Tag Archives: environment

Environmentalism is About More than Climate Change

If  Saturday’s March for Science did just one thing, I hope it underlined the message that protecting the environment is about much more than climate change, critical as that issue is.

Do the climate change deniers at least believe that children in Flint, Michigan,  and East Chicago, Indiana should have lead-free water to drink? What about the rest of us? Should Americans continue to have routine access to safe, potable water? Breathable air? Toxin-free fruits and vegetables?

How do Republicans justify Trump’s reversal of an Obama-era regulation to protect U.S. waterways from coal mining operations? (I don’t know about you, but to me, “Let them drink coal ash” sounds even worse than “let them eat cake.”) What about the elimination of information on methane emissions, removal of the word “science” from the EPA’s Office of Science and Technology mission statement, and the promised roll back of auto pollution standards?

Huffington Post has published a list of Trump’s anti-environment measures in just the first 90 days of his administration.

I’d be interested in hearing Todd (don’t confuse me with the facts) Rokita’s justification for the administration’s refusal to ban an insecticide that, as extensive research has demonstrated, harms the developing brains of fetuses and children who eat food from plants treated with the compound.

Much of the EPA’s own research outlines chlorpyrifos’s adverse health effects. In 2016 the EPA reported“sufficient evidence” that low levels affect brain development and concluded that some American 1- to 2-year-old children are receiving up to 140 times what are considered safe levels in their food. The EPA has also reported elevated levels in water supplies and established that the compound adversely affects 1,778 out of 1,835 studied species of wild animals.

I’ve noticed that all those pious “pro life” Republicans lose their zealous commitment to the well-being of the fetus when the threat to the unborn must be balanced against the health of corporate bottom lines, rather than the health of the mother.

Trump has issued Executive Orders that would undo both the Clean Power Act and the Clean Water Act.  According to those much-maligned scientists, reducing the scope of the Clean Water Act as called for in the Executive Order risks seriously degrading waters used for swimming, fishing or drinking.

Speaking of Republicans, incomprehensible as it may seem today, it was a Republican President–Richard Nixon– who established the EPA that is under such relentless attack from today’s GOP.  As Nixon stated in his 1970 State of the Union address to Congress,

“Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond factions. … Clean air, clean water, open spaces – these should once again be the birthright of every American.”

Well, times (and the GOP) have certainly changed. As U.S. News recently reported,

Currently, there is a systematic attempt to undermine this legacy. President Donald Trump proposes to slash the EPA’s budget by 31 percent and reduce its workforce by 3,200 employees – the harshest cuts in the agency’s history. But the environmental problems for which the agency is responsible have not shrunk or even stayed constant; instead they’ve grown significantly since the 1970s. The U.S. population has grown by over 100 million, economic activity has quadrupled, electricity use has tripled and the inventory of toxic substances has grown to over 85,000 compounds.

Every elected official who supports this assault on the EPA is supporting the presence of particulates, smog and greenhouse gases in the air we breathe, lead and coal ash in the water we drink, and toxic pesticides in the food we eat.

We need to challenge them to deny that.

A Good Question–And Some Dispiriting Answers

A recent article in the New Yorker raised a troubling question: How is it that an Administration as disorganized as Donald Trump’s has been so methodical when it comes to attacking the environment?

Next week, millions of Americans will celebrate Earth Day, even though, three months into Donald Trump’s Presidency, there sure isn’t much to celebrate. A White House characterized by flaming incompetence has nevertheless managed to do one thing effectively: it has trashed years’ worth of work to protect the planet. As David Horsey put it recently, in the Los Angeles Times, “Donald Trump’s foreign policy and legislative agenda may be a confused mess,” but “his administration’s attack on the environment is operating with the focus and zeal of the Spanish Inquisition.”

The list of steps that the Trump Administration has already taken to make America polluted again is so long that fully cataloguing them in this space would be impossible.

The author did follow that disclaimer with a long list of actions that were increasingly depressing as I read them. And she pointed out that the Administration’s horrendous budget proposal would  slash the E.P.A.’s budget by thirty-one per cent–more than it proposes reducing the State Department’s budget (twenty-nine per cent) or the Labor Department’s (twenty-one per cent).

The proposed cuts would entail firing a quarter of the agency’s workforce and eliminating many programs entirely, including the radiation-protection program, which does what its name suggests, and the Energy Star program, which establishes voluntary efficiency standards for electronics and appliances.

These initiatives are, of course, insane. But so much of Trump and his Keystone Kop Administration is insane. What is particularly worrisome is that in this one area, the Administration appears to be moving effectively to accomplish its goals. (I’ve been counting on the disarray and incompetence of the Trump White House to blunt the effect of his actions.)

How is it that a group as disorganized as the Trump Administration has been so methodical when it comes to the (anti) environment? The simplest answer is that money focusses the mind. Lots of corporations stand to profit from Trump’s regulatory rollback, even as American consumers suffer. …

But, while money is clearly key, it doesn’t seem entirely sufficient as an explanation. There’s arguably more money, in the long run, to be made from imposing the regulations—from investing in solar and wind power, for example, and updating the country’s electrical grid. Writing recently in the Washington Post, Amanda Erickson proposed an alternative, or at least complementary, explanation. Combatting a global environmental problem like climate change would seem to require global coöperation. If you don’t believe in global coöperation because “America comes first,” then you’re faced with a dilemma. You can either come up with an alternative approach—tough to do—or simply pretend that the problem doesn’t exist.

We evidently live in a world where significant numbers of people would rather make the planet unlivable for their children and grandchildren than face unpleasant realities or co-operate with Others.

I find this incomprehensible. And deeply worrisome.

Time to Fight Back With Everything We Have…

Much of the damage being done by the Trump Administration can be contained (thanks to the Administration’s rather awe-inspiring incompetence), or eventually repaired (when the GOP’s radical fever breaks). People will have been unnecessarily hurt in the meantime, true, but most of the harms can (and probably will) be addressed when (we can hope) cooler heads prevail.

There are only two exceptions to that comforting thought: war and environmental degradation.

If Trump becomes desperate to divert attention from his governing failures and falling poll numbers, the chances of his starting a war are not negligible. And his assault on the already inadequate measures meant to protect the planet from further environmental degradation–if at all effective–will delay efforts to mitigate climate change and result in a loss of time that we don’t have.

We have to hope that the Generals Trump so disdains can prevent him from starting a war; but Trump has already begun his environmental assault with a vengeance. As Politico reports,

In just 40 days, Trump has made it easier for coal miners to dump their waste into West Virginia streams, ordered the repeal of Clean Water Act protections for vast stretches of wetlands, proposed massive job cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency and prepared to begin revoking the Obama administration’s most ambitious climate change regulations.

Trump is also expected to overturn Barack Obama’s moratorium on new federal coal leases, and is considering automakers’ pleas for relief from a scheduled tightening of vehicle fuel-efficiency standards. Obama’s pledge to send billions of dollars to United Nations climate programs is also likely on the chopping block. And Trump hasn’t ruled out withdrawing the United States from the 200-nation Paris climate agreement, a step that could undercut the international effort to confront global warming.

The Politico article details a number of other actions Trump plans to take–including actions to roll back regulations that protect the nation’s air and water quality. He has already signed off on congressional repeals of some Obama-era regulations, including  Interior Department regulations that protect rivers and streams from coal mining pollution.

And this week, he ordered EPA to begin rewriting the Obama administration’s sweeping “Waters of the U.S.” rule, a move that green groups say could leave 60 percent of U.S. stream miles and 20 million acres of wetlands unprotected from development or pollution.

What makes this assault so senseless is that even people who stubbornly refuse to believe that climate change is real should want clean water and breathable air.

The only saving grace of this wholesale assault on science and common sense is that most of these orders won’t take instant effect. As the Politico article notes, it could take years for the EPA to undo the regulations, and the administration will face fierce legal challenges from environmental groups.

In the meantime…

It’s time for every lawyer who can spell “environment” to challenge the Administration’s actions. Executive Orders cannot unilaterally overrule laws that have been duly enacted. I don’t know enough about the processes of regulatory adoption to know whether such orders can revoke them without invoking substantive procedures, but it seems unlikely that rules adopted after lengthy hearings and expert testimony can be undone with the stroke of a denialist’s pen.

Of course, the President and the head of the EPA can simply decline to enforce existing laws and regulations, but that would seem to put businesses subject to the regulations in a very uncomfortable spot; they have a legal obligation to comply with existing rules, and there are probably non-EPA organizations and individuals who would have standing to sue enterprises that made a calculated decision to violate existing law.

In addition to “lawyering up,” every one of us who cares about the environment–or just wants clean air and water and a government that respects science and the rule of law–should contribute as generously as possible to environmental organizations (preferably those having a legal team).

And last but most certainly not least, every one of us has to begin now to organize for the 2018 elections. Find people to run against Trump-supporting incumbents–either rational Republicans to primary them from the left, Democrats to oppose them in the general election, or both. Register any unregistered person we can find, and make sure that person has identification sufficient to satisfy the relevant Voter ID laws. Get anyone who didn’t vote last November to the polls.

We need to change this feckless Congress as soon as humanly possible, because some kinds of damage can’t be fixed.

 

Your Congress at Work

The Congressional GOP is running the show in Washington, and clearly feeling its oats.  They aren’t even embarrassed about moving quickly to pollute the environment and remove rules intended to protect Americans from a variety of threats, physical and financial.

As Vox reports,

With everything that Republicans want to do — repeal Obamacare, overhaul the tax code — it might seem odd that one of Congress’ very first acts would be to kill an obscure Obama-era regulation that restricts coal companies from dumping mining waste into streams and waterways.

But that is indeed what’s going on. On Thursday, the Senate voted 54-45 to repeal the so-called “stream protection rule” — using a regulation-killing tool known as the Congressional Review Act. The House took a similar vote yesterday, and if President Trump agrees, the stream protection rule will be dead. Coal companies will now have a freer hand in dumping mining debris in streams.

NPR has more not-good news:

On Thursday the GOP-controlled House voted to overturn an Obama administration rule designed to keep firearms out of the hands of some people deemed mentally ill.

The action was the latest move by congressional Republicans to undo several of President Obama’s regulations on issues such as gun control and the environment through an arcane law called the Congressional Review Act..The National Rifle Association had pushed for the repeal, and Republicans argued it infringed upon Second Amendment rights by denying due process.

Evidently, the GOP’s allegiance to the NRA trumps (pardon the phrase) its pious concern for “right to life” –at least when that right is asserted by those of us who are already born..

Meanwhile, Investment News explains Trump’s assault on fiduciary responsibility and Dodd-Frank.

President Donald J. Trump today will halt a Labor Department regulation that requires advisers on retirement accounts to work in the best interests of their clients. Mr. Trump’s order will give the new administration time to review the change, known as the fiduciary rule.

He will also order a sweeping review of the Dodd-Frank Act rules enacted in response to the 2008 financial crisis, a White House official said, signing an executive action designed to significantly scale back the regulatory system put in place in 2010.

Taken together, the actions are designed to lay down the Trump administration’s approach to financial markets, with an emphasis on removing regulatory burdens and opening up investor options, said the White House official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

The orders are the most aggressive steps yet by Mr. Trump to loosen regulations in the financial services industry and come after he has sought to stock his administration with veterans of the industry in key positions.

I’m sure that all those Trump voters who claim that they weren’t voting for his bigotry, his misogyny or his xenophobia, but because they believed his promise to “drain the swamp,” will be so pleased….

At least we can all see clearly now just who the Trump/GOP’s real constituents are.

Sarkozy’s Good Idea

One of the most worrisome outcomes of the 2016 election is the likely “U turn” on efforts to protect the environment. As Vox recently reported,

Unified Republican control of the federal government over the next two years augurs a sea change in US environmental policy like nothing since the late 1960s and ’70s, when America’s landmark environmental laws were first passed.

If Donald Trump and the GOP actually follow through on what they’ve promised, this time around will be a lurch in the opposite direction. Federal climate policy will all but disappear; participation in international environmental or climate treaties will end; pollution regulations will be reversed, frozen in place, or not enforced; clean energy research, development, and deployment assistance will decline; protections for sensitive areas and ecosystems will be lifted; federal leasing of fossil fuels will expand and accelerate; new Supreme Court appointees will crack down on EPA discretion.

Given the rate at which the planet is warming, Trump’s promise to pull America out of the Paris Accords is a prescription for disaster. Local efforts to reduce America’s carbon footprint will be important, but those efforts won’t be universal and they won’t be sufficient.

So I was really heartened by Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposed response.

Sarkozy told the French television channel TF1 that he would “demand that Europe put in place a carbon tax of 1 to 3 percent for all products coming from the United States” if the U.S. refuses to apply the environmental rules that France and other nations are imposing on their companies under the accords.

This seems eminently reasonable to me. Why should companies that are complying with measures intended to reduce a global threat be disadvantaged in the marketplace? The environmental rules benefit the entire planet; companies operating everywhere on the planet ought to share the costs of compliance.

Among the enormous number of things Donald Trump obviously hasn’t learned and doesn’t understand is that actions have consequences.

Foreign countries will retaliate when the U.S. acts in ways that threaten their interests. Senators and Congressmen will balk when a President–even one of their own party–expects them to support measures that they know will be deeply unpopular with their constituents. The Constitution limits a President’s ability to restrain the media or single out citizens for disparate treatment. Etc.

Governing is complex, and Chief Executives in democratic regimes–unlike CEOs–can’t simply issue orders and fire those who refuse to obey them.