Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt held a summit this week to discuss concerns over per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contaminating American water supplies.
Pruitt called the situation a “national priority” and vowed to take several steps in addressing the problem.
But environmental advocates are unconvinced the EPA will seek out adequate measures in light of Pruitt’s apparent deference to the chemical industry.
“This is a national priority that we need to focus on as a country,” Pruitt said at the event. “There are concerns across the country about these chemicals because of their persistence, their durability, getting into the environment and impacting communities in an adverse way.”
Pruitt made four pledges on behalf of the EPA. He said the agency would evaluate whether to set maximum PFOS levels for drinking water, develop recommendations for cleaning the chemicals out of groundwater, consider whether to designate some of them as “hazardous substances” for environmental cleanup purposes and do research on toxicity levels for some of the compounds.
The chemical industry was pleased with Pruitt’s action plan, with the American Chemistry Council – the group representing the industry – saying the administrator’s words lined up well with industry interests.
“I think we were overall pretty encouraged. It’s fairly consistent with the sort of things that we’re looking for in terms of next steps we want EPA to take in this area,” said Jessica Bowman, the group’s director for fluor-chemistry.
But environmental advocates and some in Congress are concerned meaningful action or regulation will not come to pass:
They point to the Trump administration’s deregulatory bent and an email uncovered last week in which a White House aide said an as-yet-unreleased federal study on the chemicals could be a “public relations nightmare.”
“At this point, it really just seems like a public show, with no action to really to back it up,” said David Andrews, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group.
Not helping matters, the EPA came under fire after at least three journalists were barred from the summit.
Journalists from CNN, the Associated Press, and E&E News were denied access to the event and told there was no room for additional media.
However, CNN Money reported that vacancies were clearly available:
A report published by The Hill, however, said a handful of seats in the press section remained vacant by the time Pruitt began speaking. Another reporter told Politico there were dozens of empty seats in the room, and a photo obtained by CNN also showed space for cameras.
A journalist for the AP was reportedly grabbed by the shoulders and forcibly removed from the building after she attempted to speak with someone about the issue.