Tag Archives: EPA

About That Fox and That Henhouse…

And the hits keep coming…

Major media outlets are reporting on the Administration’s most recent assault on science and the environment. According to the New York Times, 

The Environmental Protection Agency has dismissed at least five members of a major scientific review board, the latest signal of what critics call a campaign by the Trump administration to shrink the agency’s regulatory reach by reducing the role of academic research.

A spokesman for the E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, said he would consider replacing the academic scientists with representatives from industries whose pollution the agency is supposed to regulate, as part of the wide net it plans to cast. “The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” said the spokesman, J. P. Freire.

The dismissals on Friday came about six weeks after the House passed a bill aimed at changing the composition of another E.P.A. scientific review board to include more representation from the corporate world.

The Washington Post reports that the Interior Department is overhauling the more than 200 advisory panels that inform how their agencies assess the science underpinning departmental policies, “the first step in a broader effort by Republicans to change the way the federal government evaluates the scientific basis for its regulations.”

Gee–maybe Jeff Sessions can emulate Scott Pruitt, and allow offenders to rewrite criminal law and incarceration practices–after all, who knows more about crime and punishment than those most immediately affected?

Trump has previously instructed Pruitt to shave 40 percent of the agency’s science budget and to eliminate or severely roll back the most important Obama-era regulations on climate change and clean water protection. Last week, when I was checking some clean water information, I found that the EPA had removed a significant amount of data on climate change from its websites.

Of course, anyone who cares about the environment–or scientific integrity–expected much of this;  Pruitt is a climate-change denier. Like most of Trump’s cabinet, he appears to have been chosen in order to dismantle the agency he heads. Betsy DeVos is an enemy of public education, Jeff Sessions has already moved to erode enforcement of civil rights laws.. the list goes on.

The administration has also announced plans to fill federal court vacancies with judges likely to do their bidding.

The only people who will benefit from the policies of this Administration are the rich and the large corporations chafing under “inconvenient” regulations–like the rules against dumping toxic materials  into nearby rivers and polluting the drinking water.

Public administration scholars have long been concerned with the problem of “capture”–the process by which regulatory agencies get “cozy” with representatives of the industries they regulate. Some of that is inevitable; especially when you are dealing with complex issues that are salient only to the industry being regulated, it’s understandable that the regulators and those subject to regulation will develop a relationship. That relationship doesn’t necessarily undermine the regulatory process, and it is important to listen to the voices of those being regulated–the voices of those with the most intimate knowledge of the effect of rules being promulgated.

Listening, however, is one thing. Letting the industry write the rules–or rewrite the science justifying the rules–is something else entirely.

In the Trump Administration, the fox apparently lives in the henhouse.

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.

And How About That Budget?

Once upon a time, when self-righteous folks made speeches about their deep levels of concern about this or that issue, skeptical listeners would respond by telling the speaker to “put your money where your mouth is.” That rejoinder reflected a widely-held recognition that talk is cheap—that a person’s real priorities could only be determined by examining the level at which one “walked the walk,” including where a person put his or her money.

There are many differences between government budgets and personal ones, but there is also one undeniable similarity: you can determine governments’ priorities by following the money, by seeing what measures and programs public officials want to fund—or defund.

For example, the GOP’s persistent efforts to defund Planned Parenthood are entirely consistent with its belief that male dominance should take priority over women’s health.

Donald Trump has sent his preferred budget to Congress, which will have the last word on expenditures, and we can be sure that the budget that emerges (assuming one does) will differ significantly from its current form. That said, there is significant Republican support for the President’s priorities in this Congress, and those priorities should appall anyone who actually cares about poor or middle-class Americans–or the future of the planet.

The President is advocating enormous increases for America’s already bloated defense budget, at the expense of widely valued programs like the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Legal Services, the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, and Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, among many others.

The Corporation for National and Community Service promotes volunteerism in distressed communities, and provides college stipends for those who serve those communities. Legal Services—already inadequately funded—provides critically important legal assistance to people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer to fight predatory lenders and slum landlords, get divorced, or access Medicaid and Medicare, food stamps and other benefits to which they are entitled.

Much sarcasm is generated by the periodic efforts to “save Big Bird,” but public broadcasting and the Endowments for the Arts and Humanities bring unbiased news, cultural events and civic conversations to citizens who would not otherwise have the opportunity to explore those perspectives.

It’s hard to look at this budget without seeing a deliberate effort to kick people when they’re already down,an effort to further impoverish the people who are most disadvantaged by depriving them of everything from legal assistance, to heat in the winter, to educational entertainment.

Trump’s proposed budget also cuts funding to the Environmental Protection Agency by nearly a third; and eliminates support for climate change research as “a waste of taxpayer money.”

It is difficult to understand this Administration’s wholesale rejection of science and climate change as anything other than a cynical subsidy to the bottom lines of fossil fuel companies. The environmental dangers of this assault have been widely discussed, but its cynical subtext has not: the effects of environmental degradation will fall first—and hardest–on poor Americans.

Flint, Michigan is hardly the only disadvantaged community with contaminated water.

Nor would polluted water be the only likely result of the savage cuts to EPA programs: there is likely to be a return of the smog and poor air quality that once characterized our urban areas, and fewer efforts to eliminate lead in the soil and house paint in older, more deteriorated neighborhoods.

This budget rewards the privileged with tax credits while waging war on the people least well-equipped to fight. It is an exercise in cruelty, not to mention stupidity—a short-term political map to long-term disaster.

Following the money in this budget leads directly to dystopia.

 

 

 

 

The Inmates Running Indiana’s Asylum

Meanwhile, on the local front….

As I was busy avoiding last Friday’s Inauguration, a reader sent me the digest of an bill introduced in the Indiana legislature, demonstrating that insanity isn’t confined to Washington, D.C.

The official synopsis of House Bill 1127 reads as follows:

Nullification of EPA regulations in Indiana. Nullifies all regulations imposed in Indiana by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Provides that the department of environmental management shall provide environmental protection for the citizens of Indiana. Effective: July 1, 2017.

The fiscal analysis of the measure (which evidently assumes that there is no such thing as the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution) is blunt: According to the Legislative Services Agency’s Office of Fiscal and Management Analysis,

the bill nullifies all regulations imposed in Indiana by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It provides that the Department of Environmental Management shall provide environmental protection for the citizens of Indiana… The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) would be solely responsible for providing environmental protection for the state due to the nullification of U.S. EPA regulations provided in this bill. The impact to IDEM would be the loss of federal funds from the U.S. EPA that are used to run programs and provide funding for the staff assigned to those programs. This would also result in a reduction of the amount of state matching funds (about $11 M in dedicated funds annually) that the state would have to provide to receive the federal funds. If IDEM continues the programs, the costs would be funded only through state appropriations.

This bill could result in the loss of about $22.5 M annually in federal funding from the U.S. EPA. Of this amount, about $2.2 M was disbursed to local units in FY 2016…. Local units receiving funding from U.S. EPA grants through IDEM could experience a decline in funding. For FY 2016, local units received about $2.2 M in grant funding through U.S. EPA funds received by IDEM.

The operative phrase, of course, is “If IDEM continues the programs…” It is fairly obvious that the purpose of this legislation is to allow Indiana to discontinue programs that protect the state’s air and water.

I have no idea whether this retrograde effort will get a hearing, nor do I know anything about Representative Judy, who introduced it. We can hope that legislative leadership recognizes both the unconstitutionality of the measure–after all, states cannot simply “nullify” federal regulations with which they disagree, no matter how much they might want to–and the considerable political capital it would cost them.

Despite the rejection of climate science by Republican ideologues and Trump cabinet nominees, survey research confirms that large majorities of both Republicans and Democrats accept settled science and strongly favor environmental protections.

Bills like this raise the question–perennial in Indiana–WHO ELECTS THESE PEOPLE??