By David Baake
Every few weeks, we hear about a new scandal involving EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt: his habit of using EPA staff to run personal errands, like the time he sent his security detail to buy a used mattress from the Trump Hotel; his penchant for first-class air travel, which cost taxpayers more than $100,000 in 2017; or his cozy relationships with fossil fuel-lobbyists — one of whom allowed him to rent a fancy D.C. condo for the roach-motel rate of $50 a night.
Pruitt’s brazen disregard for ethics and taxpayer money is almost comical. But there’s nothing funny about his agenda of aggressively dismantling public-health safeguards. In fact, the Journal of American Medical Association recently reported that Pruitt’s rollbacks to date will lead to 80,000 deaths over the next decade.
Of particular concern to New Mexicans in urban areas is Pruitt’s work to weaken air-pollution standards for motor vehicles. In 2016, EPA closed a loophole that allowed heavy-duty truck manufacturers to avoid emission standards by installing a used engine and powertrain into an otherwise new truck. EPA scientists had found that these so-called “glider” trucks produced up to 40 times as much pollution as other new trucks, and that, if left unregulated, their emissions would cause as many as 1,600 premature deaths a year.
Despite heavy opposition from just about everyone — including states, public-health groups, and most of the trucking industry — Trump’s administration has proposed to reopen the loophole for glider trucks. This would allow companies to produce an unlimited number of new trucks without complying with pollution standards. Given the volume of heavy-duty truck traffic along Interstates 10, 25, and 40, this would mean more asthma attacks, sick days, heart attacks, and premature deaths across New Mexico.
The administration is also seeking to weaken fuel-economy standards for passenger cars and trucks. In 2012, EPA required vehicle manufacturers to increase their average fuel economy to nearly 55 miles per gallon by 2025. These standards were designed to cut carbon pollution, which contributes to global warming and to smog. The standards were also expected to reduce particulate pollution. The impact would have been to save hundreds of lives every year. And the standards would have saved the average vehicle-owner thousands of dollars in fuel costs. Ignoring these benefits, the administration is working to freeze the fuel-economy rule.
These are just two of the many crucial safeguards that Pruitt has stalled, gutted, or otherwise tried to undermine. Luckily, some New Mexicans are fighting back. New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas deserves our thanks for repeatedly suing Pruitt to protect public-health safeguards. Sens. Udall and Heinrich are also fighting the good fight. But we need to elect more environmentally friendly candidates and raise our voices and organizing our communities to protect public health and the environment.
David Baake is an environmental attorney in Las Cruces.