EPA Scientists Opposed Foxconn Ruling
Emails show senior EPA scientists complained smog exemption for company wasn’t supported by data.
Newly released emails reported by bloomberg.com show that “Environmental Protection Agency scientists raised strong objections to a 2018 decision by Scott Pruitt, who was head of the agency at the time, to exempt most of southeastern Wisconsin from federal limits on smog,” the story notes.
The decision was made in May 2018, at a time when Gov. Scott Walker was running for reelection and hoping to bring thousands of Foxconn manufacturing jobs to Racine County, in an area of the state where the pollution levels already exceeded federal limits. The decision by Pruitt was hailed by the Chicago Tribune as “a political victory” for Walker that “will save Foxconn from having to make expensive improvements” in its planned manufacturing plant in order to meet federal standards for air pollution, as Urban Milwaukee reported at the time. Pruitt resigned from office just two months later after 14 different federal investigations of him were launched and Walker ended up losing to Democrat Tony Evers.
The decision by Pruitt “dramatically” reduced “the size of the areas required to crack down on smog” in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana,” the Tribune reported. “The areas removed from the list were suggested by Republican elected officials,” including Walker.
“Hundreds of emails and internal documents” were released Friday to the Sierra Club and Clean Wisconsin, as part of a federal public records request, Bloomberg reported, which “show senior E.P.A. scientists complaining that conclusions in support of the decision, which could not be supported by data, were being demanded by top Trump administration officials.”
“I do not see a sound technical basis for the areas we are being directed to finalize in Wisconsin,” Jennifer Liljegren, an E.P.A. physical scientist wrote to colleagues in an email, the story noted. “I will need the wordsmithing of the legal and policy experts if we are really going to do this — I am still in disbelief.”
The emails show E.P.A. scientists “expressed concern about ‘intentional omissions’ in the new analyses, which had the effect of reducing the number of Wisconsin counties in violation of federal smog standards,” story reported.
“Taking snippets of information out of context and not telling the whole story is inappropriate, misleading to the public and dilutes the clarity of the technical information,”Liljegren wrote.
But Michael Abboud, a spokesman for the E.P.A., said in a statement to Bloomberg that the agency’s actions were proper. “In each holistic analysis, E.P.A. considered the relevant factors,” the statement asserted.
“Janet McCabe, who served as the E.P.A. air quality chief under former President Barack Obama, accused the Trump administration of putting politics above public health, the story reported. “These are supposed to be science-based decisions under the Clean Air Act, and yet you see career staff struggling to explain unexplainable decisions,” McCabe said.
The story suggests the ruling is likely to be thrown out by federal courts, given that the data clearly shows a violation of EPA standards. During Trump’s first two years in office, the story notes, “his administration prevailed only 6 percent of the time when its anti-regulatory decisions were challenged in the courts, according to a Brookings Institution study.”
“I’ve never seen an administration with a record this atrocious,” John Walke, an attorney at the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, told the newspaper.
At time of the decision, Foxconn was still pledging to build a huge Gen 10.5 plant, which would involve a $10 billion investment and employ 13,000 workers. Since then it was scaled back to a Gen 6 plant, which experts say would require an investment of $3 billion or less and employ far fewer workers. It would also cause less pollution, though no estimates of this have been made. There is also evidence that Foxconn isn’t building a manufacturing plant at all, but simply an an assembly plant where workers will repackage LCD products build in China, as Urban Milwaukee has reported. In that case, the plant may not cause any air pollution.
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