Donald Trump's War on the Environment
April 24, 2017
Carolyn Lochhead / The San Francisco Chronicle
Analysis: Nearly 100 days into a presidency remarkably thin on legislative success, one area where the Trump administration and Republican-led Congress have notched indisputable gains is on the environment. Overshadowed by the implosion on health care and standstill on tax reform, the GOP drive to dismantle, defang and defund environmental laws, rules and science is yielding many of President Trump's most significant victories to date.
Trump's Top Environmental Win Is in Cutting Protections
Carolyn Lochhead / The San Francisco Chronicle
WASHINGTON, DC (April 23, 2017) -- Nearly 100 days into a presidency remarkably thin on legislative success, one area where the Trump administration and Republican-led Congress have notched indisputable gains is on the environment.
Overshadowed by the implosion on health care and standstill on tax reform, the GOP drive to dismantle, defang and defund environmental laws, rules and science is yielding many of President Trump's most significant victories to date.
From rolling back rules to fight climate change and air and water pollution to cutting funding for scientific research, Congress and the administration are undertaking the biggest effort to limit the nation's basic environmental protections since many were established nearly half a century ago, when Republican Richard Nixon was president.
Using a powerful mix of executive actions, new laws and budget cuts, the efforts exceed anything seen in the Reagan or George W. Bush administrations, two GOP presidencies also skeptical of environmental laws.
Republicans frame the drive not as the war on the environment that critics describe, but as an economic policy to boost growth, said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a top GOP economist who heads the pro-market American Action Forum.
"They have a clear agenda on improved economic performance," Holtz-Eakin said. "I think that's the No. 1 reason why voters sent Trump to the presidency and carried majorities of Republicans in the House and Senate."
Whether the GOP succeeds, one of the most striking aspects of the effort is that the scientific community is urging precisely the opposite course.
Climate change and other key measures of environmental degradation are approaching -- and crossing -- dangerous thresholds, many top scientists warn. Each additional year of continued carbon dioxide emissions creates more damage. Much of it, from Greenland's melting to mass species extinctions, is irreversible, they say.
The fiscal costs escalate, too, whether it's the quarter-billion-dollar repair of Oroville Dam after the wettest California winter on record, or the half-billion dollars that Miami is spending to raise its streets above rising seas. Putting environmental efforts on hold for four or eight years of a Trump presidency is unthinkable for many scientists.
"We are in an emergency state for the planet," said Elizabeth Hadly, a global change biologist at Stanford University. "I really don't think I can overstate that."
Katherine Hayhoe, a climate physicist at Texas Tech University and a co-author of the 2014 National Climate Assessment, compared Washington's approach to climate change to a person with lung cancer continuing to smoke.
"It's as if ... you've been to the doctor and you have troubling signs that smoking is beginning to impact your health," Hayhoe said. "You go home, and instead of stopping smoking as soon as possible as the doctor recommends, you decide that you're not even going to wean yourself off slowly, like you have been. You're going to go straight back to every pack that you were smoking before, because you figure, 'Hey, it's been working for me for so many years.'"
The problem is not climate change alone. Pervasive pollution, invasive species, habitat loss and mass extinctions have swelled into critical problems within the United States and globally. Each compounds the other, and all are amplified by climate change.
Scientists estimate that global temperatures are on course to become hotter than they've been in the past 14 million years, Hadly said. Modern humans evolved roughly 200,000 years ago.
"So not only are the temperatures we're going toward -- in fact where we already are -- beyond the temperatures where our human civilizations evolved," Hadly said, "they're way beyond the temperatures that humans themselves evolved in."
The administration and Congress are doing so much, so fast, on so many fronts that the scope of the drive has often escaped wide notice.
The White House was so concerned that its successes were going unheralded that legislative director Mike Short held a news briefing this month to highlight 11 bills Trump had signed, nearly half of which involved environmental protections.
"This is an important story that has not been told," Short said.
Environmentalists say they've never seen anything like it. "I've worked in this game since 1977, and more bad stuff has happened in the last few weeks than in my entire career," said Scott Slesinger, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Unlike health care, environmental issues unite the GOP's pro-business and small-government wings. When united, Republicans wield extraordinary power through their control of the White House and Capitol Hill.
They tend to view environmental laws as an impediment to business, a drag on the economy, and a wellspring of big government.
"The metastasizing federal bureaucracy is a threat to our people, our Constitution, and our economy," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield said after House passage of four major antiregulatory bills. "Bureaucracies that aren't accountable to the people, staffed with regulators that never stand for election, write rules that undermine our rights and destroy American jobs."
To be sure, many Republicans in states that have booming wind and solar industries now embrace renewable energy. Hundreds of U.S. companies such as Walmart and General Mills have committed to using 100 percent renewable energy through the We Mean Business coalition.
But others in the fossil fuel, mining, logging and other extractive industries, or in sectors such as chemicals or real estate development, view environmental rules as a threat.
Trump's biggest moves in the environmental arena have centered on climate change. Two orders, to roll back limits on power plant emissions and to review vehicle fuel efficiency standards, go after the centerpiece of federal climate policy.
In addition, McCarthy has spearheaded House passage of several anti-regulatory laws that would gut rule making by federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency. Most of these await action in the Senate, where Democrats hope to block them.
McCarthy said the new laws will save businesses $10 billion over 20 years.
Budget cuts to government agencies can be nearly as effective as gutting rules, because they can reduce monitoring, enforcement and research.
In a budget plan he sent to Congress last month, Trump proposed slashing domestic programs to fund a $54 billion boost for the military. His biggest cut, 31 percent, would come from the Environmental Protection Agency. He would also terminate four earth science and monitoring programs at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that scientists see as critical to studying the effect humans are having on the climate.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney called climate programs "a waste of your money."
Trump also wants to eliminate Sea Grants, a $73 million program that helps coastal states with sea level rise, fisheries and scientific research, among other things. The administration said the program does not contribute to federal "core functions."
"It's so short-sighted it's just ridiculous, but what can you say," said James Eckman, director of the California Sea Grant program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. "Do we want to have red tides that we can't control, that we don't understand, that close beaches, that make seafood unsaleable?"
He noted that three of California's four major airports -- at San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego -- are at sea level and already experience flooding.
Many of Trump's proposed cuts face bipartisan resistance in Congress, but they garner support from small-government and pro-military conservatives.
While Congress considers Trump's budget request, the pace of environmental rollbacks shows no sign of slowing. The EPA last week moved to delay a rule limiting mercury and other toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants, and seeks delays on ozone and methane rules. Administrator Scott Pruitt overruled agency scientists last month in refusing to ban chlorpyrifos, an insecticide applied to more than 50 crops, including almonds, that causes neurological damage.
Pruitt says he wants to take the agency "back to basics," using "sensible regulations that enhance economic growth."
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has ordered an overhaul of public lands planning to shrink a "quagmire" of environmental reviews. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has delayed rules to boost the energy efficiency of portable air conditioners, walk-in coolers and other equipment.
Congress is starting to take aim at the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law that allows the president to declare monuments on public lands. Utah Republicans are keen to reverse former President Barack Obama's designation of the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument.
Congress has held hearings critical of the Endangered Species Act, a bedrock environmental law that often thwarts development but is the main tool to prevent extinctions.
"We're still in the infancy of whatever fight it is that we're going to have on the Endangered Species Act," said Brett Hartl, head of government affairs for the Center for Biological Diversity.
Scientists are watching all this in horror.
They see different problems. The planet's ice sheets and glaciers are melting with shocking speed. For the past three years, global temperatures have broken heat records. Sea-level rise threatens major U.S. cities and trillions of dollars in property.
Fisheries have collapsed, and once-common animals such as bats and monarch butterflies are disappearing. Pollutants are everywhere. Millions of dead conifers blanket the West. Droughts imperil the water supply of Phoenix and Las Vegas. Australia's great coral reefs are dying, and ocean acidification is destroying plankton at the base of the food chain.
"Everything is very, very tightly linked," said Hadly, the Stanford biologist. Such changes amplify each other, and if unabated, reach tipping points, at which the changes spin out of human control.
"We're really running a giant experiment, and there's no reverse gear," said Gary Griggs, distinguished professor of earth sciences at UC Santa Cruz who has just written an update of the science on sea level rise for the state of California. "There's no plan B. There's no other planet to move to. It's a huge gamble we're taking."
Carolyn Lochhead is The San Francisco Chronicle's Washington correspondent. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @carolynlochhead
8 Major Trump Executive Actions on Environment
San Francisco Chronicle
(April 22, 2017) -- Here are eight major Trump executive actions on the environment:
Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines: Jan. 24
Signs orders to approve the two oil pipelines over the objections of environmentalists who say the projects will damage the area and encourage use of fossil fuels.
Expedite approvals for infrastructure: Jan. 24
Signs order directing the White House Council on Environmental Quality to speed approvals of infrastructure projects around the country "using all necessary and appropriate means." Critics fear the order will lead to construction without proper environmental review.
Border wall: Jan. 25
Calls for expansion of a wall along the southern border with Mexico. Environmentalists say the wall would fragment ecosystems and create barriers to the movement of species. It would also intersect Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Big Bend National Park. Funding faces bipartisan resistance in Congress.
Two-for-one regulatory repeal: Jan. 30
Orders federal agencies to repeal two rules for every new one and orders all new regulatory costs this year to equal zero. Public Citizen, Natural Resources Defense Council and Communications Workers of America sued, saying the order could require the government to lift bans on lead or asbestos to protect against new chemicals.
Waters of the United States: Feb. 24
Orders review of an Obama-era rule that expanded protection of smaller bodies of water, tributaries and wetlands. The action could make it easier to develop on wetlands and near streams.
Enforcing the regulatory reform agenda: Feb. 24
Orders federal agencies to root out rules that inhibit job creation, "are outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective," or "impose costs that exceed benefits."
Fuel economy: March 15
Orders review of fuel-economy standards that limit greenhouse gas pollution from cars and light trucks for model years 2022 to 2025. Vehicles are the biggest source of U.S. carbon pollution.
Promoting energy independence: March 28
Orders review of Clean Power Plan limiting carbon emissions from coal plants, a linchpin of federal climate policy along with vehicle standards. Ends consideration of climate change in agency reviews, ends calculation of social cost of carbon, making it harder to write new rules to limit emissions. Halts federal actions to prepare for climate change. Lifts moratorium on new coal leases on federal land.
Online resources: Read more at http://bit.ly/2pHNJW4
50 Programs Scrapped at EPA
San Francisco Chronicle
(April 23, 2017) -- President Trump proposes a $54 billion increase in military spending, offset by slashing domestic programs. The Environmental Protection Agency would take the biggest hit, a 31 percent cut that would eliminate a quarter of the staff and save $2.6 billion, returning the agency's budget to 1970s-era levels. Congress dictates spending, however, and some cuts face bipartisan pushback. The agency has begun offering buyouts to workers.
Here is a sample of programs that would be eliminated:
* Wetlands restoration for San Francisco Bay, the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound and South Florida. (saving $427 million)
* Science to Achieve Results grants for university research on environmental problems. ($10.6 million)
* Climate Protection Program, including the voluntary Energy Star efficiency label for appliances. ($70 million)
* Climate change research conducted in coordination with the U.S. Global Change Research program. ($19.4 million)
* Marine Pollution Program, which prevents dumping of harmful material into the ocean. ($4.2 million)
* National Estuary Program, which helps Morro Bay and San Francisco Bay address declines in ecosystem health. ($20.5 million)
* Water Sense Program, a voluntary labeling program for products such as shower heads and toilets that conserve water. ($3 million)
* Non-Point Source Pollution grants to address farm runoff. ($165 million)
* Underground Storage Tank grants. EPA says 561,000 of these tanks store petroleum or other hazardous substances, posing their biggest threat to contamination of drinking water. ($1.5 million)
* Endocrine Disruptor Program, which screens and tests chemicals that harm wildlife and disrupt children's growth. ($6 million)
* Does not eliminate but slashes by 80 percent, or $542 million, the agency's Science Advisory Board "to reflect an anticipated lower number of peer reviews."
Online resources: Read more at http://bit.ly/2oDjijc
Climate Science at Other Agencies
San Francisco Chronicle
(April 23, 2017) -- Trump's budget request would terminate four key Earth science missions at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration:
* PACE, an ocean monitoring program.
* Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3, a satellite under development to study distribution of carbon dioxide on Earth.
* The Deep Space Climate Observatory
* The CLARREO Pathfinder that measures heat in the atmosphere.
Note: Trump's plan would also zero out $250 million in programs at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration that support coastal and marine management and research, including the Sea Grants program.
Proposed Rule Eliminations through the Congressional Review Act
San Francisco Chronicle
(April 23, 2017) -- The Congressional Review Act, created in 1996 to allow Congress to eliminate rules with a simple majority vote, had been used just once before this year. But since Jan. 20, when President Trump took office, the Republican-led Congress has applied it vigorously to do away with environmental protection rules.
The act accounts for a large share of the legislation Trump has signed since he entered the White House. Because of the simple-majority threshold, the Republican majority in Congress has been able to use it to roll back environmental protection rules finalized during the last six months of the Obama administration.
The law gives Congress 60 legislative days after a rule has been finalized to roll it back, and that period will expire this month. But some conservatives argue that an obscure provision could be used to eliminate federal regulations going back decades. Once a regulation is revoked, it cannot be undone. The law forbids a federal agency from writing any "substantially similar" new rule.
To date, Trump has signed 11 laws reversing rules covering everything from Internet privacy to gun purchases by the mentally disabled. Four of these laws reversed environmental safeguards under the act. They are:
Stream protection: It was a guard against mountaintop-removal coal mining that has destroyed 2,000 miles of streams in Appalachia and released waste into streams that has been linked to cancer and birth defects. The Congressional Research Service said the rule was effective in combatting climate change and protecting drinking water. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the rule "a regulatory assault on coal country." It was among the first to be revoked.
Methane flaring: Required oil and gas companies to recapture methane flared or leaked from gas and oil wells on public lands. The Bureau of Land Management found that methane flaring wastes enough gas to power 5.1 million homes a year, costing taxpayers $300 million annually in royalty payments. Republicans argued that methane releases have been declining, making the rule unnecessary. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas.
Public lands: Gave the public a stronger voice in planning for logging, drilling, mining and other uses of 250 million acres of public lands, mostly in the West. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, argued that the rule gave too much power to special interests over local elected officials.
Extreme hunting: Banned shooting wolves and bears from airplanes, killing bears and cubs and wolves and pups in their dens, and trapping and baiting predators on national wildlife refuges in Alaska. The rollback was sought by the Alaska congressional delegation. Members said that local officials are better equipped to manage wildlife in Alaska, and that the rule impinged on subsistence hunting.
58 Republican Bills Introduced on Environment
San Francisco Chronicle
(April 23, 2017) -- The Republicans have introduced 58 bills on the environment. Here are a few of them:
HONEST Act: (Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas) Would effectively limit the Environmental Protection Agency's use of science to study everything from climate change to environmental health and allows industry representatives on agency's science advisory boards, while banning scientists who receive EPA grants. Passed the House.
ORDEAL Act: (Sen. Jeff Flake, Ariz.) Would double, from five years to 10, the required time under the Clean Air Act that EPA review its standards for ozone and other air pollutants that cause smog, to determine whether they need to be tightened.
Listing Reform Act: (Rep. Pete Olson, Texas) Seeks to amend the Endangered Species Act to require consideration of the economic cost of protecting a species.
Public Water Supply Invasive Species Compliance Act: (Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas) Would allow a state to buy water that contains invasive species if the species are already present in the area. The bill would help Texas pump water for its growing cities from neighboring states.
Commercial Vessel Incidental Discharge Act: (Rep. Duncan Hunter, Calif., and Sen. Roger Wicker, Miss.) Would weaken the ability of states to limit pollution from commercial shipping. Ten state attorneys general, including California's, wrote in opposition.
Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency Act: (Rep. Matt Gaetz, Fla.) Would abolish the EPA.
Public Input for National Monuments Act: (Rep. Greg Walden, Ore.) Seeks to amend the Antiquities Act, which has given presidents authority to protect public lands by declaring them national monuments.
Additional GOP bills targeting ability of agencies to write rules:
REINS Act: (Rep. Doug Collins, Ga.) Would give Congress the authority to approve new rules; if Congress fails to act within 70 days, the rule is voided. In a Congress bent on reducing bureaucracy, the act would likely all but eliminate new rule making. Passed House.
Regulatory Accountability Act: (Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Va.) Would add numerous hurdles to rule making, hobbling federal agencies' ability to pass new protections. Passed House.
Midnight Rules Relief Act: (Rep. Darrell Issa, Calif.) Would allow Congress to overturn any regulation passed in the last 60 days of a previous administration, including Obama's. Passed House.
SCRUB Act: (Rep. Jason Smith, Mo.) Seeks to create a commission to review regulations, assessing costs of rules but not their benefits. Requires the agency issuing a new regulation to remove an existing regulation of equal or greater cost. Could restrict new protections regardless of the science behind them.
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