Trump's Fall Anti-Safeguards Agenda: No Country for Young Children

James Goodwin

Oct. 17, 2018

The Trump administration's Fall 2018 regulatory agenda dropped late last night, and as with previous iterations of this preview of what's to come on the regulatory front, it is chock full of numbers – at least the kinds of numbers partisan ideologues and regulated industries care about. But what these numbers don't reveal are the kinds of things a decent society cares about. Basic things like how well we are protecting the health and welfare of children, for example.

Already, we have heard President Trump and various White House officials congratulate themselves for their large number of deregulatory actions, the relatively small number of "regulatory" actions, and net cost savings to industry. These numbers are worse than misleading; they're a diversion. They're a bogus benchmark that tells us nothing about the quality of the regulations themselves or how well the Trump administration is doing in terms of fulfilling its constitutional obligation to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed."

To the extent they reveal anything at all, these numbers tell us how much damage the Trump administration's assault on our safeguards is doing by shifting the costs of pollution, health problems, abusive corporate practices, and so much more from the perpetrators and onto everyday Americans.

Children, in particular, will be hit hard, as the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) agenda entries confirm. Some of the items on the EPA's agenda will directly and affirmatively harm kids, such as the agency's plans to weaken age limits for applicators of highly toxic pesticides. Others would accomplish this end through ghoulish neglect, such as the EPA's shameful and shameless refusal to undertake a prompt and robust response to address harmful lead exposure from environmental sources such as residential lead dust, aviation emissions, or drinking water.

Still others would result in significant harm to children in more indirect and abstract ways. For example, even though the EPA has wisely tapped the brakes on its "censored science" rule, it is still plowing ahead with plans to overhaul how it conducts cost-benefit analysis for pending rules. This rulemaking is plainly aimed at making it easier for the agency to justify the economic basis for its regulatory rollbacks or for instituting inadequately protective standards. Indeed, rigged cost-benefit analysis has a long history of underselling the benefits of protecting children's health.

The problem is that the various impacts on children's health are hard to capture in numbers. These rollbacks will do incalculable damage to children's developing brains, for example, but is it possible, much less meaningful, to measure how many IQ points will be lost from the failure to address lead in the environment and what the economic cost of that loss will be? We might be able to get an estimate of extra asthma attacks that will come from the Trump administration's dirty air policies, and calculate the cost of resulting emergency room visits, but what does this tell us about the suffering those children and their families will endure? How do we calculate the cost of that? And perhaps most egregious of all, how many children will be robbed of their future – that is, their chance at starting a family, contributing to their communities, participating in the economy – as a result of this anti-safeguards agenda?

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler has recently put out a series of statements and memos asserting the administration's concern with protecting children's health, but the actions listed in the fall agenda speak far louder than those hollow words. The bottom line couldn't be clearer: For this administration, children simply do not count.

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