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CNN Special Reports
A Toxic Tale: Trump's Environmental Impact. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired August 23, 2019 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What eyes are up against today, that, tons of garbage like smoke, chemicals. You want more? This is the raw sewage flow from one home.
SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: At the present rate of pollution, it's predicted by the end of the century, all of America's major river systems will be biologically dead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have now seen something of the dimensions of the water pollution problem which confronts the country. Now what do we propose to do about it?
GUPTA: There was a time in this great nation when scenes like this were the norm. Cities choked in thick, dirty air. Rivers and streams polluted. Going for a swim could be toxic. Eating fish, poisonous.
WILLIAM REILLY, EPA ADMINISTRATOR UNDER PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: One hesitates to go too far about the putrid stinking moment of mess that was rivers in much of the United States, but it was true. You had smoker's lungs in many parts of the country just from living outdoors. Not because you were a smoker.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I was growing up, you could see pollution. You could taste it. It was everywhere.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the land started looking like a garbage dump. So that people finally said we've had it.
GUPTA: The late 196os, an era of radical change all across society from anti-war protests, civil rights, the women's movement and the environment was no exception. April 22nd, 1970, the first earth day.
REILLY: Something really had stirred in the country and the country wasn't going to be the same again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clean water, open spaces. These should once again be the birthright of every America. If we act now, they can be.
GUPTA: By the end of 1970, in response to intense public pressure, President Richard Nixon signed an executive order to create the environmental protection agency.
WILLIAM RUCKELSHAUS, EPA ADMINISTRATOR UNDER PRESIDENT NIXON AND REAGAN: I can remember being in the Oval Office, talking to President Nixon about it. He had no choice, and he went after it, and he did a lot.
GUPTA: Over five decades, eight presidencies, the EPA has always worked towards its mandate, to protect human health and the environment until now.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The EPA is a disaster. It's killing us.
Our plan will end the EPA.
Our air and water are the cleanest they've ever been by far.
RUCKERSHAUS: He is several times said we have the cleanest air and cleanest water in the world. That is plain demonstrably not true.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a funny way and ironic way today we're a victim of our own success. People don't see it anymore. It's not quite as obvious that the air is dirty.
GUPTA: It's been almost 50 years since the Environmental Protection Agency was created, but over the last couple years there's been this unprecedented rollbacks in terms of environmental regulations under President Trump's leadership. We wanted to understand what does it really mean for the water, for the air that we breathe, for the health of our families? Join us as we go on this nationwide investigation to find out what's at stake.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The White House touts President Trump's rollback of Obama era EPA regulations as one of his biggest achievements.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How is this slashing affecting the work of the EPA?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Those rollbacks threaten our health. They threaten the health of every single person who is exposed to these toxins.
GUPTA: It went far beyond slashed budgets and cutting staff. It was about weakening the very agency that was designed to protect us. Weaker rules on, you name it. Air and water quality, fuel economy for cars, mercury, methane, combatting the climate crisis. Pesticides, and weaker enforcement as well. Fewer cases against polluters and the lowest amount of fines in nearly two decades.
[22:05:06] According to the latest annual report the EPA has now finalized 33 major deregulatory actions since President Trump has taken office. What's to claimed to have saved the American people $2 billion same time.
GINA MCCARTHY, EPA ADMINISTRATOR UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: Every time I have heard this administration talk about rollbacks, it's always been reducing cost to the polluters, not providing benefits to those that are harmed, and I don't understand it. It's not the mission of EPA. TRUMP: One of the reasons the economy is so strong is that we're not
hampered by the ridiculous regulations that we were getting rid of. We're going to have the best EPA that anybody has ever had.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trying to decide what's motivating the EPA today is difficult, but I would say that it's not so much about science as it is about economics and politics. It's not good for any of us in the long run. We pay the price.
GUPTA: Charleston, South Carolina. The low country. Home to beautiful beaches and gorgeous sunrises. The place where 31-year-old Drew Wynne started his cold brew business. Rip tide coffee.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was an entrepreneur by the simplest definition. He was the American dream.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is the smile that radiated. And that is the endearing smile that we all knew.
GUPTA: When people ask you about Drew, how do you describe him? What adjectives come to mind?
HAL WYNNEE, DREWS FATHER: Gregarious, industrious. I think the whole issue of Methylene Chloride and what it does to people, that nobody understood. Some people understood, the manufacturer understood.
GUPTA: Like most people, no one in the Wynne family had ever heard of Methylene chloride until one tragic day in October 2017?
How did you find out about Drew?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Drew's business partner Jenny was knocking at the door.
H. WYNNE: He was hysterical. And he was just yelling. He's gone. Over and over again. He had apparently passed out on Saturday while stripping paint from the floor. The first responders had to wear hazmat suits when they did the autopsy. And the cause of death was Methylene Chloride inhalation.
GUPTA: This is the death certificate.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is.
GUPTA: It says on here -- it says it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. That is it. Cause of death, Methylene Chloride inhalation.
GUPTA: You know, you don't typically see it that clear cut.
It was an ingredient in the paint stripper Drew had been using. You may have seen it yourself. Up until very recently it could be found on shelves in most local hardware stores. Immediately after Drew's death, his brother dove into researching how exactly this could have happened. What he discovered shocked him. BRIAN WYNNE, DREWS BROTHER: This was identified 30 years ago. Some
folks looked at this and said this stuff is really bad. So it was really one of these things where you're like how can this just be sold to folks and be used the way it is?
RUCKERSHAUS: And Drew's not the first person. We know that there have been dozens of innocent human beings like him that bought a product off a shelf that oh, yeah, if you read the fine print, which you can see in tiny little language, it says be careful. Don't use in closed areas. You've got to ventilate. If you don't read that and then people die, and dozens have died just for doing everyday stuff with a product that is not necessary. Shouldn't be sold to consumers over the counter. And EPA proposed that it be banned for that very reason.
GUPTA: That retail and commercial ban was proposed at the end of the Obama administration. After 2016 legislation gave the EPA authority to review 10 potentially dangerous chemicals, but that action was delayed after President Trump took office. And in October of 2017, Drew Wynne died of Methylene Chloride inhalation.
Do you think the EPA could have prevented Drew's death?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think they could have. I really think they could have. It was so close to being finalized.
H. WYNNE: And I believe that there's a high probability that that product might not have been on the shelf when my son went in and bought it.
[22:10:05] GUPTA: Do you blame the EPA for Drew's death.
B. WYNNE: Absolutely. Absolutely. It's their responsibility.
GUPTA: That conviction would drive the Wynne family to D.C. To go toe to toe with the EPA leadership.
Coming up how the EPA's rollbacks affect our most vulnerable. How they affect you.
GUPTA: They're taking to the streets. Lobbying congress, and speaking at EPA headquarters.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want the people who run this EPA at the very top to stay true to the agency's mission, protecting human health and the environment.
GUPTA: Mothers fighting deregulation at the EPA. Trying to stop looser rules on climate, clean air, and chemicals. It's something we heard over and over again, how can I protect my child from potential dangers in the environment? In the air, the water, the soil, the food?
One thing we know for sure is that chronic diseases have been increasing in American children. Asthma, cancers, childhood obesity has tripled. Neurological disorders have skyrocketed. The question is, why is this happening especially in one of the wealthiest nations in the world? We went to Northern California to try and find some answers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is super cute.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is cute. It's an over constellations.
GUPTA: 39-year-old Manitia is pregnant. Like any mom to be, she wants to do all she can for her baby's health. Avoid high mercury foods, drink filtered water, choose organic, exercise.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the baby's rip cage.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was surrounded by other similar-aged women who are healthy, active, apparently doing all the right things and still having trouble getting pregnant or maintaining their pregnancy. It made me wonder if it was something to do with my environment.
[22:15:09] GUPTA: Scientists wondered the same thing. Why has it become more difficult to get pregnant? To stay pregnant? So they are following mothers like Manitia from pregnancy, the baby's birth, and through the age of four.
You think of the womb --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
GUPTA: As the safest place and the most protected place on the planet. Right? How safe is the womb?
TRACEY WOODRUFF, UCSF PROGRAM ON REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT: It's a really terrible, but the fetus is exposed to chemicals even before it's born. And there was a really important report by the national cancer institutes that said to a disturbing extent, babies are born pre-polluted.
GUPTA: Pre-polluted. It's not at all how we think of newborns. Coming out of the womb already exposed to toxins. It's hard to wrap your brain around the idea, but the truth is there are more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States. Of those, only a few hundred have been tested for safety in human adults. And virtually no studies on children. So on some level, we are all guinea pigs.
Is it accurate to say that the role of the EPA is to gauge the level of risk of these chemicals?
GUPTA: To Americans?
WOODRUFF: They have a lot of authority that has been give ton them by Congress to control hazardous substances or harmful chemicals.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can do a lot as parents. We can put locks on our cabinets so the kids can't get into the toxic substances under our kitchen sinks, putting bike helmets on our kids, but there are some things with regard to the air that we breathe and the water we drink and the soil everywhere around us that aren't really under the control of an individual parent or an individual community. And that is where government has an important role to play.
GUPTA: This is Dr. Ruth Etzel. She wrote the book on pediatric environmental health. Until recently she was the Director of EPA's office of children's health protection.
How would you describe your role at the EPA.
DR. RUTH ETZEL, FMR. DIRECTOR OF EPA'S OFFICE OF CHILDREN'S HEALTH PROTECTION: We considered ourselves to be the conscience of the EPA. Because we would whisper in the ear of those who are trying to push regulations, take a look and make sure that this regulation adequately protects the health of children.
TRUMP: So help me god.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations, Mr. President.
ETZEL: There was a dramatic difference that occurred in January of 2017. For example, my job is to brief and administrate directly. And under the Obama administration, I would do that about once a month. During the two years of the current administration, I was not allowed any opportunity to brief either of the EPA administrators.
GUPTA: Who were you talking to then? Who was listening to you, the conscience of the EPA?
ETZEL: I would say nobody was really listening to the office of children's health protection.
GUPTA: EPA's current administrator maintains the agency's commitment to protecting children's health. So, it's a sobering accusation given that children are especially vulnerable to pollution. They're not just small adults. Children take in pound for pound more air, water, and food than grownups. And their immune systems are still developing so their bodies are just not as good as getting rid of or repairing damage from toxic chemicals?
If you talk to some of the scientists, some of the doctors even that work for the chemical industry, a lot of times they'll say, well, look, these chemicals aren't very bad. We get that they're pervasive and they are out there, but we really don't know that it harms the baby, the fetus, in any way.
ETZEL: We have conclusive evidence that a wide array of persistent chemicals in our environment have a profound impact on the growth and development of children. And we know that that impact is harmful to their long-term health.
GUPTA: That is why Dr. Etzel was pushing for a stricter strategy on led poisoning in children when she was abruptly placed on administrative leave on September 25th, 2018. ETZEL: That day my boss walked into my office and said that I should
turn in my badge and my keys and my computer, and she escorted me out the door.
ETZEL: I asked that very question. I was flabbergasted, and I said, why is this happening? Tell me, have I done something. And she would not tell me.
GUPTA: Her suspension sparked an outcry in the public health community. More than 40 organizations expressed concern and the American academy of pediatrics called for Dr. Etzel's reinstatement.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We immediately reinstate the Dr. Ruth Etzel who led the office of Children's Health Protection and was abruptly put on leave.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She is on investigative leave because of allegations by her employees, and I can't go into more details in a public setting because of personnel issues.
GUPTA: A spokesperson said the kinds of allegations that have been raised regarding Dr. Etzel's conduct are very concerning and prompted the EPA to take action.
[22:20:06] ETZEL: Poppycock.
GUPTA: Had you ever been told any of this before?
ETZEL: No. In fact, all the input that I had had prior to being placed on leave was that my leadership was very effective.
GUPTA: In December of 2018, the Trump administration unveiled its federal-led action plan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Led exposure is a calamity that disproportionately harms children in low income communities?
GUPTA: But critics say the finalized plan took no specific regulatory or enforcement actions. And in March of 2019, the EPA proposed a $50 million program to boost children's health, but at the same time the White House proposed a cut to the EPA's budget totaling $2.8 billion.
If you look in totality at what the last couple years of the EPA's work has done, have there been things that you can point to and say yes, this will help protect children's health?
ETZEL: In terms of actual regulation that will protect children's health during the last two years, I'm not aware of any. They're pretending to protect the environment in a way that people might think that they're doing that job, but actually, right now it appears to be a big charade.
GUPTA: The EPA did not respond to CNN's interview requests for this documentary. Coming up, the Wynne family scores a victory in Washington.
And later, Manitia's baby is born.
[22:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My brother Clayton.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. We're ready. We're ready.
GUPTA: The Wynne family from Charleston, South Carolina is on an audacious mission to take on the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on in and joins us.
GUPTA: An outlawed chemical that killed 31-year-old Drew Wynne in October of 2017. The manufacturer of the brand that Drew used did not respond to CNN's request for comment.
B. WYNNE: Drew died and he shouldn't have. And we're here to try to ensure that no one has to go through what we did.
GUPTA: In January of 2017 months before Drew's death, the EPA was on track to ban Methylene Chloride for retail and commercial use. But that ban was never finalized. Not in 2017 nor in 2018 despite being responsible for at least 64 deaths since 1980.
According to the advocacy organization, safer chemicals, healthy families. Senators, members of congress, environmental groups, the Wynne's shared Drew's story with anyone who would listen.
You were at that hearing. We could see you in some of the shots behind Pruitt.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you or others at EPA aware of Drew's death when agency abandoned the ban of this deadly chemical, yes or no? Where you aware of his death?
SCOTT PRUITT, ADMINISTRATOR, U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PRODUCTION AGENCY: I think it's important to know that we have a proposed ban in place that is being considered.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obviously you're not going to admit whether you know about Drew's death.
B. WYNNE: To see the representative ask that question, what do you have to say to his family, his brothers here today was a powerful, powerful moment.
GUPTA: The point was clear. These aren't facts and figures we're talking act. These are human beings.
B. WYNNE: Exactly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Breaking news coming in. New trouble for scandal plagued EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. GUPTA: Who is Scott Pruitt?
ETZEL: Mr. Pruitt was an Attorney General from Oklahoma who made a pattern of suing the Environmental Protection Agency.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A show of hands, those of you who kind of hope that Administrator Pruitt will just sort of make the EPA go away.
PRUITT: Washington D.C. should not be in the business of picking coal or natural gas or wind or renewables one over the others. It should be about setting rules and a (inaudible) across the border to make things regular for all those that are in the industry. That is what we're committed to do in the EPA.
TRUMP: I just love coal and energy country. They love Scott Pruitt.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Clearly Scott Pruitt was not a fan of regulation or of the Environmental Protection Agency or of the environment. He just was an embarrassment from day one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Pruitt is facing a dizzying number of ethics issues.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: EPA has Scott Pruitt under fire for how he is spending tax payer dollars.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The allegations of a sweet heart deal for a $50 a night condo from lobbyists in D.C.
GUPTA: Accusations of secrecy and close ties to industry plagued him. But then an unexpected invitation. A meeting with Pruitt and the families of two men who died from Methylene Chloride. The Wynne's and Wendy Heartly whose son Kevin was a contractor.
CINDY WYNNE, DREW'S MOTHER: I proceeded to hand him pictures of the Methylene Chloride product on the shelf. Pictures of Drew so he had a real face to this person, and when we left Wendy and I handed him the death certificate, and we said we want you to see what was listed as the cause of death. I remember the expression on his face, because he was standing there then looking at death certificates of two young men.
GUPTA: Two days later, May 10th, 2018, a stunning development. Pruitt releases this statement. EPA intends to finalize the Methylene Chloride rule making.
C. WYNNE: On that day I felt everyone's efforts really is making a difference and has made a difference, so I felt OK, we've got this. I was naive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In case you're just joining us, the EPA administrator has now resigned after numerous scandals.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now we call him the former EPA chief, Scott Pruitt. GUPTA: Citing unrelenting attacks on himself and his family, Pruitt
resigned on July 5th, 2018. Less than two months after meeting with the Wynne family. And President Trump tapped Andrew Wheeler as the new administrator.
B. WYNNE: When Pruitt resigned, that was it. We haven't heard from them since.
GUPTA: You haven't heard from the EPA since then?
B. WYNNE: Not once.
GUPTA: By the end of 2018, still no word on the ban.
CINDY WYNNE, DREW'S MOTHER: I just called EPA's office to leave a message for Mr. Wheeler.
GUPTA: But the Wynne's took matters into their own hands with relentless petitions letters and calls. They took on the retailers themselves, for places where Methylene Chloride was sold, and shamed them into action.
C. WYNNE: There will be no more Methylene Chloride products sold at Lowe's, Home Depot, as well.
GUPTA: Walmart, Amazon --
C. WYNNE: Sherwin Williams.
GUPTA: Sherwin Williams.
C. WYNNE: It's like we did the job of the EPA by removing it from the retailers.
GUPTA: You did.
C. WYNNE: So let's move and just finalize it. I've let them know we're not going away.
GUPTA: Coming up, what a campaign promise might mean for your health.
TRUMP: Coal is coming back, clean coal is coming back, 100 percent.
TRUMP: We're going to put the miners back to work.
GUPTA: A rallying cry made over and over again.
TRUMP: Coal is coming back. Clean coal is coming back, 100 percent. Clean coal, beautiful, clean coal. We have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal.
[22:35:11] GUPTA: No other environmental issue probably fires up President Trump more than coal. Beautiful, clean coal as he calls it, but researchers and scientists that we talked to say that clean coal is a fallacy. That's because the smokestacks that you see behind me, they're emitting harmful chemicals like nitrogen dioxide and mercury, and those can be swept hundreds of miles away. So people all over this area are vulnerable.
Another thing that comes out of those smokestacks is sulfur dioxide. That is often invisible. They are tiny microscopic particles that you breathe in, they get into your lungs, then into your bloodstream, and that can worsen asthma, other respiratory diseases and also heart problems. Faced with the increasing popularly of cheaper, cleaner energy options like natural gas, wind, and solar, the Trump administration pushed back and hard.
TRUMP: OK. I made my promise, and I keep my promise.
GUPTA: Aiming to loosen rules on things like mercury. The cleanup of coal ash waste, and allowing for more production at coal fired power plants all leading to more toxic pollution in the air.
When you look at what the EPA has done to the regulation on coal fire power plants specifically, whose health is at stake?
GEORGE THURSTON, NYU SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Everybody's health is at stake. Research really points to coal particles being far more toxic than others. It also is the source that has the greatest impact on climate change. So it's sort of a double whammy, coal.
GUPTA: When EPA administrator Scott Pruitt resigned in July of 2018, President Trump tapped this man to lead his pro coal agenda.
Who is Andrew Wheeler?
CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN, EPA ADMINISTRATOR UNDER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I see Andrew Wheeler as being way more professional than Scott Pruitt. He knows the agency, and he knows how the regulatory process works.
RUCKERSHAUS: Andrew Wheeler was a lobbyist for the coal industry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is bound to be affected by that. And believe their interests are in the public interest.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You asked me to do three things, continue to clean up the air, continue to clean up the water, and continue to provide regulatory relief to keep the economy growing. The president knows we can do all three at the same time.
GUPTA: Washington D.C., 1991. Andrew Wheeler started off his career at the EPA's office of pollution prevention and toxics. Four years later, he moved to Capitol Hill. Wheeler spent 14 years serving under Senator James Inhofe, a renowned climate change denier who famously once used a snowball to try and disprove global warming. After the senate, Wheeler spent nine years as a lobbyist consultant working with more than 20 clients including NGO's, trade associations and the largest private coal mining company in the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did work for a coal company, and I'm not ashamed of the work I did for the coal company. The number one issue that they asked me to work on was to shore up the pension and health care benefits for the mine workers retirees.
GUPTA: You talk about Andrew Wheeler. Supporters will say look that is an asset. He worked in the industry. He knows things about the coal industry. That makes him more knowledgeable. He can bring some of that knowledge to the EPA.
RUCKERSHAUS: I think there is a role for people who are in the industry to advise and to come and testify, but the decision-maker should be objective, and there's no confidence that he would be objective given his history.
GUPTA: Do you think that Andrew Wheeler and Scott Pruitt before him wanted to hurt the environment?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think they necessarily want to put people's lives at risk. But I think they do make some type of a calculated risk, if you will. It's almost like a cost benefit analysis.
GUPTA: Cost versus benefits. Lives risked versus dollars saved. We heard it over and over again. A calculation at the core of the biggest proposed rollback of this White House.
TRUMP: We are cancelling President Obama's illegal anti-coal so- called clean power plan.
GUPTA: The clean power plan, designed to combat the growing climate crisis.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The EPA is setting the first ever nationwide standards to end the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from power plants.
GUPTA: How enforceable is all of this?
OBAMA: Essentially the EPA is shaping a rule that says to each state, look, we're going to set a bar that you have to meet in terms of removing carbon emissions from the atmosphere. And that will be under federal law.
[22:40:09] GUPTA: No surprise, the coal industry was against it, 27 states and dozens of companies challenged the clean power plant. And in 2016, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked it from taking effect. And then the Trump administration repealed it altogether, claiming the plan overstepped the bounds of the EPA's authority under the clean air act.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We mine and use our coal in the United States in a cleaner fashion than our international competitors.
GUPTA: Trump's EPA replaced that Obama era plan with its affordable clean energy rule, known as ACE.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rather than punishing U.S. production and yielding the marketplace to Chinese coal, which is what the Obama clean power plan did, we are leveling the playing field and encouraging innovation and technology across the sector.
GUPTA: What is ACE, Affordable Clean Air ENERGY?
RUCKERSHAUS: It allows them to continue to operate and extend their life span and actually increase the amount of pollution these plants put out because they'll be used more.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When ACE is fully implemented we expect to see the U.S. power sector reduce co2 emissions by has much as 35 percent below 2005 levels.
GUPTA: By the EPA's own 2018 analysis, additional pollution from the proposed Trump era rule will result in up to 1400 more premature deaths a year by 2030. By that same year the Obama administration's plan would have avoided or prevented approximately 3600 premature deaths.
CHRIS FREY, FORMER CHAIR, EPA'S CLEAN AIR SCIENTIFIC ADVISORY COMMITTEE: They acknowledge that emissions of co2 will go up. That the number of premature deaths from exposure to particulate matter will increase. So in effect, this EPA is proposing a rule that they know will kill people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been accused of rolling back the clean power plan, but you can't roll back something that never went into effect.
GUPTA: A coalition of 22 states filed suit against the Trump administration to block the ACE rule.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're in an upside down world where the EPA has become a threat rather than a protector of public health.
GUPTA: Neither the EPA nor former administrator Pruitt responded to CNN's interview requests.
Coming up, we're on the front lines of these EPA rollbacks.
[22:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
TRUMP: We have the cleanest air in the world in the United States, and it's gotten better since I'm president.
LINDA BIRNBAUM, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ENVIRONMETAL HEALTH SCIENCE DIRECTOR: Air quality in the United States is much better than it used to be, but it's not as good as it might be to protect the health of our citizenship.
GUPTA: In all worldwide air quality rankings, the United States falls behind other developed nations. And the American Lung Association and EPA's own data find that air quality is worse now under this administration. It's a reality felt here in Manchester, a neighborhood in Houston, Texas. A sort of real-life canary in the coal mine. You know, just being here you can right away tell that there's a
difference. Your eyes start to water a little bit. I get a bitter taste in the back of my throat. Remember, this is a place that is surrounded by chemical plants and by oil refineries. So many of these proposed changes by the EPA really have to do with the air that we breathe. Look, you can drink bottled water. You can eat organic food, but when it comes to the air, we're all breathing the same air. So any looser regulations there could mean more deaths for everyone.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Air quality is worsening. This is going to be the thing you want to pay attention to. Tomorrow our air quality is in the unhealthy for sensitive groups range.
GUPTA: The way we know it's a bad air quality day is typically through the local news or cell phone alert. And that is all thanks to the EPA and the Clean Air Act. The agency sets the standard for what is considered good air and bad, but even that basic measure is now under threat.
THURSTON: They've gotten rid of entirely the clean air science advisory committee that is dealing with particulate matter.
GUPTA: In fact, the total number of people reviewing air quality standards for the entire country went from dozens to just seven.
THURSTON: If you don't like the message, kill the messenger. In this case, they don't like the message they are getting from scientists so they disbanded the committee.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That formal subcommittee review process that took and literally months and years --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So are you wiping out all the subcommittee?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. For the ozone and pm and then we'll see how that goes.
GUPTA: The EPA administrator calls it efficiency.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The agency has never met the five-year deadline that is required under the clean air act. So we tried to reform the process.
GUPTA: Those reforms go far beyond the clean air committee. Unprecedented changes, all across the agency. Rebuked by former EPA heads who had served both Democratic and Republican presidents. In an extraordinary moment, they came together to ask Congress for one thing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The attention that you are paying to oversight of EPA, there has never been a time when it was more urgently needed.
DR. RUTH ETZEL, FMR. DIRECTOR OF EPA'S OFFICE OF CHILDREN'S HEALTH PROTECTION: The agency is eviscerating the science advisory board. Most of the scientist now they seem to be putting on what they are putting on scientists, are from industry, not representing any other side.
GUPTA: In fact, many industry lobbyist and consultants have been placed in leadership roles while academic researchers who have received EPA grants are pushed aside.
People who had received grant from the EPA, so in fact, the EPA had said we value your research, we're going to fund the research, they were the same people told you're no longer welcome to sit on a board?
[22:50:00] ETZEL: It makes no sense.
GUPTA: A sentiment shared by most doctors, researchers and many lay people like Drew Wynne's father, Hal.
HAL WYNNE, DREWS FATHER: They staffed the highest levels down to wherever the lowest levels are with cronies from the industry and it's pretty clear that their agenda is not the agenda that puts people before profits.
GUPTA: Former EPA administrator Pruitt, the man the Wynne family met with in May of 2018, well, he took a job as a coal lobbyist in Indiana in April of 2019. He did not respond to interview requests for this documentary.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have some very serious concerns about the EPA's being run by former lobbyists, setting the rules for former clients.
GUPTA: The EPA also left CNN's request for comment unanswered, but the man in charge had this to say about potential conflicts of interest.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've not met with any of my former clients under my recusal statements and I've followed the career advice of the EPA ethics officials.
GUPTA: Coming up. A beautiful baby is born.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The (inaudible) leveled are tended to be higher.
GUPTA: And the Wynne's.
C. WYNNE: We did it and we know how proud you would be.
[22:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Big push.
GUPTA: It's a life changing moment. Almost every parent remembers. The sound that makes it all sink in, a vow to keep your child safe, happy, healthy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Welcome to the world. Happy birthday.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Happy birth day. GUPTA: Manisha, and baby Toya, are part of a landmark multi-year
study, scientists investigating how chemicals may affect the health and development of children.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love you so much.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, look how cute!
GUPTA: The next month, the researchers visit Manisha at home to the deliver the preliminary results.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can see for example that in general, your levels are tended to be higher than Toya's.
GUPTA: Manisha's tests showed elevated level of perfluorinated chemicals, they are known as P-phos. But here's the thing, so did baby Toya's. (Inaudible), they're found in food packaging, nonstick cookware, firefighting foams, stain resistance and water repellant fabrics and even the most protected place on the planet, the womb.
P-phos have been linked to immune system dysfunction, liver damage, thyroid disease, cancer. The CDC estimates that some level can be trace in 98 percent of all Americans. They have been found in drinking supplies around the country, prompting the EPA to take action on water systems.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: EPA is moving forward with the maximum containment level or MCL process outlined in the safe drinking water for P-pho and P-phos.
GUPTA: While two kinds have been phase out by manufacturers, there are thousands of similar synthetic chemicals still in use. And for Manisha, that is simply not good enough.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want something to be done with this information. And the more they study, the more we are made aware about the in effects.
GUPTA: But Manisha and the other women participating in the study may never learn the results, because the EPA cut funds for this research and similar work at 12 other children's environmental health centers around the country. Leaving scientists now scrambling for ways to continue their mission. Thousands of miles away in Charleston, South Carolina, a bit of hope.
CLAYTON WYNNE, DREW'S BROTHER: Drew is gone. He is not coming back. Knowing that we can prevent this from happening to anyone else. That will add some closure.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is how it comes in the store.
GUPTA: They have been fighting tirelessly for a ban on Methylene Chloride which killed 31-year-old Drew Wynne. The EPA recommended a retail and commercial banned in January 2017, but Trump era leadership delayed it. Since then, at least six people have died from the chemical. By early 2019, the Wynne's convinced 13 nationwide retailers to pull products from store shelves, but still no action by the EPA.
CLAYTON WYNNE: A lot is till at risk, as long as Methylene Chloride is available.
GUPTA: But then, March 15, 2019, the EPA invited the Wynne's back to D.C. for the signing of the retail ban.
C. WYNNE: Retailers in the United States will no longer be able to sell any product containing methylene chloride.
GUPTA: A hard fought victory to eliminate risk for consumers, but it's still available for commercial use and remains a danger for workers.
C. WYNNE: I don't believe the EPA would have done anything had we not fought.
This is the particular beach that Drew found the most peaceful. Drew, we did it. And we know how proud you would be that the whole family fought for this, and we did it in your name.