The Real Lowdown: The Trump and Congressional Republican Assault on Our Environment, Vol. 21

The rollback of the Clean Water Rule has officially begun, a wildlife refuge is at risk from Trump’s border wall.
Credit: iStock

The rollback of the Clean Water Rule has officially begun, a wildlife refuge is at risk from Trump’s border wall.

Back on June 21 at a political rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, President Trump promised that, under his watch, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would focus on delivering “clean air and clean, beautiful, crystal water. Nice, beautiful, clean water. That’s what we want, right? Right?”

Indeed. But how does that lofty promise square with the down-to-earth reality of the EPA’s long-telegraphed move, proposed this week, to gut Obama-era clean water protections? A round peg in a square hole, it seems.

A new proposed rule was published July 27 in the Federal Register, starting the process to roll back Clean Water Rule safeguards that would limit pollution in major bodies of water, rivers, streams, and wetlands—sources of drinking water for about one-third of all Americans.

The repeal “strikes directly at public health,” said NRDC President Rhea Suh, and makes it “easier for irresponsible developers and others to contaminate our waters and send the pollution downstream.” Remember, said Suh, development of the Clean Water Rule was informed by more than 400 stakeholder meetings nationwide, more than 1,200 peer-reviewed scientific publications, and more than a million public comments―from small-business owners, farmers, conservationists, anglers, hunters, industry, and others—some 87 percent of which supported the rule.

Trump and congressional Republicans also took other shots at health and environmental safeguards that protect the American people, our public lands, wildlife, and the climate.

Frack Attack

As part of the Trump administration’s wide-ranging drive to roll back federal safeguards, the Bureau of Land Management on July 25 proposed killing sensible rules finalized in 2015 for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public and tribal lands.

The federal standard has required oil and gas companies to disclose chemicals used in their operations, to manage fracking fluids that flow to the surface in a safer way, and to improve the construction of oil and gas wells in order to protect surrounding water supplies.

“While these rules still fall far short of what’s needed to reduce impacts from fracking, they would have provided some much-needed steps to better safeguard drinking water supplies, public health, and the environment,” said Amy Mall, an NRDC senior policy analyst. “This is just one more example of where this administration’s loyalties lie: with industry and polluters, not the people.”

Another Pollution Promoter Joins Team Trump

On July 24, the Senate confirmed, 53–43, David Bernhardt for the no. 2 post at the U.S. Department of the Interior. Bernhardt has lobbied for oil, mining, and western water interests, earning millions in legal and lobbying fees for his previous law firm.

“Mr. Bernhardt’s confirmation is another disturbing example of the Trump administration letting a polluters’ advocate police the same industries that paid him generously to push their anti-environmental agenda,” said NRDC legislative director Scott Slesinger. “This is the fox guarding the henhouse, except it’s the American people and their shared natural heritage that are in danger.”

Trump Will Skip Environmental Review of Border Wall

In the continuing saga of how much times have changed, it came to light this week that the Trump administration plans to invoke a 2005 counterterrorism law to bypass environmental impact studies of his ecologically ruinous plan for a wall along the U.S.– Mexico border. Last year, in the Obama era, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that construction of the wall—involving habitat destruction, noise, and truck traffic—would threaten more than 100 species, including the endangered ocelot and jaguarundi, cut off migration routes, and threaten the future of the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge in Texas.

Red Team, Blue Team Update

Fair and balanced? The EPA has reached out to the archconservative Heartland Institute to recruit participants for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s red team in his “red team, blue team” TV debate among scientists about climate change. In 2012, Heartland’s website declared that “the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.”

The purpose of recruiting such climate antagonists to the red team, wrote John Holdren, who served as Obama’s chief science advisor, “would be to create a sense of continuing uncertainty about the science of climate change, as an underpinning of the Trump administration’s case for not addressing it. Sad.”

Pruitt’s Next Goal? Eliminate Legal Foundation for Cutting Greenhouse Gases

This week, Venezuela―the South American nation spiraling into internal economic, political, and social chaos—found time to join the Paris Agreement. That leaves just a few other major countries outside the global pact to address the dangers of climate change, most glaringly the United States of America.

Trump quit the Paris accord earlier this year largely on Pruitt’s push. Now Pruitt may have another big goal: undoing the EPA’s 2009 science-based “endangerment finding” that provides the legal foundation for greenhouse gas regulations of any kind. But to do that, he’ll have to prove that greenhouse gases aren’t damaging the environment or that carbon pollution from cars and trucks and power plants aren’t contributing, says David Doniger, director of NRDC’s Climate & Clean Air program. “And he will need to document it all with a double Mount Everest of data to offset the Mount Everest of data that shows that accumulated pollution does indeed endanger public health and welfare,” said Doniger. “No one thinks it's possible, especially with his resources and staff. He will be laughed out of court.”

That’s this week’s Real Lowdown. NRDC has prepared a list of other far-ranging threats. And we’re vigilantly reporting on the administration’s assault on the environment through Trump Watch.

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