The Rollback: Trump's Toxic War - Fault Lines

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Since US President Donald Trump entered the White House, there is one achievement he can’t be denied. He has made good on a campaign promise to deconstruct the administrative state, and his administration has delayed or eliminated hundreds of “job killing” federal rules, often following recommendations from powerful industries.

On March 13, the White House released its first preliminary budget under the Trump administration. Entitled A New Foundation for American Greatness, the most notable changes were severe cuts and regulatory rollbacks to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The budget cuts stand at a 31 percent decrease, led by Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma's former attorney general and the EPA's new chief. Pruitt's relationship with the EPA has included repeated attempts to sue the agency for items of environmental protection put in place under the Obama administration.

The items challenged by Pruitt include the EPA's carbon emissions standards for new power plants, the clean power plan designed to help curb climate change and debating limits on cross-state air pollution.

Since, under Pruitt's patronage, the EPA has reversed a proposed ban on a pesticide linked to autism and developmental delays in children, reconsidered rules on coal ash disposal, and repealed the Obama administration’s signature plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The US has also pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, essentially breaching the promise to curb planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

Betsy Southerland was a senior official at the EPA's Office of Water for 30 years. When the Trump administration decided to roll back regulations on coal waste pollution produced by energy companies, Southerland left the agency. Within weeks of vacating her position, Scott Pruitt announced he would consider repealing a rule Southerland's team had enforced, regarding wastewater discharges from power plants.

Pruitt attributed the repeal to job loss and economic impact. "I dont know why he said that because at that point... we had never briefed him once on the rule. We could have definitely shown him in great detail that there was not going to be any big job loss or any big economic impact," says Southerland. "[It's] heartbreaking because we know that that rule was so necessary to protect public health."

In this episode of Fault Lines, we look beyond the smoke and the scandals, and travel to North Carolina and California's Central Valley, where communities have cautionary tales about what this rollback could cost.


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