The Real Lowdown: The Trump and Congressional Republican Assault on Our Environment, Vol. 11

More pro-polluters appointed, a barrage of dangerous bills advanced, and Bears Ears under threat—again. But there’s one bright spot: bold climate action in Virginia.
An oil pumpjack sits just southeast of Bears Ears
Credit: WildEarth Guardians via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

More pro-polluters appointed, a barrage of dangerous bills advanced, and Bears Ears under threat—again. But there’s one bright spot: bold climate action in Virginia.

The recent drama emanating from the White House—worthy of Chekhov or an episode of House of Cards—has distracted President Trump from his agenda to attack our bedrock health and environmental protections.

But it hasn’t waylaid others.

Members of Team Trump and congressional Republican allies on Capitol Hill have marched on with an attempt to put polluters ahead and all the rest of us at risk.

In recent days, a Senate panel advanced a quintet of blandly named but blatantly dangerous bills, a cabinet official toured Bears Ears National Monument with an eye toward elimination, several pro-polluter subcabinet nominees surfaced, and the public weighed in like a sumo wrestler against a Trump executive order that could eliminate rules to protect Americans from environmental hazard and harm.

There was one bright spot—bold climate action—but it was outside dysfunctional D.C.

Senate panel advances bills to stifle safeguards

On May 17, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved five bills trying to fulfill White House strategist Steve Bannon’s dream of deconstructing the administrative state. The goal, ultimately, is to make the government ineffective.

Now headed to the Senate floor: the Regulatory Accountability Act, the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, the Midnight Rules Relief Act, the Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act, and the Early Participation in Regulations Act.

These titles mask their true intent: To give industrial polluters the upper hand and forever tilt the playing field against the American people. The bills would stop the federal government dead in its tracks from ever issuing another standard, rule, or safeguard to make our water or food safer, our lands or air cleaner, our homes or buildings freer of toxic chemicals, and our wildlife and oceans more sustainable.

73 to 1 against: That’s how many Americans feel about the EPA’s plans to kill health and environmental safeguards

In the second week of May, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency held “listening sessions” to hear public comment on a Trump executive order requiring EPA to recommend “specific rules that should be considered for repeal, replacement, and modification.”

Daniel Rosenberg, senior attorney in NRDC’s Health program, participated in the session. “Not surprisingly,” he said, “few, if any, individual citizens or public interest groups asked the EPA to weaken health safeguards designed to clean up air pollution, keep our water safe to drink, or protect people from toxic chemicals.”

In fact, the balance was 73 to 1 against. That’s the tally NRDC came up with after sampling the hundreds of comments to the EPA after the formal public comment period closed on May 15.

“Americans want clean air, clean water, and a safe climate, and they want the EPA to uphold its mission of protecting human health—not to bow to the will of polluters,” concluded Juanita Constible, a special projects director at NRDC who reviewed many of the comments.

Trump adds to subcabinet of polluters

In recent weeks, Trump has added to his Cabinet of Polluters with a crew that could be viewed as a subcabinet of polluters.

The latest appointments include Jeffrey Rosen for deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, who has a long history representing firms hostile to federal regulations; David Bernhardt for deputy secretary of the U.S. Interior Department, who has worked extensively for fossil fuel and mining companies; and talk show host Sam Clovis for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientist post, even though Clovis has no scientific training and has called climate change “junk science.”

Zinke visits Bears Ears and listens—mostly to opponents

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recently visited the 1.3 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument to listen to local views after Trump signed an executive order on April 26 to allow national monuments to be rescinded or shrunk. This could free up public lands for development, mining, or fossil fuel extraction.

The former Montana congressman spent most of his time listening to opponents of Bears Ears, such as Utah government officials, leaving tribal leaders and others feeling unheard.

Zinke has until June 10 to make a recommendation on Bears Ears to Trump. Sharon Buccino, Land & Wildlife program director at NRDC, defended keeping our national monuments, writing that they are “testaments to our nation’s heritage that enrich local communities and protect our most imperiled cultural and natural resources.”

Outside drama-town D.C., Governor McAuliffe acts on climate and clean energy

Outside the Beltway, in the land of the Old Dominion, something big occurred. On May 16, Virginia’s governor, Terry McAuliffe, signed an executive order making him the first governor since last November’s election to act against climate change.

His order aims to reduce CO2 pollution from power plants and help stimulate growth in clean energy jobs and renewable power.

“President Trump’s agenda to put Virginians’ health and safety at risk was stopped at the banks of the Potomac today, where Governor McAuliffe delivered on his promise to tackle climate change and grow a clean energy economy in the Commonwealth,” said NRDC’s Walton Shepherd.

In this era in which our health and environment are under attack by Trump and congressional Republicans, NRDC has prepared a list of other far-ranging threats. And we will be vigilantly monitoring and reporting on the administration’s assault on the environment through Trump Watch.