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State's Keogh: EPA a 'helicopter mom'

by Frank E. Lockwood | May 24, 2017 at 3:54 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- When it came to environmental regulations, Arkansas was "more pawn than partner" during the Obama years, state Department of Environmental Quality Director Becky Keogh told a congressional panel Tuesday.

Over the past eight years, the Environmental Protection Agency "treated us [and similarly situated states] as petulant children, with the EPA taking on the role of 'helicopter mom' of the worst order," Keogh said.

She called for the EPA and the states to be "partners in the planting of progress and harvesting of success."

Misael Cabrera, director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, used similar language while addressing the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology's environment subcommittee.

"The approach has always been parent-child," Cabrera told the lawmakers, adding, "I look forward to the opportunity to be a partner, not a pawn, again."

The hearing, titled Expanding the Role of States in EPA Rulemaking, came on the same day that the Trump administration unveiled its proposed fiscal 2018 federal budget.

If approved, it would cut EPA's budget to $5.7 billion, down from $8.2 billion in fiscal 2017, a drop of 31.4 percent, the White House said.

The proposed cuts arrive shortly after a shake-up in the agency's Board of Scientific Counselors, a group of experts that advises the EPA. Earlier this month, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that he wouldn't reappoint nine of the 18 people who serve on the board. Other members have resigned in protest.

During Tuesday's hearing, the board's chairman, Deborah Swackhamer, expressed concern that mainstream scientists would be replaced by people who share the administration's views.

"I'm troubled by the politics I see," said Swackhamer, an environmental chemist and professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota. "The science should never be politicized, and the science should never be marginalized."

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, the ranking Democrat on the House committee, expressed concern that the administration would make its decisions based on "alternative facts rather than scientific evidence."

But Republican members insisted that Democrats have already tilted the science to reflect their own political agenda and questioned the reliability of the statistics presented by Democratic appointees.

During the hearing, U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., fired questions at Swackhamer after she claimed that 200,000 Americans die prematurely each year because of air pollution.

A 2013 study had deduced the figure, but Palmer said federal statistics didn't back it up.

"I've got the top 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. and [air pollution's] not listed among any of them. The closest thing that I come to that might be pneumonia and there's 50-something-thousand people." Palmer said, adding "It calls into question the use of data."

"Air pollution is the exposure," Swackhamer replied. "The illnesses that cause the death are what you probably are looking at so, heart disease and lung disease, respiratory disease ...," she said.

In 2014, the most recent year available, 614,348 Americans died of heart disease and 147,101 died of chronic lower respiratory diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another 55,227 died due to influenza and pneumonia.

A Section on 05/24/2017

Print Headline: State's Keogh: EPA a 'helicopter mom'

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