regulations on farmers to improve water quality.

The public didn’t perceive a problem with water quality, so campaign backers ginned up imagery and a fall guy that would move the public to demand increased regulations. But it was fake, and all paid for by the EPA. The agency said it didn’t know what was going on, but it turns out it did.

All things considered, a new day probably isn’t such a bad thing at the EPA.