EPA Changes Shake up Employment

University of Minnesota Professor Terminated from EPA Board Position

MINNEAPOLIS- A professor at the University of Minnesota, Lawrence Baker, recently had his consulting position within the EPA terminated.

Baker, a member of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, consulted with the agency in terms of water quality regulations. In this role, he was tasked with evaluating the water quality in rural Minnesota communities. This included the task of testing the algae levels within local aquifers and reviewing the water quality regulations.

Baker was not the only University of Minnesota associated member on the board, however. Retired Professor and Chair of the Science Advisory Board, Deborah Swackhamer, made headlines when she came out in front of Congress against the EPA for the termination of 57 scientist members of the advisory board. As reported by Alpha News, Swackhamer indicated that she had also felt pressure from the EPA’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, to change parts of her testimony to Congress. These comments would lead to various members of the U.S. House of Representatives (all Democrats) to send a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, condemning recent actions taken by the agency.

It has yet to be seen how the changes to the EPA under the Trump administration will affect current water issues in Minnesota. Alpha News reported in June that 3M was footing the bill for water cleanup in Cottage Grove, after it was discovered that chemicals which 3M had dumped at a disposal site may have played a role in contaminating the water above the EPA’s legal limit.

While Minnesota has its own standards for what levels of  perfluorooctanoic acids and perfluorooctanesulfonic acids are considered dangerous (details on these levels here), it has yet to be seen if the EPA under Scott Pruitt will keep the unpopular policy for industries of retroactive liability, which could force the industrial sector to foot the bill for cleanup in these instances. When 3M originally dumped the chemicals they were not over the legal limit at the time. However, the policy of retroactive liability means that a company could be held liable for past actions if they don’t meet current environmental protection standards. If this legal standard is changed, it may let 3M off the hook on cleanup.

While Pruitt stated in an interview with the Washington Post on March 2, that he finds the “Superfund (legislation which allows for retroactive liability)[to be] an area that is absolutely essential,” he has not made specific comments on whether or not he supports retroactive liability.
Neither Professor Baker nor Professor Swackhamer responded to requests for comment.