Tag Archives: environment

Every Day In Every Way

it gets worse and worse. It has even been suggested that this is a strategy: the reason so few of the administration’s scandals remain “front page” reports for long is that they are superseded on a daily basis by evidence of even more damaging corruption.

Just the other day, in an effort to distract from the growing numbers of pandemic cases and deaths, the White House staged an event to announce the continuing exploitation of the environment. A bright red crane was set up on the south lawn and was shown “lifting the weights of regulation” while “the burden of regulation” was shown weighing down a blue truck.

When Trump spoke, he said they had cut “25,000 pages of job-destroying regulations,” saved the oil industry and cut auto standards, making cars cheaper and also “better, they’ll be stronger, and they’ll be safer.”

But what pleases him the most is that he’s “brought back” incandescent lightbulbs and improved the shower experience: “We made it so dishwashers now have a lot more water, and in many places, in most places of the country, water is not a problem … it’s called rain.”

Trump’s fossil fuel cronies at the EPA and the Department of National Resources have done incalculable damage to the environment. At the Department of Justice, William Barr is busily upending longstanding policies in favor of the “unitary executive” theory beloved by radical rightwing lawyers and former Vice-President Dick Cheney. 

As if Trump hadn’t done enough damage to America’s international reputation, his Secretary of State– Christian fundamentalist Mike Pompeo– is embarrassing us further.

Human rights advocates denounced as “dangerous” a draft report released Thursday by the U.S. State Department’s controversial Commission on Unalienable Rights that paints property rights and religious liberty as “foremost among the unalienable rights that government is established to secure” while casting doubt on other liberties, including reproductive freedom.

“Make no mistake: this report was not designed with principles of equality, justice, and rights in mind. Instead, it serves as another stepping stone in the White House’s radical, isolationist, anti-rights, anti-scientific, religious agenda,” Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), said in a statement.

As those of you who follow such things know, Pompeo’s version of “religious liberty” is anything but the government neutrality required by the First Amendment’s religion clauses. If he had his way, the law would give all citizens the “liberty” to follow Evangelical Christian “moral” dictates. As Heather Cox Richardson described the document,

The report lays out a version of American history and human rights designed to appeal to the evangelicals who count Pompeo as their own. It begins by stating that the primary tradition “that formed the American spirit” was “Protestant Christianity… infused with the beautiful Biblical teachings that every human being is imbued with dignity and bears responsibilities toward fellow human beings, because each is made in the image of God.”

And don’t get me started on Betsy DeVos’ assault on the very idea of public education…

This broad-based attack on representative democracy and the common good isn’t just being enabled by Trump and his corrupt and incompetent cabinet. 

Greatly assisting in the demolition of constitutional government is the Most Evil Man in America: Mitch McConnell. 

Consumer and workers’ rights advocates are warning that new details of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan to shield businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits show just how far the Republican leader is willing to go to ensure corporations are not held accountable for endangering public health and safety.

“Congress must reject this dangerous proposal,” the National Employment Law Project said in response to a draft (pdf) of McConnell’s plan obtained by Politico and other outlets on Friday….

As the Associated Press reported, the Republican plan “offers a broad shield by requiring heightened pleading standards, stiffening burden-of-proof standards, and capping damages on awards. Employers would also be shielded from investigations by federal agencies.”

Every day, there’s a new report, making it virtually impossible to keep up with these assaults on the rule of law, fair play and what used to be considered basic American principles. 

Assuming–as hopeful people must–a blue tsunami in November, I hope someone is figuring out what we can do to keep Trump and his “best people” from blowing up the world between November 3d and January 21st.

Ethics Are So Last Administration…

It has been difficult–sometimes nearly impossible–to find policy consistency in the Trump administration. Certainly, looking to His Craziness for anything remotely like an ongoing strategy (other than enriching himself and bragging) is a lost cause. But there has been one exception to the chaos rule.

The environment.

From its first day, the Trump administration has waged war on the EPA. Scientists have been summarily dismissed. Enforcement has been dramatically reduced. Years of solid research have been ignored. Rules put in place based upon considerable evidence have been rolled back. Controls on mercury? Gone.  Regulation of toxic substances in consumer goods? Gone. Safeguards against repeats of the disastrous BT spill? Gone.

Publications like National Geographic and Scientific Amerrican have kept running lists of the protections that this administration has gutted. Last December, the New York Times had an article focused on “95 Environmental Rules Being Rolled Back Under Trump.”

Clean air, potable water–clearly not as important as the bottom lines of friends of the administration.

That this administration has no ethical core will come as no surprise to anyone even casually following the news. The cabinet members appointed by Trump seem uniformly chosen for their willingness to destroy the agencies they are supposed to serve. As damaging as this has been in other agencies, it has been most destructive–and most incomprehensible–at the EPA.

Who doesn’t want drinkable water? Who wants to encourage use of chemicals that are demonstrably cancer-producing? How much lobbyist money in the pockets of GOP officials is enough to make them unconcerned about the air their grandchildren will breathe?

I find these questions baffling.

Back in January, The Hill ran a story about the “ethics” of the people Trump was appointing to the EPA.

A House Oversight and Reform Committee review found the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) let political appointees take months to sign required ethics pledges and compile recusal lists, allowing leaders to work on issues where they had substantial conflicts of interest, the panel argued.

An executive order signed during President Trump’s second week in office requires federal employees to avoid working with former clients for their first two years.

“These documents indicate that EPA allowed senior agency officials to avoid or delay completing required ethics forms and that EPA was missing forms entirely for some officials,” committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and subcommittee Chairman Harley Rouda (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter to the agency.

“The Committee identified multiple instances in which EPA officials failed to complete required ethics documents or sign ethics pledges required by Executive Order 13770.  EPA also allowed officials to delay the finalization of critical ethics agreements for significant periods of time after joining the agency.”

In one case–labeled  “egregious,” in the analysis– an EPA employee took 300 days to finalize his recusal statement–and in the interim, took the lead on a number of air regulations “beneficial to former clients from his days as a coal, oil and gas lobbyist”.

The EPA has been staffed with numerous former lobbyists at the same time that it has been divested of scientists. The attacks on environmental regulations have been consistent–despite the demonstrable success of those regulations in cleaning the air and water, and reducing deaths attributable to pollution.

Again, my question is: why? We all have to occupy this planet. We all have to breathe the same air and drink the same water. What political or monetary advantage is more important than the lives and health of our children and grandchildren?

Are these–and others like them– just people who reject science and evidence?

Are the people dismantling the EPA all bought and paid for possessions of fossil fuel interests? Or are they members of the pseudo-religious “God will take care of us, no need to do our part” cult?

Have they identified another habitable planet, and found a way to get there?

I really don’t understand.

 

 

 

 

Air We Shouldn’t Breathe, Water We Shouldn’t Drink

Yesterday, I posted about the shorter-and-longer term consequences of Trump’s assault on various policies and norms. I noted in passing that the next administration–assuming it is Democratic (if it isn’t, the America we grew up in is gone)–will need to reinstate numerous environmental safeguards before it can address the critical threat posed by climate change.

Paul Krugman has laid out the dimensions of the Trump administration’s assault on basic environmental protections. Here’s his lede:

Given what we’ve seen in the impeachment hearings so far, there is literally no crime, no abuse of power, that would induce Republicans to turn on President Trump. So if you’re waiting for some dramatic political turn, don’t hold your breath.

On second thought, however, maybe you should hold your breath. For air quality has deteriorated significantly over the past few years — a deterioration that has already cost thousands of American lives. And if Trump remains in power, the air will get much worse, and the death toll rise dramatically, in the years ahead.

Krugman clarifies that, in referring to air pollution, he isn’t talking about the greenhouse gases driving climate change. He is addressing the issue of pollutants with a much more immediate effect. That includes, as he points out,  “fine particulate matter,” the small particles that make the air hazy.  Those particulates pose a significant health hazard, because they penetrate deep into the respiratory tract.

The good news until a few years ago was that thanks to environmental regulation the concentration of fine particulates was in fairly rapid decline. The bad news is that since 2016 this kind of pollution has been on the rise again, reversing around a fifth of the gains since 2009.

That may not seem like a big problem, but estimates are that even this relatively small rise  led to almost 10,000 extra deaths last year.

If deaths don’t concern you (!), perhaps the economic cost of rising pollution will. A study Krugman cites puts it at $89 billion a year. As he notes, even in an economy as large as America’s, $89 billion is a pretty big number.

And things are poised to get much worse. The Trump administration is working on new rules that would effectively prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from making use of much of the scientific evidence on adverse health effects of pollution. This would cripple environmental regulation, almost surely leading to sharply worsening air and water quality over time….

Why is this happening? As many observers have pointed out, failing to act on climate change, although it’s an indefensible crime against humanity, is also in some ways understandable. Greenhouse gas emissions are invisible, and the harm they do is global and very long-term, making denialism relatively easy.

Particulates, however, are visible, and the harm they do is both relatively localized and fairly quick. So you might have thought that the fight against dirty air would have widespread, bipartisan support. Indeed, modern environmental protection began under none other than Richard Nixon, and retired E.P.A. officials I’ve talked to describe the Nixon era as a golden age.

Krugman says the GOP has become the party of pollution.

Why? Follow the money. There’s huge variation among industries in how much environmental damage they do per dollar of production. And the super-polluting industries have basically put all their chips on the Republicans. In 2016, for example, coal mining gave 97 percent of its political contributions to Republican candidates and causes. And polluters are getting what they paid for….If Trump doesn’t succeed in destroying our democracy (a big if), his most damaging legacy will be the vast environmental destruction he leaves behind.

Krugman’s column centered on air quality; recent EPA rollbacks pose an equally serious threat to the nation’s water supply.

How corrupt do you have to be to value your bottom line over the health of your children and grandchildren?

 

Spitting On The Environment

The Trump Administration’s effort to reverse environmental rules–in effect, to accelerate climate change rather than working to retard it–continues to frustrate and astound rational observers.

The administration has rolled back regulations on light bulb efficiency–regulations that dramatically cut energy use and saved consumers money.

It has declared war on California’s automobile regulations–despite the fact that all major automakers have communicated their strong disapproval of Trump’s rollback of fuel standards passed under Obama. The New York Times reports that the Justice Department, which William Barr is turning into a lapdog for Trump, is threatening to sue the automakers who entered into an agreement with California to meet the state’s higher standards.

And now–Trump’s EPA is rolling back regulations on methane, a move that threatens to worsen climate change, and is opposed by many fossil fuel companies. Not by all fossil fuel companies, however, as an August 29th Time Magazine report explains.

The Trump Administration announced Thursday the rollbackof an important environmental regulation on methane emissions that even some of the world’s biggest oil-and-gas companies support. The fact that Big Oil backed a regulation designed to stem emissions of a potent greenhouse gas was immediately wielded by Trump’s critics as evidence of how backward the move must be.

But that reaction missed an important takeaway. The oil-and-gas industry was split on the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) methane rules, with some prominent companies supporting them and many smaller producers pushing for their elimination. The EPA’s decision to side with a group of smaller fossil-fuel firms shows the influence these obscure companies retain within the Trump Administration—and the power they have to slow climate legislation as addressing the issue grows more urgent.

The larger firms are almost all in the business of producing natural gas; they argue natural gas is a better option for the environment than coal.  Methane emissions, a byproduct of natural gas production, undercut that argument unless leaks are vigilantly policed. It is thus in the interests of those producers to comply with the stricter regulations.

Whatever the motive, methane is clearly bad for the environment.

Methane is more than 20 times as potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide on a pound-per-pound basis in the long term, and leaks of the gas could erase many of the gains the U.S. has made in reducing emissions.

But the EPA rollback wasn’t aimed at helping the big multi-national firms. Instead, the agency said it will help smaller oil-and-gas companies, many of which are drowning in debt and vulnerable to anything that increases their compliance costs. The EPA estimated that the rollback would save companies a total of up to $19 million annually—a small sum for oil majors, but a significant expense for some other firms.

This solicitude for the finances of small oil-and-gas companies comes at a substantial cost to the environment the agency is supposed to safeguard. The EPA was not established to coddle marginal businesses; it was established to ensure that Americans had clean air to breathe, potable water to drink, and–not so incidentally–a habitable planet to occupy.

This isn’t the first time Trump has irked big business with regulatory cuts that industry leaders did not want. Earlier this year, the Administration softened vehicle-efficiency standards even though auto companies said it would hurt their business. And the Administration has sought to intervene in energy markets to prop up coal, to the outrage of many energy companies.

The rollback of methane regulations now joins the 80+ environmental rules that Trump’s EPA has either voided or relaxed. There is no evidence that those regulations were ineffective or counterproductive; no data upon which this constant de-regulation is based–in most cases, quite the contrary. What evidence there is supports the efficacy and reasonableness of the prior regulatory approach.

There is, of course, one consistent thread that runs through every insane move made by this administration: if Obama did it, reverse it. If reversal is bad for the country, or the planet, so be it.

Our mentally-ill President’s obsession with his predecessor–his determination to erase Obama’s legacy–threatens the health and well-being of us all.

Stop The World…Your GOP In Action

Evidently, when Ivanka wasn’t being inappropriately intrusive at the recent G20 meeting in Tokyo, her father was trying to talk other heads of state into abandoning their commitments under the Paris accords.

If you harbor any doubt that what remains of the Republican Party is an uninformed and anti-intellectual Trump cult, the party’s assault on efforts to ward off the worst effects of climate change is the most obvious evidence.

What happened just recently in Oregon is an example.

A major climate-change bill, which [activists] had worked on for the last several years, was on the verge of passing the state legislature, which, since last year’s midterm elections, has been controlled by a supermajority of Democrats. Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat, had campaigned on its policies, and planned to sign it. On climate policy, Brown had said, “Oregon can be the log that breaks the jam nationally.” Then, last week, eleven Republican state senators walked out of the statehouse, fled the capitol, and apparently hid out of state, in order to deny the rest of the Senate the necessary twenty-person quorum required to move the bill to a vote. Representatives of fringe right-wing militia groups said that they would protect the state senators “at any cost,” and that protesters supporting the bill at the capitol should be warned of their presence.

The proposal had gone through lengthy negotiations and public meetings. Lawmakers had taken citizens’ comments. The bill was supported by all nine of the state’s federally recognized Native American tribes, and even by the state’s electric utilities. Major corporations in the state supported it.

In order to defy both the majority of the legislature and public opinion, the Republican lawmakers simply fled.

On Friday, members of right-wing militia groups including the Three Percenters of Oregon, who took part in the 2016 takeoverof Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, posted a different form of encouragement on social media, saying that they were willing to provide the hiding senators “security” and “refuge.” They also appeared to be organizing a weekend protest at the capitol, scheduled for when lawmakers gathered on Saturday. A commenter on Facebook offeredto bring “a few pickup loads of manure” to drop on the capitol’s steps. An unnamed source told Will Sommer, of the Daily Beast, that “dozens of armed militia members have ‘mobilized’ to protect the state senators, and said there was potential for violence if law enforcement officials try to bring the senators back to Oregon.” In response, Oregon state troopers recommended that the capitol be closed on Saturday “due to a possible militia threat,” according to a spokeswoman from the Senate president’s office.

Poll after poll confirms that a substantial majority of Americans is concerned about climate change, and believes government should forcefully address it.

I’m old enough to remember when politicians would reflect popular opinion–even when they didn’t agree with it– in order to be re-elected. Thanks to the demise of genuine democracy–courtesy of Citizens United and gerrymandering, among other assaults–today’s Republican lawmakers are responsive only to one constituency: their donors, who prioritize today’s bottom line over tomorrow’s planetary survival.

In an administration notable for lack of consistency (not to mention competence),  there has been one area of single-mindedness: attacks on science accompanied by persistent rollbacks of environmental protections.

Self-destruction is by definition insane.

What if I had been told by trustworthy experts that my furnace had a 95% chance of  blowing up at any moment, but I refused to replace it because I wanted to augment my already fat bank account and there was a 5% chance it wouldn’t blow? That would be nuts. What good would my bank account do me if my furnace blew up and killed me?

Yet that is the position of today’s GOP.  There is no rational defense for that position, because it is indefensible. It is, quite literally, insane.

Unfortunately, in the immortal words of Tom Lehrer, “We’ll all go together when we go.”