Tag Archives: Obama

Now It’s Coal Ash

The Trump administration has announced its intention to roll back an Obama-era regulation that limited the leaching of heavy metals like arsenic, lead and mercury into water supplies–heavy metals that are produced and leach into groundwater from the ash residue produced by coal-fired power plants.

I wrote about the dangers of coal ash back in 2015, quoting the Hoosier Environmental Council when they were bringing in a coal ash expert to speak at their annual “Greening the Statehouse” event.

Coal ash has special significance for Indiana, since the state leads the nation in the number of coal ash waste lagoons. There is arguably no person better in America to speak to this issue than Lisa Evans. As a coal ash expert with twenty-five years of experience in hazardous waste law, Lisa has testified before the U.S. Congress and the National Academies of Science about the risks of coal ash and federal & state policy solutions.

The Obama Administration addressed those very real risks by passing new regulations in 2015; now, a series of newer rules expected from  the Environmental Protection Agency (courtesy of the former lobbyists now running the agency) will substantially weaken  regulations meant to strengthen inspection and monitoring at coal plants, and requiring plants to install new technology to protect water supplies from contaminated coal ash.

The E.P.A. will even exempt a significant number of power plants from any of the remaining requirements, according to quotations from people familiar with the Trump administration plan.

According to one report, 

Coal ash, the residue from burning coal, is stored at more than 1,100 locations around the nation, with about 130 million tons being added each year. Unlike emissions of carbon dioxide, which many climate science deniers consider a good thing, nobody doubts the dangers of the chemicals in coal ash—including arsenic, lead, mercury, and selenium, among others. All are associated with birth defects and stunted brain growth in children. But the list of damages they can cause is far longer and includes cancer, heart damage, lung disease, respiratory distress, kidney disease, reproductive problems, gastrointestinal illness, and behavioral problems.

Hundreds of ash storage pits don’t even have a simple liner to help prevent toxins from leaching into waterways. According to a 2010 EPA assessment, people who live within a mile of unlined coal ash ponds have a 1 in 50 risk of cancer. That’s more than 2,000 times higher than what the EPA considers acceptable. Tainting of the water mostly happens in a trickle. But, occasionally, as in the 2008 Kingston Fossil Plant’s sudden release of 1.1 billion gallons of coal slurry in Tennessee, or the leakage of 82,000 tons of coal ash into North Carolina’s Dan River, the contamination comes in a catastrophic rush.

Environmental activists criticized the 2015 rule, arguing that it fell short of what is needed to effectively deal with coal ash, and failed to classify the ash as a hazardous waste, which it obviously is. It was a step forward, however.

For every forward step taken by the Obama Administration, however, Trump’s “best people” take two steps back.

Like so many efforts being made daily by the Trump Administration, this move prioritizes the bottom line of industry over the health and welfare of citizens. In this case, that preference is especially galling, because it is intended to help an industry that is dying–and dying  thanks to market forces, not excessive regulations. Nor should its death be lamented: coal is a contributor to climate change, and the relatively few remaining jobs in coal mining are unacceptably dangerous.

Once again we are reminded that nothing this administration does–nothing–advances the common good, or makes environmental or even business sense.

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.

It’s Never His Fault

If there is one area of consistency in the chaos of Trump World, it’s this: no matter what the problem is, it isn’t his fault.

The black guy did it.

Juanita Jean has one of the latest manifestations: As she writes, “I knew Fox News would find a way to blame Barack Obama for Epstein’s plea deal with Acosta.”

Apparently, a Fox commentator insisted that “Bob Mueller knew about this.” (The relevance of that assertion escapes me, but whatever…) He then went on to say that Acosta’s plea deal was “from 2008, under a Democratic administration.”

As Juanita Jean points out (and a television pundit–even one on Fox– should know) Obama wasn’t elected until six months AFTER the plea deal. “But, as we know, Obama has magical powers to make things happen even before he was born in Kenya.”

This is part of a pattern among Trump supporters–a pattern set by Trump himself. It isn’t enough to reverse every policy Obama’s administration put in place, irrespective of its merits. It’s necessary to respond to any problem, any challenge, by blaming Obama for it and insisting that he, faultless Trump, has improved the situation.

For example, Trump continues to insist that the horrific family separation policies put in place by his administration were really attributable to Obama, multiple fact checkers to the contrary:

According to FactCheck.org, “previous administrations did not have a blanket policy to prosecute parents and separate them from their children.” It was after the Trump administration announced its “zero-tolerance” immigration policy in April 2018, in which everyone who illegally entered the U.S. was referred for criminal prosecution, that thousands of migrant children were separated from their parents.

After he ordered and then aborted an air strike on Iran, Trump went on a Twitter rant blaming Obama for the tensions with Iran–tensions that escalated following Trump’s abrogation of the pact Obama had negotiated, a pact that had cooled those tensions.

He has behaved this way from the beginning: When millions of women took to the streets to protest him, shortly after he took office, Trump blamed Obama:

President Trump said Tuesday morning he believes former President Obama “is behind” nationwide protests against the new administration’s policies, taking an unusual swipe at his predecessor.

More recently, despite the fact that he has been President (okay, he’s occupied the Oval Office) for two and a half years, he blamed Obama for Turkey’s recent purchase of Russian weapons.

My favorite example of “the black guy did it” was an interview I saw (if someone has a link to the original, please post it) in which a relatively young MAGA hat wearer was talking about 9/11, and demanding to know where Obama was. “I’d really like to know why we didn’t see him responding when the planes hit.” Of course, few people had even heard of Barack Obama in 2001, when George W. Bush was in his first full year as President.

The only thing Trump and his base don’t blame on Obama is the one thing for which Obama is undeniably responsible: the economy Trump inherited.

These examples–and plenty of others (just google Trump blames Obama)–vividly demonstrate two things: Trump’s childish inability to take responsibility for his own actions and mistakes; and his racist obsession with his predecessor.

You can almost hear him brooding: How dare that black man be so much smarter, classier and (most egregious of all) more admired than I am?

Sane Americans are also brooding–about the incalculable damage this sorry excuse for a human is doing to our country and our planet, and especially about the racist reactions to the election of his predecessor that motivated his base and propelled him to the Oval Office.

“The Black Guy Did It!”

Have you noticed that whenever there is a particularly sharp public outcry over something Donald Trump is doing–a level of pushback that exceeds the expressions of distaste, disagreement and/or horror that regularly greet his version of “policy”–he blames whatever it is on Obama?

The Washington Post gives four Pinocchios to the latest example of Trump’s “don’t blame me, it was the black guy who did it” evasion, his insistence that his inhumane and illegal family separation policy was really Obama’s. They quote him:

“President Obama had child separation. Take a look. The press knows it, you know it, we all know it. I didn’t have — I’m the one that stopped it. President Obama had child separation. … President Obama separated children. They had child separation. I was the one that changed it, okay?”

Trump keeps doubling down on that falsehood. Every time he is attacked about family separation, he repeats it. As the Post reports,

This is a Four Pinocchio claim, yet Trump keeps repeating it when he’s pressed on family separations.

Repetition can’t change reality. There is simply no comparison between Trump’s family separation policy and the border enforcement actions of the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.

In the article, the fact-checker reports that the Obama Administration had actually rejected such a proposal, and that neither the Obama Administration nor the Bush Administration had created or enforced a policy of family separation.

The zero-tolerance approach is worlds apart from the Obama- and Bush-era policy of separating children from adults at the border only in limited circumstances, such as when officials suspected human trafficking or another kind of danger to the child or when false claims of parentage were made.

The article concludes with quotes from Trump–responses to questions, tweets, etc.–documenting the number of times he repeated the lie that the policy was inherited from Obama, and the article links to the copious database of Trump lies that the newspaper maintains.

This particular falsehood illustrates the two utterly reliable aspects of the man who inexplicably occupies the Oval Office: his hatred of Barack Obama (how dare a black man be so obviously superior to him?) and people of color generally; and his inability to tell the truth. (I’m not sure he even recognizes the difference between objective facts and his preferred fantasies.)

The problem is, as Joseph Stiglitz has  recently reminded us,  America’s successes–both moral and economic–have rested on a process of experimentation, learning and adaptation that requires a commitment to ascertaining the truth.

Americans owe much of their economic success to a rich set of truth-telling, truth-discovering and truth-verifying institutions. Central among them are freedom of expression and media independence. Like all people, journalists are fallible; but, as part of a robust system of checks and balances on those in positions of power, they have traditionally provided an essential public good.

America’s “greatness” has depended upon–and varied with– the extent to which the nation has adhered to that truth-telling and has honored human rights and the rule of law. Greatness is not a product of bluster, or White Supremacy, or faux Christianity, or the worship of wealth and power and celebrity; it is a product of evidence-based allegiance to individual liberty and civic equality.

If we really want to make America great, we need to eject Trumpism, with its racism and “alternate facts,” not just from the White House, but from American culture.

An Excellent Rant

My youngest son introduced me to Gin and Tacos a year or so ago, and it has become one of my favorite blogs, mostly because the blogger lets fly with whatever has most recently pissed him off, and I can really, really relate. The blogger has a name, of course, Ed Bermila, and has helpfully included a description of himself, written in third person and sarcasm.

Ed is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Midwestern Liberal Arts University after receiving his Ph.D. in political science from Giant Midwestern Public University and teaching for three years at Giant Southern Public University. He teaches Intro to American Government, Public Opinion, Elections, and The Presidency to a select group of very lucky boys and girls each semester. His academic research studies the spatial and geographic context of political behavior – partisanship, turnout, and public opinion. He also performs stand-up comedy on the regular and plays/played drums in a band called Tremendous Fucking. Like every band on the planet, they have a MySpace. It is highly recommended that you buy their latest album off of iTunes in order to get into heaven. Sometimes he stands on a stage and tells jokes as well, inasmuch as scathing social criticism can be described as a joke.

There’s more, but you get the tone.

I particularly liked his post–rant?– from mid-December, titled “Who is ‘we’?”which he introduced as follows:

My least favorite genre of journalism is the retrospective “How did we miss this?” piece that comes after years of the profession sticking its head in the sand and refusing to see something inconvenient. The New York Times actually had the balls to print a headline like “The Rise of Right-Wing Extremism, and How We Missed It.”

Who missed it? That’s a serious question. Who makes up the demographic “Did not see a disturbing rise in explicitly racist and xenophobic politics” and where were these people during the eight years Obama was president? It seems unlikely that an even mildly observant person could have failed to notice that about 20% of the people in this country came psychologically unmoored over the idea of having a black president.

I think the answer to “who missed it?” is: people who were intentionally obtuse. I still recall a conversation with the husband of one of my many cousins, not long after Obama was elected. I said something about how dispiriting I’d found the emergence of racist rhetoric, especially on line, and he looked at me blankly and said “Really? I haven’t noticed anything like that.”

This guy is a high-priced lawyer, and there really was no way he could have avoided coverage of the phenomenon, even if he had somehow escaped the online onslaught. During our conversation, it became clear that he wanted to attribute the growing concerns about racism to “Democrats playing the race card.”

As Bermila notes, the self-identified “centrists”in the media are obsessed with what he calls “Decorum and playing nice.” People will chastise you if you point out that the king really does seem to be naked.

“It’s rude and unproductive to call people you disagree with politically racists or Nazis, tut-tut!” Yes, well, these people are really racist and some of them are taking that to the logical extreme of becoming actual Nazis. Like, with swastikas and stuff….

Add to that the seriously misplaced priorities of the establishment media, which values blaming nobody and everybody equally (Both sides are wrong!) over identifying problems and assigning responsibility even when it’s patently obvious. The only way to miss right-wing extremism’s rise is to operate your media outlet while more afraid of being chided by right-wingers than of totally missing a crucial story.

And for those “retrospective” stories, the ones where you can almost picture the reporter wringing his hands in dismay while asking how “we” missed this, Ed has an appropriate response:

“We” didn’t miss it. You did.