Decades of experience working with EPA staff — whether on the development of regulations or the basic science that provides the technical basis for developing sound regulatory policy — have taught us that this agency needs protecting.

Slashing EPA’s budget and cutting its staffing as proposed in President Trump’s plan will have serious ramifications not only for public health and safety, but for productive collaboration with industry.

Deborah Gordon
Gordon was director of Carnegie’s Energy and Climate Program, where her research focuses on oil and climate change issues in North America and globally.
More >

Environmental protection calls for smart choices and difficult trade-offs. Writing as environmental professionals who spent all or part of their careers in industry, it is clear that information exchange and real world experience must be factored into successful regulations. The EPA has long embraced both of these elements.

Measurable progress in air quality, water quality, and other important environmental markers has been made over recent decades.

Valuable baseline data has been collected and environmental knowledge has grown, vastly improving decision making. For example, in the 1980s, when several California coastal counties raised concerns about increases in ozone from offshore oil development, the EPA was part of a group, along with the oil industry and local air agencies that launched the first large cooperative air quality study.

Together, we collected valuable air quality, meteorology, and emissions data for both air quality modeling and data analysis to explain what caused high ozone levels.

Piggybacking on this effort, a major public-private partnership was formed to study central California’s pollution problems, a region with some of the dirtiest air in the country.

The EPA and the Department of Defense collaborated with industry, local and state environmental agencies on the $65 million California Regional Air Quality Study. From 1986 to 2010, two major air quality data collection programs were carried out for summertime ozone and wintertime particulate matter. Cutting-edge modeling and analysis provided a much better understanding of how air pollutants formed.

Steve D. Ziman
Steve D. Ziman, a PhD chemist, retired from Chevron where he spent his career working in Production, Energy Technology, and other corporate business units.

The findings influenced the development of effective emissions reduction strategies that have substantially improved air quality in the San Joaquin Valley. Industries have made reductions and still have been able to operate.

This approach took hold in other parts of the country, such as the Lake Michigan region, Houston and Southeast Texas, and in the Gulf of Mexico. In each instance, the EPA played a crucial role alongside other agencies and industries funding and furthering the advancement of scientific knowledge. 

Such successful collaborations resulted in a reasoned approach to targeting emission reductions. The sophisticated air quality models used in these studies were the forerunners to the climate models now used to understand climate change.

Time and again, we have seen that, when pushed by sound regulations that rely on performance standards, industries innovate. The cost of meeting the regulations is often less than anticipated — and in some cases, much less. At the same time, the estimate of benefits to citizens has been borne out with meaningful improvements in health and welfare.

None of this progress would have been possible with the proposals to dramatically reduce staff at the EPA, cut EPA’s research and monitoring budgets, and stop the EPA and other government agencies’ collecting environmental data, including that related to climate change.

Valuable analyses that industry collaborated with EPA to develop could be lost forever. In the long run, neither public health and welfare nor the energy industry would be well served by diminishing the important role of the EPA.

This could adversely impact innovation and jobs not only in the oil sector, but in related energy technology areas such as improved solar, better batteries, wind power, and carbon capture. Other countries will rush to develop those same industries and jobs, and American business stands to lose out.

The country does not want more Flint, Michigan water crises and VW diesel scandals. It does not need lax enforcement or weakening of air, water, and waste regulations that sicken citizens. A clean environment is not a political weapon, it is basic need for American prosperity now and into the future.

This article was originally published in the Hill.