Theodore Decker: EPA’s inaction stirs memories of Ohio’s polluted past

Oil and other industrial wastes caught fire on the Cuyahoga River on November 1, 1952.

COLUMBUS — “It would be nice to think that an era in which rivers and eyeballs burned from pollution was firmly in the past. But with Donald Trump in the White House and Scott Pruitt his main man at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it may be that noxious days are here again.

The New York Times reported Sunday that the Trump administration has eased up on polluters. The Times reviewed civil cases filed at the EPA during the Trump, Obama and Bush administrations. The EPA started about 1,900 cases during the first nine months of Pruitt’s leadership, about a third fewer than the number under Barack Obama’s first EPA director and a quarter fewer than under George W. Bush’s during the same time period.

The EPA can force companies to retrofit their factories to cut pollution, but the Times found that far fewer such demands have been made under Trump. Confidential internal EPA documents show that the enforcement slowdown coincides with major policy changes ordered by Pruitt’s team after pleas from oil and gas industry executives, the newspaper said. The documents also indicate that EPA enforcement officers in the field no longer have the authority to order certain air and water pollution tests without receiving permission from Washington.

The Times ran its findings by former EPA officials and current agency employees.”

— Theodore Decker, Columbus Dispatch

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