EPA head vows to build trust during Indiana stop

The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday visited East Chicago, Ind., where people have been living on toxic land for decades.

Scott Pruitt is touring a housing complex in East Chicago, Indiana where 1,000 people have been ordered to evacuate because of lead and arsenic in the ground. It came just days after a new report that the Trump administration was considering closing the Chicago-based regional office that serves six states around the Great Lakes. The demonstrators called for more lead testing and oversight from the EPA.

East Chicago is receiving $16.5 million in EPA State Revolving Fund (SRF) funding for drinking-water infrastructure upgrades.EPA, the state and the city are working together to coordinate lead service-line replacement with cleanup work to expedite completion of the work and minimize disruptions.EPA provided 54 homes with filters and bottled water while Superfund work was underway at those properties in Zones 2 and 3.

"I'm pleased with him making this his first visit and our collaboration will continue and we'll get this right and we won't leave until we do", said Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Pruitt left without answering questions about that.

O'Grady, standing with Schakowsky and Krishnamoorthi, said such huge cuts would mean fewer EPA employees in the field to test water, air and soil - meaning less data and less ability to enforce existing laws.

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"What we talked about today is setting forth concrete steps, progress that we can measure in the near term to restore that confidence", Pruitt said.

Brooks says Pruitt, Holcomb, and other IN lawmakers were invited to participate IN the NAACP meeting, but declined to attend. They cried foul over his decision to skip meeting with them at the Chicago regional office. O'Grady said buyouts and early retirements won't achieve that goal, because the math makes it unrealistic.

They said they've only gotten "non-denials" in response.

"Employees want to hear from the administration to dispel it or confirm it, rather than be on pins and needles wondering if they're going to lose their job", Mikulka said.

Mikulka said that is not typical of administrators. "We hope Administrator Pruitt will accept our invitation".

Debbie Chizewer, a law fellow at Northwestern University's Environmental Advocacy Clinic, said the East Chicago residents she works with were excited about the high-profile visit, but still anxious that cleanup efforts already underway will not go far enough.

Maritza Lopez, a Superfund resident, held up a multipage list of medications she takes daily to show those gathered at the NAACP news conference the effects of contamination in the neighborhood she has long called home. "So we're not looking for an incremental shift, but rather we're looking for a whole shift in the paradigm in how we address these issues".

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