Tag Archives: environment

Uncomfortable Parallels

I realize that this blog has become something of a “downer,” and I apologize in advance for this particular post.

The other day, I was trying to cheer myself up by thinking of times in U.S. and world history when the prospects seemed bleak but the challenges were ultimately surmounted–the civil war, the 60s, etc. Then I thought about the Dark Ages, so I did a bit of googling. It appears that there is a fair amount of scholarly bickering about how long and how “dark” the Dark Ages actually were, but what made me sit up and take notice was an article on a history site titled “The Five Major Causes of the Dark Ages.”

According to the article, those five causes were 1) the fall of the Roman Empire; 2) the little Ice Age; 3)Famine; 4) the Black Plague; and 5) a lack of good roads.

If you think of the last century or so as an “American Age” during which the U.S. has dominated the world in much the same way that Rome dominated its time,  America’s current retreat from international leadership becomes especially ominous. It was concerning when George W. Bush’s cowboy demeanor and war in Iraq incurred the strong disapproval of many of our allies, but that faded with the international popularity of Obama .

Trump’s ignorance and bellicosity–not to mention the embarrassing buffoonery that has generated barely veiled personal disdain from world leaders–has diminished America’s stature, undermined important alliances and generated pushback from longtime allies. Books and articles comparing the current status of the U.S. to Rome are proliferating.

We are unlikely to see an Ice Age, but we are increasingly likely to see dramatic environmental degradation, thanks to the current administration’s anti-science unwillingness to confront climate change. (Gotta keep those fossil fuel donors happy!) Current predictions include warnings that areas of the globe where millions of people now live will become uninhabitable–or “best case” (!)– that huge portions of the earth that are currently being cultivated will become unsuitable for farming and food production. Famine, anyone?

I don’t know enough about medical science or the likelihood of pandemics to form an opinion, so let’s assume that isn’t a major threat (although millions of migrants and not enough food sounds like a breeding ground for epidemics).

But a lack of good roads?

We’re there. For years, America has allowed its infrastructure to decay–we wouldn’t want to pay taxes to fix those crumbling roads and bridges. We especially wouldn’t want to tax those “makers” whose corporations have profited from an infrastructure that has allowed them to receive raw materials and ship finished goods….

You’d think that intelligent self-interest would cause us to modify behaviors that are so obviously destructive. Take climate change: if we act to protect the environment, and the scientists are all wrong, we’ll just end up with clean air and drinkable water. Bummer. If we don’t act, and the scientists are right, welcome to the Dark Ages. Much bigger bummer.

Or take infrastructure. When those profitable companies that are fat and happy using their tax breaks to buy back their stock suddenly face major expenses or even a complete inability to do business due to failing roads and bridges or the degradation of the electrical grid, who are they going to blame? (We know the answer to that one….)

Wasn’t it Santayana who said “Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

They’re All Nuts

The other day, I spotted a bumper sticker that really says it all: “Any Sane Adult: 2020.”

It isn’t just our demented President. It’s his whole sorry crew.

Initially, I thought Scott Pruitt was just corrupt–bought and paid for by the fossil fuel companies he used to represent. And he certainly is corrupt, but the sleaze is only part of the problem. It appears he is as delusional and grandiose as Trump.

A recent profile of Pruitt in Mother Jones is chilling.

Pruitt’s quieter style masks the extent to which his approach to governing is the practical implementation of the president’s wrecking-ball rhetoric. On the campaign trail, Trump promised to “get rid” of the EPA “in almost every form.” In just his first year in office, Pruitt has already made stunning strides in that direction. He’s dismantling the Obama administration’s landmark Clean Power Plan, which imposed greenhouse gas limits on fossil-fuel-fired power plants. He has slashed enforcement efforts against polluters and tried to repeal rules meant to safeguard drinking-water supplies. He has threatened to roll back fuel economy standards. He’s moved to weaken new rules for smog, coal ash, and mercury pollution, poorly enforced a new toxic-chemical law, and refused to ban the dangerous pesticide chlorpyrifos. He’s taken aim at dozens of lesser-known rules covering everything from safety requirements for replacing asbestos to emergency response plans in hazardous chemical facilities.

Pruitt has chased away longtime EPA staff and dismantled scientific advisory boards. He has put representatives of fossil fuel companies in charge of key environmental decisions.

Pruitt has been almost cartoonishly contemptuous of the EPA’s work, pushing draconian cuts to the agency’s science, climate, regulatory, and enforcement offices. Meanwhile, in just his first year, he has reportedly expanded his around-the-clock security detail at a cost of at least $2 million annually. He spent $25,000 on a secure phone booth inside his office, at least $12,000for flights around the country between March and May (each of which included a leg in Tulsa), $58,000 on chartered and military flights over the summer, and nearly $40,000 on a trip to Morocco to promote natural gas exports. His frequent first-class trips with his security detail have added more than $200,000 to that tally.

Pruitt cites his evangelical Christianity to justify his environmental positions, especially his climate-change denialism.

But his biblical references are not restricted to climate change. Pruitt’s two guiding stars—evangelical faith and political zeal—sometimes seem interchangeable. In October, when he announced a controversial new “conflict of interest” policy barring researchers who receive EPA grants from serving on the agency’s science advisory boards, he quoted the Book of Joshua: “Choose this day whom you’re going to serve.”

The GOP is filled, of course, with politicians who twist biblical references to advance whack-a-doodle positions.

Pruitt evidently sees no conflict between his brand of Christianity and unethical behavior. Recently, there have been revelations about a sweetheart deal for a room in a Washington condominium owned by an energy lobbyist. One reporter noted that taking what look very much like bribes from energy lobbyists “is just par for the course for Pruitt.”

Pruitt wanted the EPA to purchase a “time-share” in a jet airplane for his personal use (and was evidently miffed when he was told it would be prohibitively expensive). He disregarded rules to give large raises to personal cronies he’d brought on staff. Newsweek reports that Pruitt uses high-ranking EPA investigators– who are supposed to be delving into environmental crimes– as his personal security detail.

“This never happened with prior administrators,” a former official of the agency’s Criminal Investigations Division told The Washington Post, which first reported the news. “These guys signed on to work on complex environmental cases, not to be an executive protection detail.” The Post report suggested that the EPA would spend $800,000 for “the security detail’s travel expenses” this fiscal year.

The corruption and grandiosity are appalling, but those pale in comparison to the damage he is doing to the environment. CNN recently obtained a secret memo detailing Pruitt’s new control over enforcement of the Clean Water Act.

In a new directive, Pruitt says he–and he alone– will make final decisions under the Act.

Pruitt has explicitly stripped authority from his staff and regional administrator and turned himself into America’s Water Czar. By secret fiat. If anyone wants to open a coal mine, pesticide plant, or factory farm, they no longer have to show that their actions won’t damage local streams, rivers, lakes and aquifers. They just need a nod from Pruitt.

Evidently, Pruitt doesn’t have grandchildren who will have to drink water, breathe air, or live on a ravaged planet.

I wonder where I can get that bumper-sticker……

 

 

 

 

Sabotaging Clean Energy

Every day, we learn something new and horrible about the GOP tax bill.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, the bill is likely to derail the nation’s encouraging move to clean energy.

Both the measure passed by the House and the more recent Senate version deal what the organization calls “devastating blows” to America’s booming clean energy industry—while (I know this will absolutely shock you) retaining the billions of dollars of oil, gas and coal subsidies in the current code.

According to the “alert” sent out,

The Senate version that passed in a frenzied vote early Saturday morning includes a “poison pill” that essentially ends the tax benefits gained by investors in clean energy—killing what has been a primary driver of the industry’s growth for decades. And the House version takes aim at incentives that have catalyzed wind energy investments, meaning wind developers in the middle of projects and counting on those credits will have the rug pulled out from under them. They will have to pay the costs themselves or abandon their projects.

As Environment Florida reported,

The bill also continues massive incentives for fossil fuel production amounting to tens of billions of dollars over the next decade. Most insidiously, an obscure provision recently added to the Senate Tax bill would stifle development of solar and wind energy by hurting the financial viability of new projects. With no public debate or time for Americans to respond, the Senate is threatening one of the keys to a livable future for our children and grandchildren.

The House tax bill isn’t any better. It also continues subsidies for fossil fuels, eliminates incentives for electric vehicles and slashes wind energy credits by at least one-third.

Lest we attribute these analyses to over-reaction by environmental organization, an in-depth analysis from the New York Times confirms that the tax bill contains an all-out assault on renewable energy.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised by this; the Trump Administration is a collection of climate change deniers. Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke have longtime ties to fossil fuel interests, and neither has bothered to hide his contempt for environmentalists. Or, for that matter, science and scientists.

Mother Jones highlights yet another environmental assault, in “The Environmental Disaster Tucked Into the Tax Bill.” That measure would allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the crowned jewels of our public lands,” Ana Unruh Cohen, the director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council tells Mother Jones. “Drilling there would totally mar this beautiful place.”

Opening up the 1.5 million acres for drilling is estimated to generate $1.1 billion over the course of a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and would provide a big fiscal windfall for the state of Alaska. Environmentalists, however, are appalled: they point out that the site is a critical habitat for hundreds of animal species, including foxes, polar bears, and caribou, and those habitats need protection.

Drilling would also threaten sacred lands for the Native Alaskan Gwich’in tribe.

Just for good measure, environmental groups charge that other provisions in the bill will wipe out polar bears. I don’t know what Republicans have against polar bears.

For a bill that is supposed to be all about tax reform, we keep finding all sorts of unrelated assaults–on the environment, on women’s reproductive rights, on Church-State separation…this bill is a Christmas gift to the rich and the crazy, two constituencies with a considerable amount of overlap, and the rest of us will be paying for it.

So will our grandchildren.

Policy For Dummies

Permit me to channel–okay, parody– Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

How do I ridicule thee? Let me count the ways.
I sneer to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach…

President Trump–in his obsessive effort to eradicate anything and everything that his predecessor did (he was black, you know)– has reversed Obama’s moratorium on new leases for coal mining on federal lands.

Although that moratorium was good for the environment, the impetus for it was actually financial. As Think Progress has reported,

Taxpayers are estimated to be losing $1 billion a year in revenues because coal companies are not paying royalties on the actual market price of coal extracted from federal lands. Royalty payments are split between the federal government and the state where the coal is mined, and coal lease sales in the in the past decade garnered close to $1 per ton in bids.

This is above and beyond the so-called “royalties loophole,” which allows coal companies to sell publicly owned coal to subsidiaries at artificially low prices. An Obama-era rule had closed that loophole, but the Trump administration has already stayed the legally binding rule, and has initiated court proceedings to throw it out entirely. Under the loophole, taxpayers lose millions of dollars annually.

So–let’s just “count the ways” that this latest impulsive eruption was both stupid and venal.

As noted, it will cost taxpayers. And it will cost us without doing anything at all for coal miners.

Even if new leasing goes forward, critics say Trump’s order to lift the moratorium will do more for coal industry executives than it will for coal communities. Coal jobs have been in decline for decades — and not just because coal production is falling. Automation and new mining processes have diminished the number of jobs per ton of coal.

“This order won’t bring the coal industry back, but it will ensure coal companies rip off American taxpayers for years to come,” said Jesse Prentice-Dunn, advocacy director for the Center for Western Priorities.

Trump has already loosened regulations that prohibited coal companies from polluting the nation’s drinking water, alarming public health officials, among others. But his love affair with coal also ignores market economics. Between coal companies’ massive amount of reserves (over 20 years worth) and the rapidly declining use of coal, the market has sent a strong signal about coal’s future.

Receiving such signals–or, let’s face it, comprehending reality–isn’t Trump’s strong suit.

Reporting on the move, Reuters made similar observations.

Since 2012, coal production has plunged more than 25 percent to the lowest levels since 1978 due to falling prices. The industry has been hit with massive layoffs and bankruptcies.

Even if the rollback of the moratorium helped coal miners– an outcome analysts uniformly dispute–the number of Americans employed as coal miners is far fewer than Trump evidently believes. According to the Washington Post, more people work at Arby’s than in coal mines.

Experts in the industry have already pointed out, repeatedly, that the coal jobs are extremely unlikely to come back. The plight of the coal industry is more a function of changing energy markets and increased demand for natural gas than anything else.

Another largely overlooked point about coal jobs is that there just aren’t that many of them relative to other industries. There are various estimates of coal-sector employment, but according to the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns program, which allows for detailed comparisons with many other industries, the coal industry employed 76,572 people in 2014, the latest year for which data is available.

That number includes not just miners but also office workers, sales staff and all of the other individuals who work at coal-mining companies.

Although 76,000 might seem like a large number, consider that similar numbers of people are employed by, say, the bowling (69,088) and skiing (75,036) industries. Other dwindling industries, such as travel agencies (99,888 people), employ considerably more. Used-car dealerships provide 138,000 jobs. Theme parks provide nearly 144,000. Carwash employment tops 150,000.

Maybe we can get Trump to turn his attention to carwashes. Used-car dealerships would be a natural fit…

Or maybe he can enlist a new ghostwriter and publish another book; it could be titled The Art of the Very Bad Deal or Policy for Dummies.

 

 

 

 

The Evil of Indifference

Politics has been called war without the killing; a process in which people with very different notions of the common good, the best way forward–even how winners should be identified and rewarded and losers punished–clash without bloodshed.

Throughout history, we’ve become accustomed to the passions that ideological combatants have brought to our political “wars.”

These days, however, politics isn’t really about that clash of ideas and passions. It’s about power and privilege, increasingly dismissive of ideas and political philosophies.

Even a blind person can see that Donald Trump and the Republicans who control Congress are utterly indifferent to policy except to the extent those policies operate to keep them in office. Trump, especially, is often called out for lacking even rudimentary knowledge of–or interest in–the legislation he supports. He is utterly indifferent to the contents of that legislation; his only goal is “winning,” which he evidently defines as getting good press.

This approach to governing isn’t only dishonest; it’s very bad for morale. There is nothing more disheartening than putting your heart and soul into a cause and finding that your employer is totally indifferent to it.

Citing Donald Trump’s ongoing quest to undermine and repeal the Affordable Care Act, his refusal to meet with HIV/AIDS advocates during the primary, and his general “lack of understanding and concern,” six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, established by President Bill Clinton more than 20 years ago, have resigned. Former council member and Lambda Legal lawyer Scott Schoettes writes in the group’s resignation letter:

“As advocates for people living with HIV, we have dedicated our lives to combating this disease and no longer feel we can do so effectively within the confines of an advisory body to a president who simply does not care.

The Trump Administration has no strategy to address the on-going HIV/AIDS epidemic, seeks zero input from experts to formulate HIV policy, and—most concerning—pushes legislation that will harm people living with HIV and halt or reverse important gains made in the fight against this disease.”

Scientists who have devoted their careers to understanding and fighting climate change didn’t resign from the EPA–they were terminated by administrators indifferent to  the consequences of environmental degradation.

The agency quietly forced out some members of the Board of Scientific Counselors just weeks after leaders told them their tenure would be renewed, said Robert Richardson, an ecological economist at Michigan State University and one of those dismissed.

The board is tasked with reviewing the work of EPA scientists and provides feedback that can be a powerful voice in shaping the agency’s future research. The cuts “just came out of nowhere,” Richardson said.

“The role that science has played in the agency in the past, this step is a significant step in a different direction,” he said today. “Anecdotally, based on what we know about the administrator, I think it will be science that will appear to be friendlier to industry, the fossil fuel industry, the chemical industry, and I think it will be science that marginalizes climate change science.”

And of course, the news has been full of the indifference–and hostility– with which the Administration and Congressional Republicans have responded to the CBO analysis of their “health” bill, including predictions that it’s vicious cuts would be responsible for 208,500 preventable deaths by 2026.

Indifferent to human suffering, indifferent to facts, evidence, science, indifferent to world opinion….but not to criticism from cable news personalities.

How far “leadership” has fallen.