Editorial: Science, not politics, must guide monitoring of water, air quality

A report out by the Better Government Association this week should concern every Illinoisan who cares about the air we breathe and the water we drink.

The report says, among other things, that in Region 5 of the Environmental Protection Agency - Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio - inspections for air, water and land pollution have dropped by more than 60% in the past three years. That drop is twice as big as other regions of the U.S., which average a 30% decrease in the number of inspections.

The report by BGA reporter Brett Chase - which can be found in the upcoming Sunday Daily Herald - adds that there are about 150 fewer scientists, technicians and other employees in the Chicago headquarters of Region 5 than before the Trump Administration took office.

It stands to reason that the fewer people you have whose job it is to protect our air and land and water, the less protection there will be.

The administration has repeatedly talked about freeing up business and industry from overburdensome federal directives. That's not the same thing as allowing businesses - by virtue of the government carefully looking the other way - to be in a position to pollute our land, air and water.

The BGA report concludes that politics, not science, are driving decisions that will affect our health for decades and generations to come.

How is this affecting the suburbs? Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth are demanding an investigation into whether politics played a part in curtailing EPA tests for cancer-causing gases at three suburban Chicago plants - Sterigenics International in Willowbrook (now closed), Medline Industries in Waukegan and Vantage Specialty Chemical in Gurnee.

And last year, areas of Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana were given passing grades on air quality by environmental regulators - against the advice of their own scientific staffers - which enabled the Taiwanese company Foxconn to go forward with its flat-screen electronics plant near Racine without having to buy air filters.

"There is no credible evidence to support this," wrote one scientist in April 2018, referencing a plan to declare southeast Wisconsin air in compliance with the federal Clean Air Act.

Despite political rhetoric to the contrary, it is possible for business to thrive - creating jobs, generating taxes and growing this state's economy - without destroying the health of our communities. In fact, it is not only possible; it is mandatory. It won't happen unlessthe Chicago EPA office is returned to robust staffing levels and then those people are allowed to do their jobs.

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