The Real Lowdown: The Trump and Congressional Republican Assault on Our Environment, Vol. 15
Bears Ears National Monument is in danger, more international embarrassment, rollbacks to an air pollution rule, and NRDC sues—again.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt ran into trouble on June 15 defending the indefensible: President Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget that proposes to eviscerate the EPA.
Testifying before a key House panel, Pruitt brought some trouble on himself. He conveniently couldn’t recall if his agency budget zeroed out funding from the get-go for the Great Lakes Recovery Initiative. He also claimed—falsely—victory in more than a dozen lawsuits he helped bring against the EPA as Oklahoma attorney general. And he seemed to ask Congress to change the Clean Air Act to allow more dangerous pollution.
Some trouble came from Democrats who flatly rejected Trump’s proposed EPA budget—a 31 percent reduction that would slash funding for dozens of health, science, environmental, and climate programs. But Pruitt also encountered surprising headwinds from fellow Republicans questioning the depth of cuts to the EPA and to a handful of specific programs that do good work in their states.
Afterward, Rhea Suh, president of NRDC, was left to wonder: “Who is protecting our environment and health? “It certainly isn’t Scott Pruitt,” she wrote. “In nearly two hours of testimony . . . Pruitt offered not a single idea for protecting our air, water, and lands from pollution; defending the health of our children; or fighting the growing dangers of climate change.”
Pruitt is expected to take his Trump budget defense to Senate appropriators later this month. In other ways, the Trump Team’s march to undo long-standing health and environmental protections continued unabated—but not unchallenged.
Zinke to Bears Ears—Make It Bears Earlobe
On June 12, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke took the first step toward drastically shrinking Utah’s culturally, historically, and visually rich three-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument. If he succeeds, it may need a new name: Bears Earlobe.
Zinke’s move is an affront to the indigenous peoples who hammered out plans to protect lands they hold sacred, said NRDC President Rhea Suh. She added that it “sends yet another chilling signal about the Trump administration’s intent to hand over irreplaceable American landscapes to mining and fossil fuel interests.” But the fight isn’t over yet.
Pruitt’s EPA: Make Chemical Plants Dangerous Again
On June 12, the EPA delayed until 2019 a federal standard approved in the Obama era to make chemical plants safer. It had been advanced after a 2013 fertilizer plant explosion killed 15 workers. Between 2004 and 2013, 1,500 similar incidents at chemical facilities injured more than 17,000 people and killed 58. The EPA’s stalling move runs counter to public opinion—a 2015 poll showed that 79 percent of likely voters supported such safety measures.
From Bologna to Baloney
Before delivering his misleading testimony to House lawmakers, Pruitt dissed our allies by bailing out early—after spending just two hours there—from a two-day G7 climate summit in Bologna, Italy.
Pruitt soon resurfaced at what CNN called the “weirdest Cabinet meeting ever” on June 13, where Trump’s senior team heaped upon him unalloyed accolades. At his turn, Pruitt told Trump that in Bologna he delivered the message that the United States “will be focused on growth and protecting the environment.”
NRDC’s David Doniger noted, “And then he [Pruitt] added, in a bald-faced lie: ‘It was received well.’ Baloney.”
NRDC Sues Trump for Holding Up Energy Savings
You might think Trump would be open to helping Americans save money. Think again.
On June 13, NRDC and Earthjustice, representing Sierra Club and the Consumer Federation of America, plus 11 states and the City of New York, sued the Trump administration for illegally delaying five energy efficiency standards set in motion in the Obama era that would save consumers as much as $11 billion. They are for portable air conditioners, air compressors, walk-in coolers and freezers, packaged boilers that heat one-fourth of the nation’s commercial floor space, and uninterruptible power supplies—backup battery systems used in computers and other electronics.
“We’re standing up today for American families and businesses,” said Kit Kennedy, director of NRDC’s Energy & Transportation program. “These delays are hurting their budgets and creating uncertainty for U.S. manufacturers that need to make critical decisions about their product lines.”
NRDC Lawsuit Prompts Reinstatement of Mercury Safeguard
One bright spot appeared in the past week. On December 15, 2016, the EPA issued the Mercury Effluent Rule, intended to protect Americans from the more than five million tons of mercury—a dangerous neurotoxin—that dental offices dispose of into the water every year.
After the EPA withdrew the rule early this year, NRDC sued, and on June 9 the agency responded by reinstating the rule. “Protecting the public—and not responding to a lawsuit—should have been motivation enough for this sensible action,” said NRDC attorney Margaret Hsieh.
That’s this week’s Real Lowdown. In this era when our health and environment are under assault by Trump and congressional Republicans, NRDC has prepared a list of other far-ranging threats. And we’re vigilantly reporting on the administration’s attack on the environment through Trump Watch.