President Trump and his “cronies” are trying to undo decades of environmental protection, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison said at a town hall on Aug. 15.
Ellison billed the event as a “Save the EPA” forum. He said Trump is proposing to eliminate or defund nearly every climate change program in the U.S. and expressed consternation about the proposed cuts. He encouraged the more than 100 audience members to speak out against them.
“This is not a night for an interesting conversation,” Ellison said. “This is fortifying you with information so you can take action.”
Since taking office, Trump announced he would pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement and has proposed reducing the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 31 percent. He’s also rolled back many Obama-era environmental policies and regulations, such as the Clean Power Plan and a rule to protect wetlands and small tributaries.
The president moved to undo, delay or block more than 30 environmental rules in his first four months in office, according to the New York Times.
Ellison and other speakers at the event stressed the importance of environmental protections in keeping air and water clean. They noted that the EPA sets and enforces nationwide standards, sends money to states and tribes to implement environmental programs and regulates polluters.
Assistant Minnesota Pollution Control Agency commissioner David Thornton said there has always been bipartisan support for the EPA.
“I never thought I’d come to a save the EPA rally,” Thornton said, “and I never thought I’d see an administration that’s trying to tear down these pillars of our environmental protection laws.”
Thornton said Trump’s EPA budget would require the MPCA to reduce its staff by about 2 percent. It would eliminate funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and would mean significant reductions in air and water quality monitoring, he said.
Thornton said it’s unlikely the budget cuts would be as bad as proposed, because Congress is proposing more funding for the EPA than Trump. However, he said that he’s more troubled by the Trump administration’s desire to roll back environmental standards and completely eliminate scientific research. Both are unprecedented, he said.
“Our intentions are to push back every time we can,” Thornton said, noting lawsuits by Minnesota against the actions.
Deanna White, Minnesota director of the nonprofit Clean Water Action, said she’s concerned about industry’s takeover the EPA. She said Trump’s EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, has spent most of his career “fighting everything the EPA stands for.”
Pruitt sued the agency more than a dozen times as Oklahoma’s attorney general. Since taking over the EPA, he’s relied on the counsel of a small network of political appointees, including former lobbyists and senior industry officials, according to the New York Times.
White mentioned how the EPA’s chief of staff tried to interfere with the Congressional testimony of a University of Minnesota professor. Its leaders have replaced members of its Science Advisory Board with industry scientists.
“That’s not the voice that should be loudest at the EPA,” she said. “… When industry makes the rules, public health loses.”
Neurologist Bruce Snyder praised Obama’s understanding of climate and environmental issues. He said climate change is making people sick, noting that hotter summers mean more pollen, mosquitos and ticks. He predicted more and longer heat waves as climate change worsens and noted the increase in extreme flooding events.
“We must demand a strong Environmental Protection Agency run by someone who truly cares about the health of Americans rather than focused on a portfolio,” Snyder said.
In Minnesota, the environmental outlook is rough with Republicans in control of the Legislature, state Sen. Scott Dibble said.
Dibble said environmental protections are taking a backseat to industry, in particular with water and environmental permitting policy. He noted that Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed increasing Minnesota’s renewable energy standard to 50 percent by 2030. Dayton has also announced a goal of increasing Minnesota’s water quality 25 percent by 2025.
The governor is hosting a series of town halls around Minnesota to talk about the goal, including one Sept. 27 in Minneapolis.
The event also featured a speech from Ticiea Fletcher, a mom whose two children were poisoned by lead. Fletcher encouraged audience members to call state Sen. Michelle Benson, chair of the Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee. A lead-poisoning prevention bill named after Fletcher’s son stalled in Benson’s committee this past legislative session.
The event also featured words from David Manuel, the food justice coordinator for the Red Lake Nation. Manuel said funding for protection of land and water has not increased over the last 10 years and encouraged people to advocate for increased funding.
Ellison has held a series of town halls during Congress’ August recess. His next one will be a Civics 101 Forum at 6 p.m. on Aug. 30 at the St. Louis Park Rec Center. Visit his Facebook page to see a complete list of events.