The Real Lowdown: The Trump and Congressional Republican Assault on Our Environment, Vol. 2

A mountaintop mine in Wise County, West Virginia
Credit:, flyover courtesy of Southwings

Another week has passed, and Donald J. Trump is still on the road to becoming the worst president ever for our health and environment. The GOP-led Congress is, if anything, ahead of him in destroying basic protections.

Nominees squeak through.

Pruitt: On Capitol Hill, the Senate registered the strongest vote of no confidence ever for a president’s nominee to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

That’s because Trump chose Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, who repeatedly sued the EPA to stop it from doing its job, hasn’t one environmental achievement to his name, and wasn’t exactly forthcoming in his answers to senators’ tough confirmation questions.

NRDC President Rhea Suh characterized Pruitt as the “worst pick ever” for the EPA and warned that NRDC will use every tool to keep him from harming our air and water, endangering communities, and abandoning our kids to climate chaos.

Mulvaney: The GOP-led Senate also narrowly confirmed Representative Mick Mulvaney—a renowned foe of environmental safeguards and, really, any federal protections—to become director of the Office of Management and Budget.

In the House, Mulvaney opposed spending for the EPA and Department of Energy, aid for Americans harmed by disasters, and repairs to the lead-contaminated drinking water supply in Flint, Michigan. He also fought federal air and water protections and championed the REINS Act, which would effectively—and permanently—quash all federal standard-setting.

NRDC continues fighting back.

NRDC went to court to protect the endangered rusty patched bumblebee, suing the Trump administration for illegally suspending the rule that put the bee on the Endangered Species List. NRDC senior attorney Rebecca Riley characterized the bee as heading toward extinction—and soon—without protections afforded under the Endangered Species Act.

The suit is also to defend the rule of law and democratic processes. The species protection was rescinded without any notification or opportunity for public comment, in clear violation of law.

But the assault on our environment goes on.

Polluter transparency nixed: Congressional Republicans and Trump repealed a measure requiring U.S. energy firms to publicly disclose payments to foreign governments. Now it’ll be easier for polluters to bribe to develop fossil fuels, according to NRDC’s Franz Matzner, director of the Beyond Oil initiative.

Pollution protection: Trump’s war on the environment continued as he signed a congressional resolution canceling the Department of the Interior’s stream buffer rule, which aimed to protect streams—and ultimately communities, chiefly in Appalachia—from pollution from mountaintop coal mining. This is only the third time in 20 years that a president has signed such a resolution under the Congressional Review Act. The CRA is especially damaging because the affected agency is not supposed to ever again issue a rule that is “substantially the same” as the one repealed.

Hiring freeze: Trump’s government-wide hiring freeze already is hobbling the EPA’s effectiveness, acting Administrator Catherine McCabe said in a video. “The freeze on hiring is already creating some challenges to our ability to get the agency’s work done,” she said.

Unexpected good news.

Wildlife: Believe it or not, the president did one right thing by including wildlife trafficking in an executive order beefing up federal enforcement to thwart criminal organizations. NRDC deputy chief program officer Andrew Wetzler commended the new focus on wildlife crime as a potential threat to public safety and national security.

Additional threats ahead.

Repealing methane protections: The Senate is poised to consider a measure undoing the Obama administration’s Methane and Waste Prevention Rule, designed to curb wasteful methane emissions from oil and gas drilling. Several Republicans have been reluctant to vote to repeal the rule. Curbing the potent climate pollutant would lower the risk of asthma attacks, cancers, and neurological disorders—and help taxpayers because captured methane could be sold to consumers.

Predators: The House has teed up a measure rolling back an Obama administration rule to protect predators such as black bears and wolves in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. Another measure would give a green light to more oil and gas drilling in our national parks.

Recess and nominees: Congress is in recess from February 20 to 24. It will return with two key nominations pending before the Senate: Former Texas governor Rick Perry to lead the Department of Energy and Representative Ryan Zinke to become secretary of the Department of the Interior. If confirmed, they would join Trump’s cabinet of polluters.

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.