Last week, the Trump administration quietly appointed a new acting administrator for the regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency, headquartered in Lenexa.
We hope she’s up to the task. But there are reasons for deep concern.
Stepp’s EPA office will oversee enforcement for an astonishingly wide range of issues — from leaking oil tanks to children’s health to clean air and water. And there are signs she may favor corporate polluters over the health and safety of millions of people in the four-state region.
Her record in Wisconsin has been highly controversial. Democrats and environmentalists in the state have repeatedly accused Stepp of prioritizing the interests of businesses and polluters instead of protecting clean air and water.
“Putting Cathy Stepp in charge of the (Department of Natural Resources) is like putting Lindsay Lohan in charge of a rehab center,” a Democrat said in 2010 when Gov. Scott Walker named her to the post.
A state audit said the department failed to issue violation notices to known wastewater polluters almost 95 percent of the time between 2005 and 2014.
And Stepp appears to be a serious climate change skeptic. Last year, the department’s website scrubbed references to human-caused climate change, a move that outraged environmental groups in Wisconsin.
The consequences were clear, according to Paul A. Smith, a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“Whether the issue was high capacity wells, mining or removing environmental rules … the DNR under Stepp went silent or rolled over to assist business interests,” he wrote last week.
Everyone should be worried by this record. As acting head of the Region 7 EPA, she’ll supervise 450 workers whose jobs are to protect the environment in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska. She does not need Senate approval.
Stepp wasn’t available for an interview, but an agency spokesman said Stepp “has consistently strived to promote clean air, water and land while ensuring regulatory certainty at the state level to promote a strong and growing economy.”
Those are code words for an overly business-friendly approach. Coupled with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s quiet dismantling of the agency, the four-state region may have to fight to protect its environmental health.
Perhaps, as an initial gesture, Stepp could swing by Houston on her way to Lenexa. Then she can tell us if she thinks climate change is real and a problem.