It has been one of the oldest, most overly-used tropes in the book. As the intended stewards of our nation’s natural resources, the Environmental Protection Agency has fought for decades against the notion that it puts owls over people; that it somehow values a small, previously unheard-of rodent over the potential impact of hundreds or thousands of jobs.
While the EPA’s regulations have put the brakes on initiatives favored by the financial motivations of industry in the past, what is all too often lost in these tropes is that – as dependents on our environment ourselves – the EPA is also tasked with protecting another of Earth’s species: us. EPA regulations that have barred chemical plants from dumping into lakes and rivers and energy companies from the unrestricted pollution of our air have saved countless lives and improved and preserved the quality of life of millions of American citizens.
One can only wonder then what set of circumstances would lead the EPA and the Trump White House to actively hide the fact that some of the water being consumed by members of our nation’s military and their families is contaminated by high levels of extraordinarily toxic chemicals. Yet that is exactly what appears to have happened, and legislators want to know why.
As the Department of Health and Human Services was getting ready to release a report on the impact of a class of chemicals known as PFOA and PFOS, others in the administration feared such a release. The reason was simple. The report indicated that the drinking water supply for military bases across the country was highly contaminated by those chemicals. The effects of such a contamination are frightening. The EPA’s own list of possible side effects of PFOA contamination includes various cancers, liver damage, low birth weight in infants, delayed or accelerated onset of puberty in adolescents, and a reduction in the effectiveness of certain vaccines.
As one Trump White House aid correctly deduced, the “public, media, and Congressional reaction to these numbers is going to be huge,” and the situation presented a “potential public relations nightmare.” This prompted the White House, along with embattled EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s own agency – himself the subject of a number of probes into inappropriate use of government funds as well as accusations of blatant corruption – to intervene.
As a result of that intervention, the study remains a draft and, as such, has not been released to the American public.
It’s difficult to avoid framing this revelation against the big story of the current news cycle. After it was revealed that just “five or fewer” of the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles were headed to the White House to meet the President, Trump – citing unpatriotic behavior in the NFL – uninvited the team from participating in the longstanding tradition.
Such an action creates an interesting disconnect. Wouldn’t someone with such a strong focus on patriotism want to do everything in their power to ensure that their military had access to something as basic and important as clean drinking water?