Abusing Planet Earth Newsletter — October 2017

A monthly sampling of assaults on the environment

On October 19, the Senate rejected a budget amendment that would have prevented oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. ANWR comprises over 19 million acres of the north Alaskan coast. It is the largest protected wilderness in the United States and was created by Congress in 1980.

The remote and vast habitat serves as the main calving ground for one of North America’s last large caribou herds and a stop for migrating birds from six continents. The Trump administration wants to allow drilling for oil and natural gas in ANWR.

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who favors drilling in ANWR, said: “It’s about jobs, and job creation. It’s about wealth and wealth creation.” Yes, it’s all about the money. Last year almost every Alaskan got about $1,000 from the Alaska Permanent Fund, which comes from oil revenues. Only a few years ago, each Alaskan received twice that from the fund. The annual distribution from the fund is essentially free money for state residents, who already don’t pay a state income tax or statewide sales tax. But oil production in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska is dwindling. So it’s not surprising that most Alaskans want to allow oil development in ANWR to replenish their pot of gold.

The Council on Environmental Quality

In mid October, President Trump nominated Kathleen Hartnett-White to head the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The CEQ coordinates federal environmental efforts and works with agencies and White House offices in the development of environmental policies and initiatives. The CEQ plays a central role in the implementation of federal law requiring an assessment of the environmental impacts of proposed major federal actions before they are undertaken.

Ms. Hartnett-White will be the senior White House advisor on environmental policy. Currently she is a senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which has received millions of dollars from the Koch brothers and their organizations.

In 2016 Ms. Hartnett-White described belief in global warming as a “kind of paganism” for “secular elites.” She called efforts to combat global warming as little more than an attack on the fossil fuel industry. “Renewables are a false hope that simply won’t work,” Hartnett-White wrote in The Hill in 2016.

At a November 2011 forum, she told participants, “There is no environmental crisis—in fact, there’s almost no major environmental problems.”

She wrote an op-ed for The Hill in June 2016 titled “Restrain the imperial EPA,” in which she urged Americans to support a House bill that would strip the EPA of its authority to regulate the emission of natural and greenhouse gases. “We don’t need regulation; we’re already doing a good job,” she told S&P Global Market Intelligence in September 2016, adding that the EPA is a “fundamental reason that economic growth has been so so slow in this country.”

Her qualifications for the government’s top environmental policy post include advanced degrees in comparative religion and one year of law school.

Censoring Science at EPA

At the last minute, the EPA cancelled presentations by two of its scientists at a scientific workshop held October 23 in Providence, Rhode Island. The workshop discussed the findings of a three-year report on the status of Narragansett Bay, New England’s largest estuary, and the challenges it faces. Climate change features as a significant factor in the report.

An EPA contractor who had contributed to the report was also told not to speak at the event. She and one EPA scientist were slated to take part in a panel titled “The Present and Future Biological Implications of Climate Change.” Among the report’s findings was that climate change is affecting air and water temperatures, precipitation, sea level and fish in and around the estuary.

The Clean Power Plan

The Environmental Protection Agency announced on October 16 that it plans to repeal the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which was developed by President Obama in 2015 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants and to speed up the shift from coal toward cleaner sources of energy.

Last March President Trump ordered the elimination or delay of nearly every measure President Obama took to combat global warming including: rules aimed at increasing fuel efficiency of cars and trucks; rules aimed at limiting emissions of methane (a powerful greenhouse gas) from oil and gas wells; rules aimed at increasing the energy efficiency of appliances; and most important, the CPP.

Fossil-fuel power plants account for roughly one-third of America’s global-warming emissions. Coal-mining jobs are disappearing because of automation and a shift to cleaner, more efficient energy sources, so eliminating the CPP won’t bring back jobs in the coal industry.

In addition to emitting greenhouses gases, coal plants release mercury and particulate matter that cause illness and premature death.


Sherco Generating Station

Coal-Fired Power Plant Becker, Minnesota. Credit: Tony Webster


Congressman Jeff Duncan gets key House committee assignment

South Carolina Congressman Jeff Duncan has been appointed to the powerful House Energy & Commerce Committee. Duncan said: “Everyone knows how passionate I am about energy policy and the importance of creating jobs by getting the government out of the way…. I’m looking forward to ….helping President Trump implement his agenda, achieve his campaign promises, and Make America Great Again.”

This appointment is one more disaster for the environment and sane government generally. Duncan is one of the chamber’s most conservative members.
He has a 4 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters. Oil and gas companies are among his top donors. Duncan has pushed legislation for offshore drilling off South Carolina’s coast.

He is also backing a controversial sportsmen’s bill that would make it easier to buy gun silencers. A couple years ago he protested to EPA over power plant carbon emissions rules.


Posted in Environment, News and Alerts