Questions arise over ex-State Board of Education member Jason Strayhorn's business as he leaves school post, Michigan

Opinion: The high cost of cutting environmental 'red tape'

Justin Onwenu and Lauren Schandevel

Convinced that environmental protection laws are burdensome and too expensive, the Trump administration and his former coal lobbyist-turned EPA chief have gutted nearly 100 Obama-era environmental rules.

It’s clear that Trump’s environmental policy approach hasn’t cut the costs of environmental regulations; it’s merely shifted the costs onto the backs of communities he says he cares about. This approach has cost taxpayers millions of dollars, it’s blocked communities’ access to clean air and a healthy environment, and it will cost workers jobs if it’s left unchecked.

In Michigan, we’ve seen the public health costs of environmental policies that neglect the importance of air quality standards. In 2018, Trump directed his EPA to expedite permitting for projects located in non-attainment areas, or areas that do not meet national clean air act standards, in an effort to cut what he described as “unnecessary impediments.”

In Detroit, residents living in the shadows of the state’s only refinery and dozens of other industries see the true costs of these cuts firsthand. In many parts of the city it’s rare to find a family not impacted by cancer, asthma or other diseases linked to and aggravated by decades of poor air quality.

These families see what happens when government officials fail to hold industries accountable to simple clean air standards.

The Trump administration's cuts to nearly 100 Obama-era environmental rules come at a high cost to taxpayers and front-line communities, write Onwenu and Schandevel.

In addition to the public health costs, blindly cutting environmental protection laws has led to millions in direct costs to taxpayers. The Trump administration’s disinterest in funding toxic site cleanup has hit a 15 year record as the backlog for cleanup projects has tripled that of the Obama era.

Not funding toxic waste site clean up is not a benign policy decision. As a direct result of neglect by federal and state agencies, Michigan drivers recently came face to face with a cancerous cocktail of hexavalent chromium, PFAS and cyanide in the form of green ooze, flowing onto a major highway.

The industrial chrome plating facility responsible for the spill had a decades-long record of non compliant malfeasance with environmental regulations. The EPA finally closed the site in 2016, but due to a lack of funding and a state policy that prioritizes containment over complete clean up, the site remained contaminated. Now, some reports estimate that it will costs taxpayers millions to clean up the mess.

Aside from the cost of these policies on our health and pocketbooks, gutting environmental protections threatens Michigan’s economy as well. For centuries, the Great Lakes have served as a hub for trade, tourism and economic prosperity.

The Trump administration's actions put us back decades when it comes to environmental protections. The false choice between having a strong economy and maintaining environmental protections must be rejected outright.

Justin Onwenu is a Detroit-based community organizer for the Sierra Club’s Environmental Justice Program in Michigan. Lauren Schandevel is a Macomb County based community organizer for We the People — Michigan.