Tag Archives: environment

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.”

 

F**k The Planet

Back in 1992, when I became Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, I made it a rule to avoid using the word “outrageous” (a term which had evidently been a favorite of my predecessor), because I believed–and still believe– that when you label every policy or court decision with which you disagree outrageous, pretty soon no one pays any attention to you. You become the crank who cries wolf.

On the other hand, sometimes “outrageous” fits. It was the very first word that came to mind when I read this recent news item from PBS.

GENEVA (AP) — Almost every country in the world has agreed on a legally binding framework for reducing polluting plastic waste, with the United States a notable exception, United Nations environmental officials said Friday.

An agreement on tracking thousands of types of plastic waste emerged at the end of a two-week meeting of U.N.-backed conventions on plastic waste and toxic, hazardous chemicals. Discarded plastic clutters pristine land, floats in huge masses in oceans and entangles wildlife, sometimes with deadly results.

The framework will affect a broad range of products and industries, including health care, technology, aerospace, fashion, and the food and beverage industry. Refusing to get on board won’t allow the few non-signatory countries, like the United States, to escape its impact, because most of them ship plastic waste to countries that have signed on.

Norway led the initiative, which was first unveiled in September. As the report noted, the relatively short period of time from introduction to approval was a blistering pace by traditional U.N. standards–especially for an agreement that is legally binding.

The refusal of the Trump Administration to sign on to yet another global agreement–one that we will necessarily obey anyway–is simply a way of giving the middle finger to science, the United Nations, and our allies. It’s of a piece with Trump’s constant efforts to roll back domestic environmental protections. The President sneers when the threat of climate change is raised, and when it comes to protecting citizens from environmental hazards, his EPA demonstrates weekly that it is firmly in the pocket of chemical and fossil fuel companies.

The Trump Administration’s entire approach to environmental policy deserves to be labeled “outrageous.”

Contrast this fast and loose approach by people who evidently don’t care about the world their grandchildren will inhabit to the campaigns of the Democrats running for President, all of whom give evidence of taking environmental issues seriously.

Look, for example, at Jay Inslee’s campaign.

Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA), candidate for the Democratic nomination for POTUS is near the back of the pack, polling at 1%. But his new Evergreen Economy Initiative is so very bold, matching the size of the response to the huge size of our climate crisis, that he has now moved into 2nd place in my own 2020 preferences. Warren is still first, but I hope she adopts a climate plan as bold as this. It dwarfs the Green New Deal.  The details are here.

It is not socialist, and does not rely entirely on governmental central planning, but it is a WWII sized effort based on the original New Deal.  It aims to revitalize Labor by repealing all “right to work” laws.It invests $9 Trillion in infrastructure (super high speed rail, better/smarter power grids, zero emission vehicles, green buildings, water conservation, etc.) and green energy production. It aims to get to a zero emission economy by 2030. The plan includes a carbon tax and plans to cap methane emissions and HFCs.

There is a “G.I. Bill” component aimed at coal communities to help them transition to new technologies and not be simply left behind (as they are now with all the coal plant closings).I think there needs to be a similar effort for places Alaska and the Gulf Coast to be quickly weaned off oil & natural gas.

Governor Inslee is highly unlikely to secure the Democratic nomination, but a number of the provisions of his bold initiative are likely to find their way into the platform of whoever does become the nominee.

Sometimes, the consequences of our choices in the voting booth aren’t terribly clear. That won’t be a problem in 2020. No one who cares about the environment, or the future of the planet (or, for that matter, human decency) can justify a vote for Trump or his enablers.

That word I tried so hard to avoid–outrageous– accurately describes both this utterly corrupt administration and the voters who continue to support it.