Federal Judge rules EPA Administrator failed to enforce conflict of interest regulations in Illinois

Per Michael Hawthorne of the Chicago Tribune, District Court Judge Christopher R. Cooper has ruled that Donald Trump’s former EPA director Scott Pruitt(recently resigned) violated the Clean Air act by “by allowing Illinois, Alabama and Mississippi to omit ethical standards from each state’s federally mandated plans to reduce lung-damaging smog and soot pollution.”(Hawthorne) The ruling is intended to force Illinois to adopt those ethical standards. The problem doesn’t start and end with Pruitt though, as the article dives into. Illinois has long had trouble enforcing conflict of interest laws because of largely the incompetence and corruption of the state EPA. Top officials at the state EPA use their position not for its ostensible purpose- to regulate business damages to the environment and just in general to you know protect the environment- but rather they use the position to protect Industries that they either are apart of or will profit from helping. United States environmental protection agencies, both federal and state, have long put the profit interests of businesses over the health of the environment. With a president who couldn’t give less of a fuck about the environment, that type of attitude is only going to become more and more common. I mean, he already pulled the country out of the Paris Climate conference, with much of the world laughing at America’s ignorance. But as mentioned with Pruitt before, the problem doesn’t start or end with Trump. Unfortunately it is a pretty fundamental tenet of Capitalism to put the profit interests of industry over the health of the environment and the health of the people who depend on a healthy environment. The Country’s early history is full of environmental destruction in the name of the god like free market, usually at the expense of First Nation peoples as well.

I bring this history up because this type of stuff is still happening. It is still largely how the country deals with the environment and government agencies designed superficially to stop Industries from doing damage are more likely to work with those businesses in doing damage than stopping them. (And First Nation peoples and communities with large minority populations are still the ones being especially fucked over by it, check out the case of Standing Rock) So, It’s nearly impossible to expect businesses themselves to limit their environmental damage if there is profit lost by doing it. There needs to be accountability somehow, something the government continually fails at. That’s why cases like these are important. According to the article, three major environmental groups brought this lawsuit against the state EPA. Those groups are the Center for Biological Diversity, The Center for Environmental Health, and the Sierra Club. Jack Darin, the director of Illinois’ Sierra Club Chapter stated, “The people making these decisions should be putting our health and environment first.” Obviously he is right and it is great that the Judge agreed and made Illinois adopt ethics standards for its environmental regulators that include conflict of interest rules. The top target of these groups symbolizes the corruption and greed that infests these agencies. Alec Massina led a Industry trade group before he was chosen by Bruce Rauner to head the states EPA in 2015, a position he has of course used to help Industries he is tied with. The Tribune detailed a story in 2016 in which Massina apparently had been “working behind the scenes since at least November 2016 on a plan intended to benefit one of his former clients: Dynegy Inc., a Houston-based energy company that owns eight financially struggling coal plants in central and southern Illinois. Drafted with extensive input from the company’s Chicago-based attorneys, the proposed changes would allow Dynegy’s fleet to emit substantially more lung-damaging pollution than the coal plants did during 2015 or 2016, according to a Tribune analysis of federal pollution data.” That is pretty damning, and when pressed by reporters in 2016 about how Massina was making decisions about water pollution, the state EPA drafted a memo that barred the director from being involved in those types of decisions for two years. But as the article notes, absurdly that restriction is only on water pollution conflict of interest decisions, not air. The guy still easily won confirmation from the Illinois senate. A spokeswoman for the Illinois EPA claimed that Massina had to only comply with two state laws to satisfy federal requirements, to which environmental groups rightly responded that conflict of interest laws are important and there to hold jackasses like Alec Massina accountable. Though I mentioned this is good news, even with this ruling, it is hard to be optimistic about the direction the state(and country) is going in its relationship with the environment. If the EPA operates more like a business partner than a regulation agency, than what is really going to change? They’ll still find ways to skirt around regulations to help out business partners. It’s been happening forever and will continue to happen unless there’s a drastic revaluation of the relationship between Industry, government, and the environment. 

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