Court Victory on Lead Standards Over Shocking Delays

Gulfport   Here’s a legal victory worth celebrating, I guess. The Appeals Court in San Francisco on 2-1 vote rejected the EPA’s efforts to seek yet another delay and ordered them to produce new lead safety standards on dust and soil contamination essentially in 90 days. The agency had proposed yet another six year delay for yet more studies, and the court put its foot down. Let no good deed go unpunished though, the EPA is reviewing whether to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court rather than complying.

Any celebration is marred by the total disbelief that the EPA has been dragging its feet for 17 years since the last regulations despite the unanimous consensus over the harm that lead does to brains, all brains, but especially children’s. The main driver of the appeal was the environmental legal shop, Earthjustice, formerly the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. We were following this issue closely because ACORN’s affiliate, A Community Voice, based in Louisiana was one of the named plaintiffs in the litigation. ACV, as its known, has been waging an anti-lead campaign for more than a decade, so it was good to see them be able to take a victory lap, even if the final outcome of the litigation is still uncertain.

Make no mistake, it is just crazy that we are even talking about lead standards in the thick of the 21st century. Don’t put this on your list of Trump administration regulatory slogs and rollbacks either. As the Times reported: “The E.P.A., then under Mr. Obama, acknowledged the need for stricter rules in 2011 and agreed to take action, but never did so and set no timelines for developing a new rule.” Unbelievable, right? But, maybe not. This is a scourge of lower-income neighborhoods causing huge problems in older Northeastern states and cities and nationally, so as usual you had to really want to listen to hear their voices.

Part of the problem is inattention to detail. The consensus on the danger of lead, even small amounts, is high, but the indifference is palpable. As Local 100 United Labor Unions has found in our campaigns to get lead out of school districts in Texas, the Center for Disease Control has a lower standard for lead than the EPA has, and now there are cities and school districts that have gone even lower than both, since the medical and scientific estimate of damage is based on infinitesimal amounts.

The consensus may be masking the urgency of the problem and its tragic impact. The Times, providing context for the extent of the threat, reported that:

A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2016 found that — despite decades of work to reduce lead in paint, dust and water — about 3 percent of children around the country exhibit high levels of the metal in their blood.

3% seems horrid, but colleagues at ACV point out that that figure is based on 3% of children tested, and testing has been extremely lax. Furthermore, they stress that the tests only take a picture of a point in time in the month when the test was given. Due to environmental and other factors attributing to dust and soil conditions, the real dangers might be masked more significantly depending on the season and timing of the test.

Meanwhile we read that New York City public housing authorities fabricated reports on removing lead in housing projects there. Congressional action was needed to protect families from rent-to-own companies in some cities where inadequate prevention and inspections were done. And, we’re only talking about rules for soil and dust, and the headlines around water system contamination indicate that that’s only part of this expanding environmental disaster.

We can count coup in one small battle, but the war rages on and calls for action on every front.

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Gorsuch, Like Mother, Like Son?

The chemical plant responsible for the Love Canal problem is the Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation, in this aerial view, which dumped toxic waste in the Love Canal neighborhood from 1940 until 1950 and which was investigated and exposed in 1980.

New Orleans   All heck seemed to be breaking loose in Washington. The FBI says they were investigating collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, and that there is no evidence that the Trump claim that Obama tapped his phones is true. In another hearing room, Neil Gorsuch, was being queried about a job as a Supreme Court Justice, and claiming he was “above politics.”

More disturbing to me in some ways was reading a piece in High Country News reprising his mother’s controversial stint and resignation as director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President Ronald Reagan. Her mission at the EPA was search-and-destroy, much like that of Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general who has sued the agency more than a dozen times and is now the newly confirmed department secretary. Both of them have beaten the drums on department overreach and the need to cut the budget and the staff and push more regulation – or lack of it – back to the states. Pruitt reportedly has already had to learn to be careful what he asked for and scurried, unsuccessfully, over to the White House to see if he could limit the budget reduction at the EPA to only a billion bucks, down to $7 billion. The White House instead responded by taking the EPA number down to $5.7 billion.

Anne Gorsuch Burford had been a firebrand Republican Colorado state senator before being raised up to a post in Washington to try and dismantle the EPA. Reading the article it all floods back in the memory of the hard times of the 1980s under Reagan. Gorsuch Burford was the administrator of the Superfund program, created by the EPA and Congress in the wake of the Love Canal, which, as many remember, was built to devastating effect on top of toxic wastes. Gorsuch Burford’s administrative under reach was her undoing. As High Country News reported:

“At a defunct chemical waste processing facility in Indiana…Gorsuch’s EPA allowed a company to pay only a third of the cost of cleaning up underground pollution, and then granted it immunity from liability for underground waste. Accusations of mismanagement let to multiple congressional investigations, and the FBI also investigated the agency for shedding documents related to Superfund probes…Gorsuch herself was cited by Congress for contempt after refusing to turn over documents during the investigation. By Gorsuch’s own admission, the resulting political meltdown paralyzed the agency, preventing it from getting any work done. Gorsuch resigned in 1983 after learning the Justice Department wouldn’t defend her on the contempt charge.”

Neil Gorsuch has been reported as upset and confused by his mother’s resignation as a teen, and arguing for her to stand and fight. Judge Gorsuch has also been noted for his decisions pushing against the so-called “administrative state,” where agencies have acted to interpret Congressional actions in accord with their regulatory authority, as well as his closeness to corporations and their interests.

None of these judicial nominees do much besides dancing at hearings of the Judiciary Committee, and certainly the anger of child is not the same as the maturity of an adult, but nonetheless it’s unsettling still because the child is still father to the man, and there are too many payback coincidences in Judge Gorsuch’s current views that seem to flow directly from those seminal experiences in the 1980s. He may have learned how to get along better than his mother, but the views seem a little too close for comfort to me.

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