Scott Pruitt to East Chicago Residents: Chicago EPA Office Not Closing

The agency announced Wednesday it was reconsidering an Obama administration rule curbing methane emissions from new oil and gas wells - a measure created to reduce the USA impact on climate change.

Scott Pruitt's visit to East Chicago, Indiana, came a day after the agency denied a report that it was considering closing its Chicago office, which oversees regional environmental protection efforts, including the Flint, Michigan drinking water clean-up and Great Lakes restoration.

Pruitt left without answering questions about that.

"Administrator Pruitt is focused on getting EPA back to the basics of protecting human health and the environment, and the Superfund program is a critical component of this", his office said in a statement.

As for any plans to close the Chicago office, Robert Kaplan, the EPA's acting Region 5 administrator, called the reports "not true" and "pure speculation" in an email to employees.

U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt addresses a crowd during his visit to East Chicago, Indiana, with state and local officials including Gov. Eric Holcomb and U.S. Sen. Pruitt visited "to discuss cleanup and hear directly from East Chicago residents affected by contamination in their community", the agency said in a press release.

Last month's revelation that the White House wants to slash the EPA budget by nearly a third sent a shock through the industry, and now details are leaking out about how those cuts might be accomplished. Pruitt has said he does not believe that greenhouse gas emissions are the main driver of climate change. O'Grady said buyouts and early retirements won't achieve that goal, because the math makes it unrealistic.

Residents and environmentalists are calling for more support and testing.

In February, Holcomb declared East Chicago a disaster area due to unsafe environmental issues emerging from the USS Lead Superfund site.

It was Copeland who ordered the evacuation of the West Calumet residents last summer. But he also wishes leaders like Holcomb and Pruitt will spend more time speaking with residents directly. Officials say two dozen families remain at the 45-year-old complex, which was built on a site once occupied by a lead-products factory.

EPA began a cleanup a year ago of lead- and arsenic-contaminated soil in the Superfund site, which includes the entire Calumet neighborhood.

"We've got to keep pushing", she said. "And we air we breathe is contaminated", said Thomas Frank, a resident of the community of roughly 30,000 who lives near the Superfund site.

The pair joined other state and federal officials, including Senators Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Todd Young (R-Ind)., meeting with East Chicago officials and community leaders.

  • Zachary Reyes