Abusing Planet Earth – November 2017

A sampling of assaults on the environment

Rescinding environmental rules

President Trump has made eliminating federal regulations a priority. His administration has often targeted environmental rules it sees as overly burdensome to the fossil fuel industry, including major Obama-era policies aimed at fighting climate change. To date, the Trump administration has sought to reverse more than 50 environmental rules, according to The New York Times.

The New York Times maintains an informative list and overview of the environmental rules that the administration has, or is in the process of, reversing. You can find the list on The New York Times website under science/climate.

For example, on November 9th the Environmental Protection Agency proposed to repeal a 2016 rule that reduced pollutants and greenhouse-gas emissions for certain heavy-duty trucks with older engines. Although major trucking groups and engine manufacturers supported the 2016 rule, EPA Administrator Pruitt said the rule “expands the reach of the federal government” by threatening a handful of manufacturers of a specialized type of truck.

Censoring science at EPA

Our October issue mentioned that the Environmental Protection Agency canceled presentations by two of its scientists and an EPA contractor at a scientific workshop held on October 23 in Providence. Predictably, that led to protestations before, during, and after the conference.

Rhode Island Congressman David N. Cicilline said, “The idea that we would deny the American people information — good, reliable facts and evidence to develop good public policy — is not only disappointing, its dangerous.”

John King, a University of Rhode Island oceanography professor said he would tell EPA Administrator Pruitt, “Let us do our job, without fear of losing our jobs. I hope in that spirit, we can move forward from what has occurred.”

Shrinking National Monuments

On October 27, President Trump informed Utah Senator Orrin Hatch that he will shrink Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, as recommended by Interior Secretary Zinke. The Bears Ears National Monument covers 1.35 million acres in southeast Utah and contains tens of thousands of artifacts. Most Native Americans in the region want to maintain the monument’s boundaries. Grand Staircase-Escalante, the largest monument in the United States, spans 1.9 million acres. Off the record, Interior officials said the administration plans to shrink Bears Ears by hundreds of thousands of acres.

bears earsIndian Creek in Bears Ears National Monument. Photo by Bob Wick

Ranchers, miners, and oil drillers were thrilled by the news. Now they will have access to public land for personal profit. On the other hand, several tribal leaders immediately announced they will challenge Trump’s action in court.

More foxes in the henhouse

In late October President Trump named Steven Gardner, a coal industry consultant, to head the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), the agency that oversees mining operations and environmental cleanups.

During the Obama administration, Gardner fought OSMRE’s actions to update a federal stream protection rule that regulated mining close to streams. Congress revoked that rule in February. Gardner also supports the practice of mountaintop removal, a form of surface mining that decimates the landscape and pollutes the water supply. Last August the Interior Department stopped work on an independent evaluation of potential health effects from mountaintop removal coal mining.

mountaintop miningMountaintop Removal Mine Site. Pike County, Kentucky. Photo by Matt Wasson

In an October 26 press release, Interior Secretary Zinke said: “Steve will be an unbelievable asset to coal country…” The press release quotes Kentucky Senator Rand Paul as saying “The last administration …. worked to put an end to Kentucky coal mining with an overreaching rule on waterways near coal mines. With Mr. Gardners background in mining, I am confident that this administrations OSM will ease up eight years of executive overreach….” Ironically, the last paragraph of the press release notes that it is OSMRE’s responsibility “… to protect society and the environment from the adverse effects of surface coal mining operations.”

On November 9, the Senate confirmed William Wehrum to head the EPA air program. Most recently, Wehrum, a lawyer, represented oil, gas, coal, and chemical companies in legal challenges to Clean Air Act regulations. He also represented industry associations in fights against mining and occupational safety and health regulations. He will now be head of the office he consistently litigated against. During the G.W. Bush administration, Wehrum served for several years as acting head of that office. During his tenure, EPA was repeatedly sued for violating the Clean Air Act. At his recent confirmation hearing, Wehrum said he hasn’t seen enough data to be able to make a final judgment on humans’ role in the warming of the planet. He does not agree with the 2007 Supreme Court ruling that gave EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” (Upton Sinclair)

Good news: On November 2nd, Sam Clovis withdrew his name as the President’s nominee to be chief scientist at the Department of Agriculture. Mr. Clovis had acknowledged he has no academic credentials in either science or agriculture. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and an MBA degree and a doctorate in public administration. However, he withdrew because he is linked to the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russian officials rather than because he is not qualified for the position.

Mr. Clovis has published and taught extensively about homeland security and foreign policy. He was a co-chair and policy adviser to then-candidate Trump’s campaign. He has said the scientific consensus that human-generated greenhouse gas emissions have driven recent climate change is “not proven” and that a lot of the science supporting climate change is “junk science.” In 2011 Clovis wrote that the goal of the entire environmental movement was the “destruction of capitalism and the redistribution of wealth, not just in America but around the world.” He has criticized school books that “advance the idea of Darwinian evolution,” which, of course, he does not believe in.

Loving Coal

The Trump administration promoted coal, natural gas and nuclear energy at a discussion session during a United Nations climate conference held in Bonn, Germany this month. The three members of the U.S. delegation who made presentations are executives from the coal, nuclear, and liquified natural gas industries. It was the only official appearance of the U.S. at the two-week meeting of representatives from almost 200 nations.

A White House spokesman said that by using cleaner, more efficient fossil fuels, and through innovation, the United States continues to be a global leader in cutting carbon emissions. This claim is inconsistent with the administration’s repeal of the Clean Power Plan, which included measures to curb emissions of greenhouse gases from coal plants (see our October issue). In addition, the President’s Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence called on the EPA to “review” a related rule limiting carbon dioxide emissions from new, modified, and reconstructed power plants. In the Trump administration to “review” means to weaken or eliminate.

Delegates from 195 countries gathered in Bonn to work on an “operating manual” for implementing the Paris agreement. President Trump has vowed to withdraw from the Paris agreement, but the United States cannot actually withdraw until 2020 under the terms of the accord. Until then, the administration has said it will continue to work toward bringing the Paris agreement into force. That’s good news. The Paris agreement is the first time in human history that all the world’s nations have joined together to overcome a common enemy of our own making.

Unfortunately, according to a report issued this month by the Global Carbon Project, total CO2 emissions worldwide are projected to rise about two percent this year and continue to rise in 2018 after having leveled off the past three years.

Warmer is not better

Good news: Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas), a prominent climate change denier, announced on November 1st that he is retiring when his term ends next year. As chairman of the Committee on Science, Space & Technology, Smith repeatedly cast doubt on the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change.

In a 2015 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, he described global temperature increases over the past 15 years as “negligible” and said links between climate change and worsening weather events had been debunked. More recently, however, Smith has acknowledged that man is affecting the climate, and he has encouraged Americans to celebrate the benefits of a warming planet. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Smith has received $759,000 from the oil and gas industry since 1989.

The National Climate Assessment

The scientific community was encouraged when the Trump Administration released, uncensored, the fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA) on November 3rd. In 1990 Congress mandated that an NCA be issued every four years to help the nation “understand, assess, predict and respond to” climate change. Volume I, the Climate Science Special Report, is in final form and summarizes the best-available science on observed and projected climate changes.

The report says the long-term warming trend over the last hundred and fifteen years “is now the warmest in the history of modern civilization,” and it was caused by humans. According to the report: the frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation and high-temperature events will continue to increase in the future; the frequency, depth, and extent of tidal flooding in many coastal cities, including Charleston, will continue to increase; and the number and intensity of hurricanes will increase. Global average sea levels are expected to continue to rise by at least several inches in the next 15 years and by 1–4 feet by 2100. Sea level rise on the East and Gulf coasts will be higher than the global average.

Because of the complex ways the oceans and atmosphere interact to affect the climate, and because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for a long time, sea level will continue to rise for many decades even if major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are achieved in the near future.

The findings in the NCA report are at odds with the views of most top-level environmental officials in the Trump administration. You can read the Climate Science Special Report (vol. I) here: https://science2017.globalchange.gov.

The second volume is a draft document that describes impacts on human health, regions of the country, and tribal communities. It will be reviewed by the public and by hundreds of independent scientists before being released in final form in late 2018.

Sustaining the national parks

In late October the National Park Service proposed increasing entrance fees for seventeen of its most popular parks during the peak season from $25-$30 to $70. The administration estimates the increased entrance fees would bring in an additional $70 million annually for infrastructure improvements. However, President Trump’s budget proposal for 2018 would reduce funding for the national parks by about 13 percent, or almost $300 million, and eliminate over 1,200 National Park Service jobs. So there would be a net annual loss to the parks of over $200 million.

Many of our parks are experiencing maintenance problems for several reasons, in particular, overuse and inadequate funding. The huge popularity of our parks justifies funding the National Park Service adequately to meet maintenance needs. And rather than reducing the size of national monuments as the President is doing, he should have the foresight to establish more areas, including parks, for the public to enjoy. Unfortunately, the administration’s proposed budget would eliminate almost all Park Service funding for land acquisition.

The administration also proposes to cut funding for other agencies that manage federal lands, including the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. However, President Trump’s 2018 budget would increase funding for energy development on public lands.



Posted in Environment, News and Alerts