CHICAGO — Changes to the Environmental Protection Agency under
President Donald Trump’s administration could motivate a new wave of grassroots
support for environmental causes, said Kelly Tzoumis, a professor of public
policy studies at DePaul University. Tzoumis researches U.S. and international environmental
policy with a focus on environmental justice. She has published research on the
history of executive orders in shaping environmental policy and decisions, from
Franklin D. Roosevelt to Barack Obama.
In this Q&A, Tzoumis explains how proposed changes to environmental
policy could affect Chicago, and she discusses parallels to deregulation in the
1980s. Tzoumis can also discuss the Great Lakes, wetlands and wildlife
policies, brownfield redevelopment, implementation of environmental policies
through executive orders, rule-makings, and environmental impact statements.
Q: How could changes to the EPA
and environmental policy affect the U.S. and Chicago?
A: There could be
significant changes to the EPA, from funding to changes in structure. A loss of
funding could cause potentially serious problems for professional jobs. Another
potential effect we’d see would be to environmental justice. Disenfranchised
groups would be most affected. These are the overburdened community groups both
in race and income that have been impacted by pollution and contamination. One
of those communities, Little Village, is right here in Chicago. I teach a community-based
service learning class in Little Village on environmental justice. We have
worked with Mayor Rahm Emanuel to close down the coal fire power plant. With
the cuts, as well as the complete rollback of the Clean Power Plan and the
re-invigoration of using coal as an energy source, there will be a tremendous
effect on cities.
Q: What impact might
deregulation have on environmental groups?
A: Here is what has happened
in the past. In the 1980s, the (President Ronald) Reagan administration wanted
to deregulate environmental requirements on the auto industry and car
manufacturers. We started to see a resurgence in membership to environmental
interest groups, such as the World Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club. We
saw them grow in membership. More people got concerned and joined. We saw an
increase in terms of contributions. And we saw lobbying take off, such as the National
Resource Defense Council. There was so much pressure from environmental
interest groups in the 1980s on the Reagan administration that they had to take
a step back. Many of his planned policy reductions actually slowed down. As a
result there were several major resignations, including the head of EPA at that
Q: What impact do individuals
have on environmental policy?
A: We are energy hogs here
in the United States in terms of our consumption. Consuming less is one of the
things we can do. This can be done by using public transit, walking and
bicycling and not cranking up electricity. Use alternative energy sources
besides fossil fuels. Another thing is becoming aware of our waste, whether
it’s recycling, not buying a lot of hazardous chemicals, or even turning off
your lights. In Illinois, 48 percent of our electricity comes from nuclear
power. We are in the top three or four states in the country that are dependent
on nuclear power. The problem with that is the nuclear waste. We don’t have a
high-level facility to deal with our waste. We need to start thinking about
Q: You will be presenting on
nuclear waste disposal at the International Conference on Social Sciences and
Humanities this fall. What are some of your findings and recommendations?
A: I worked in the field of
nuclear waste remediation and with the EPA’s Superfund program at the Idaho
National Engineering Laboratory and the Argonne National Laboratory. My
doctoral research focused on low-level nuclear waste and I teach a class on nuclear
waste disposal. The research brings that experience together to examine the
three major waste streams in the USA: transuranic, low-level and high-level
nuclear wastes. We evaluate some of the policy factors involved with the three
disposal processes. This is particularly important because President Trump has
reopened the policy issue of resuming Yucca Mountain as an option for high
level nuclear waste disposal. Since Illinois has nuclear energy as one of its
major sources, it becomes one of the larger producers of high level nuclear
waste. Therefore, this is an important policy for the people in Illinois.