It sometimes seems difficult to choose the worst member of Donald Trump’s cabinet–divided as that motley crew is between ignoramuses and zealots. (And yes, I realize the two categories aren’t mutually exclusive. Betsy DeVos is a case in point.)
But my vote goes to Scott Pruitt, who is genuinely dangerous because he isn’t an ignoramus. That Pruitt is in the pocket of fossil fuel interests is well known; his disregard for public health–for clean air and water–isn’t as widely recognized. And it is hard to understand why anyone, no matter how corrupt, would protect companies that produce poisonous chemicals.
Methylene chloride, N-methylpyrrolidone, and trichloroethylene are toxic. There’s no question about that. The first two are directly related to deaths from inhalation related to their use in paint strippers. The third, commonly used in dry cleaning and in making refrigerants and previously used as an anesthetic, is tied to everything from liver and kidney damage, to a variety of birth defects.
All three chemicals were fast tracked to be banned by the EPA under the Toxic Substances Control Act. “Were” is the operative term.
The EPA has announced the “indefinite postponement” of bans on certain uses of these three toxic chemicals, despite the fact that the Toxic Substances Control Act was the product of a bipartisan consensus.
The “indefinite postponement” of measures to protect public health joins all kinds of other nefarious and worrisome signals, including the hiring of manifestly unqualified people. Before he was forced to withdraw, Trump’s nominee to head the EPA chemical safety board was a lobbyist who supported manufacture of those not-banned chemicals. Pruitt himself summarily dismissed hundreds of real scientists–replacing them with people like a banking friend who’d been banned for life by the banking industry. (According to The Intercept, Pruitt had received loans from the friend’s bank.)
And then there’s Pruitt’s relentless attack on measures meant to combat climate change, reversing what had been U.S. leadership on the issue. There are daily news releases chronicling the efforts and successes of other countries; China, once the world’s biggest polluter is ramping up its pivot to clean energy. And just recently, headlines announced that Germans are periodically being paid to use energy.
Germany has spent $200 billion over the past two decades to promote cleaner sources of electricity. That enormous investment is now having an unexpected impact — consumers are now actually paid to use power on occasion, as was the case over the weekend.
Although Germany clearly leads the pack, other European countries are also producing energy that is occasionally in excess of what they require:
Several countries in Europe have experienced negative power prices, including Belgium, Britain, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
But Germany’s forays into negative pricing are the most frequent. At times, Germany is able to export its surplus electricity to its neighbors, helping to balance the market. Still, its experiences of negative prices are often longer, and deeper, than they are in other countries.
In one recent example, power prices spent 31 hours below zero during the last weekend of October. At one point, they dipped as low as minus €83, or minus $98, per megawatt-hour, a wholesale measure.
In other words, anyone who was able to hook up for a large blast of electricity at that time was paid €83 per unit for the trouble.
Of course, giving citizens relief from high power prices–and even occasionally paying them to use power–would come at a cost to the fossil fuel industry that owns Scott Pruitt.
And having a cabinet member who gave a rat’s ass about good policy, the environment or the health and welfare of his country’s citizens would be unthinkable anywhere in the Trump Administration.