We’re getting the wrong headlines
Kyle Zieba, who works for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, says Scott Pruitt and all the reported drama surrounding the Trump administration is just a huge distraction from the real issues that matter to her and her agency.
“I think this may be the first time people even know the name of our administrator.” Her agency hasn’t had this level of scrutiny before. And quite frankly, she says, it rarely affects her day-to-day, except it adds noise to the general environment, and possibly some anxiety. (Consider that next time you’re retweeting an above-the-fold story about the head of the EPA.)
Asked about Pruitt, she says, “All the drama, and controversy, and the news stories that are swirling around Administrator Pruitt are really a distraction from the good work.”
“It’s in the headlines on a daily basis.” But what isn’t being reported everyday are the pressing issues that face the state from whom she is a liaison, Maryland. She serves as the Maryland Liaison / International Programs Coordinator for EPA’s Region 3 office in Philadelphia. As it turns out, she doesn’t work directly for Pruitt.
In fact, since Trump and Pruitt, “nothing has really changed yet.” Obama’s proposed rules haven’t been enacted and Trump’s proposals haven’t passed. So it’s still status quo for the major programs EPA has been implemented since its founding in 1970. “It’s like an ocean liner, it’s hard to turn in any direction or reverse quickly.”
Kyle’s main job is protecting your health
“Our regional office is responsible for overseeing implementation of federal environmental laws in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.” As the Maryland Liaison, her role is to help resolve any issues with Maryland elected officials and appointees. She provides information to Maryland from the Federal level about national policy as well. Communication is a main part of her job.
Her primary focus is protecting the human health and environment of the American people, and our international partners and allies.
Maryland is a leader on climate change
Her main work revolves around Maryland, a leader in climate change activism. “In Maryland, they are very interested in mitigating the impacts of climate change,” she says. “They are progressive, even with a Republican governor.”
Maryland has a government that allows them to move forward with broad initiatives even when the federal government isn’t, or local municipalities are not being cooperative.
“One of the great things about how our government is organized in the Federalist system is that the states can go beyond the Federal limits,” she says. “Maryland is a national and global leader, putting itself at the head of the line, to manage greenhouse emissions and mitigate the impact of climate change.”
One of the things that allows Maryland to be a leader is that their constitution empowers county level government to set laws, regulations, and ordinances. Pennsylvania, for example, as a commonwealth, provides the power at the lowest level of government, cities, townships. Between these two states, there is a fundamental difference in the constitutions that allows Maryland to set more stringent requirements. In Pennsylvania, municipalities hold the power regarding local land use decisions, so it’s harder to regulate natural resource conservation, says Kyle.
And climate change is a live issue for a state like Maryland. “There’s a lot of water around Maryland and sea level rise and flooding are already impacting them,” she says.
“Regardless of what [Pennsylvania and the Federal Government] choose to do, Maryland will continue to be a leader” and “they are trying to influence other states.”
In fact, “Maryland has contemplated suing other states when they fail to address environmental problems.” As it turns out, our state boundaries are arbitrary and what one state does affects the other,” Kyle plainly put it. “Our state boundaries don’t follow watersheds or airsheds.” Furthermore, “seventy percent of Maryland’s pollution comes from upwind states,” like Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. So, according to Kyle, Maryland is looking to find ways to influence, motivate and pressure those states through a variety of means, and pressuring the federal government; Maryland has sued the EPA in order to force these states to decrease air pollution.
Pennsylvania is a whole other story
Kyle’s other role is understanding political ramifications; in Maryland the governor is a Republican, but the state legislature is a veto-proof Democratic majority. In Pennsylvania, it’s the opposite; a Democratic governor with a veto-proof Republican legislature.
Kyle was able to speak into Pennsylvania’s environmental politics too, as Pennsylvania is part of her office’s region. A lot of parts of Pennsylvania have been impacted from resource extraction from coal mining. Companies were allowed to come in, in the days before regulation, and basically do whatever it took to mine both anthracite and bituminous coal.
Pennsylvania is blessed with an abundance of natural resources, and in its past, “the coal companies went in, tore up the land, and did whatever they wanted” and “they left people with no jobs, poisoned land and water… and there was no consequence to that.” The legacy of Pennsylvania’s natural resource exploitation doesn’t portend well for how it deals with current issues, including natural gas and hydraulic fracturing.
What we can we do?
Wherever you live, Kyle says, find out who your local representative is. “If you like it, support them. If you don’t, try to change them.” Consider, where does your drinking water come from? Where does your trash go? “Think about in your household,” she says, “the amount of resources you use, the amount of waste you create, and the impact that your household has on the environment.” Are you recycling? Are you upcycling? Consider your consumption level. She brought it to a spiritual level too, and asked, are we subject to our culture’s consumerist culture? “Spend some time contemplating, praying about, and discerning, the amount we consume; and our footprint on the world.”
What else can we do? Support Circle Thrift; Kyle said that an amazing thing our community recognized years ago was a good business like Circle Thrift could get us out of our consumption culture and into sharing our resources with each and our communities.
On household cleaning products, she notes, “Think about your cleaning products; what kind of chemicals are you using to clean your home? 409? Lysol bleach? All of those things go down into the sewer system and have to be treated at a wastewater treatment plant and current technology only treats it to a certain level before it’s discharged back into our rivers.” Instead of those? Kyle says to try baking soda and vinegar; “like our grandma’s used to use.” Look for natural cleaners or ones that are derived from natural sources. Look for biodegradable products, if you are going to consume at all. Finally, get involved in your local neighborhood association and find out about opportunities to clean up the environment in your own backyard, like at last week’s Spring Clean Up.