Published: Thu, April 20, 2017
Research | By Jo Caldwell

Environmental Activists March at EPA Chief's Indiana Superfund Site Visit

Environmental Activists March at EPA Chief's Indiana Superfund Site Visit

While in town, Pruitt toured the epicenter of its lead crisis, the West Calumet housing complex. "There are no plans to close Region 5 office in Chicago", the official said. That idea has been dismissed by the head of the regional office, according to published reports.

Environmentalists believe limiting methane, a gas about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat, is a low-hanging fruit in efforts to curb climate change. The EPA sent officials to the city to test the water of the homes near the Superfund site and found that not only were there high levels of lead in the tested homes, but that the contamination was likely city-wide problem; lead pipes and water that had been improperly treated for decades were the culprits.

An EPA employees union criticized Pruitt for the proposed cuts, saying they would threaten public health.

EPA officials in Chicago and Washington did not immediately respond to questions about the report.

"The reason I'm here is because it's important that we restore confidence for the people here in this community that we're going to get it right", Pruitt said during a news conference.

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In a blog post, Meleah Geertsman, a senior attorney in the Natural Resources Defense Council's Midwest program, wrote that "Pruitt has a critical opportunity to make good on his confirmation statement - that EPA should have "acted faster" in Flint - by stepping in to ensure that residents throughout East Chicago have reliable access to drinking water that is not contaminated by lead".

While Pruitt's visit was welcomed by officials in this small, industrial and Democratic-dominated city, he drew criticism from the union representing EPA workers. They cried foul over his decision to skip meeting with them at the Chicago regional office. Also, Trump has proposed cutting the EPA's budget by 31 percent, nearly one-third, and eliminating more than 3,200 jobs, about 20 percent of the agency's workforce of 15,000.

"East Chicago is a flawless example of the need for the specialized input and oversight of the EPA where there are concerns about the local and state response", Geertsma told HuffPost. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said even if the rumor of closing the regional office is a trial balloon, she wants to pop it.

"African Americans serve as the canaries in the mine, yet today we are seeing that those mines exist in our communities where toxic poisons are ignored, only because they have yet to reach the rest of America", NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Barbara Bolling-Williams, state president of the IN branch of the NAACP, said she is cautiously optimistic following Pruitt's visit, but added that his visit comes with the threat of "a skinnier EPA budget, fewer regulations - and rumors Chicago's regional EPA office could be shut down looms IN the background".

Mikulka said that is not typical of administrators.

"Back-to-Basics means returning EPA to its core mission", Pruitt said, "protecting the environment by engaging with state, local, and tribal partners to create sensible regulations that enhance economic growth". Pruitt visited "to discuss cleanup and hear directly from East Chicago residents affected by contamination in their community", the agency said in a press release.

But superfund site resident Maritza Lopez welcomed Pruitt's visit.

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