By Brenda Flanagan
“The people of this country demand clean air, clean water, cleaning up toxic sites,” said Sierra Club‘s Jeff Tittel.
Activists in Newark rallied just a few miles away from one of the nation’s worst toxic Superfund sites: Diamond Alkali which manufactured Agent Orange there, lacing the Passaic River sediment with deadly dioxin. One hundred other companies contributed chemicals to the deadly brew. The Environmental Protection Agency ordered a $1.38 billion cleanup, but will Donald Trump’s new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, follow through? Residents along the river sure hope so.
“There’s way too many chemicals in it. I think it should be cleaned up so then we can have a better Newark,” said Romario Siqueira.
“Everyone have a different opinion. I think in my opinion it’s better to be clean,” said Emilia Amori.
“Well, I think one of the most immediate places of where New Jersey will be vulnerable is our Superfund sites,” said Doug O’Malley, director at Environment New Jersey.
Advocates say Jersey’s got more than 100 Superfund sites including the Passaic, chromium groundwater contamination in Garfield and toxic paint sludge dumped by Ford Motor Company in Ringwood. But Trump froze EPA contracts in January and environmentalists see Pruitt as a wrecking ball aimed at the EPA’s heart.
“Scott Pruitt’s clearly made a career of being a regulatory arsonist by torching environmental protections. We already know that the cleanup program in New Jersey is painstakingly slow because we’re reliant solely on the federal budget, as opposed to polluter fees. And now it looks like that’s going to get even slower,” said O’Malley.
The vote to confirm Pruitt ran mostly along party lines and Republicans praised his embrace of fossil fuels and practical, business-friendly approach.
“We had a very good conversation about our shared vision for the EPA, to bring common sense and accountability back to that agency. And I think that’s going to go a long way in restoring confidence in the agency by the American people,” said Sen. Deb Fischer, a Republican from Nebraska.
“It means that New Jersey’s going to suffer more impacts from climate change, air pollution, water pollution,” said Tittle.
He also says even though New Jersey has enacted strong environmental protections, Pruitt could roll back the federal waters of the U.S. rule and the federal Clean Power Plan that cuts carbon dioxide emissions. Pollution disregards New Jersey’s state boundary.
“The trout in the streams actually have advisories for mercury and it’s coming from those coal plants in Pennsylvania that President Obama’s been phasing out because of the Clean Power Plant and Mercury Toxic rule,” said Tittle.
Pruitt was confirmed before this week’s release of a raft of his emails to fossil fuel industry representatives. Activists will certainly comb through them.
Analilia Mejia executive director of New Jersey Working Families said, “We’re not rolling over. We’re not ceding ground. We’re going to fight every single inch!”
Environmentalists say, Pruitt can wield weapons like budget cuts to starve enforcement programs, he can slow-walk Superfund cleanups. Advocates say, they anticipate a four-year fight ahead.