The Real Lowdown: The Trump and Congressional Republican Assault on Our Environment, Vol. 24

A non-announcement about the future of our national monuments, plus more climate change denial and an attempt to hide the health risks of coal mining.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, New Mexico
Credit: Bob Wick/BLM

A non-announcement about the future of our national monuments, plus more climate change denial and an attempt to hide the health risks of coal mining.

Team Trump has hardly been shy in its zeal to promote dangerous development of dirty fossil fuels on public lands and waters, pretty much anywhere. That’s why U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s long-awaited major announcement this week stood out.

It was a case of monumental deception.

On August 24, after a four-month study, Zinke delivered to President Trump recommendations for what to do with 27 of our national monuments, in response to Trump’s executive order calling for their “review.”

Zinke said he wouldn’t recommend eliminating any of the monuments carved from wilderness and ocean. He did say at least a “handful” could have their boundaries changed. That could open areas for development, although he didn’t say so directly.

Never mind that these precious lands and waters belong to you and me, now and for all time. Not to polluters and plunderers and profiteers eager to exploit them. Never mind that only Congress can modify the wild, cultural, historical, and archaeological monuments created by presidents under the 1906 Antiquities Act.

“This proposed rollback of our treasured public lands and waters is as outrageous as it is illegal,” said NRDC president Rhea Suh. “And it flies in the face of the original intention for our national monuments: to save America’s most special places for everyone, not just an entitled few.” If Trump follows through with cutting back monuments, she promised, “we’ll see him in court.”

In other ways, Trump and his team continued putting our health and environment in jeopardy by issuing a flawed report on the nation’s electricity grid, cleansing another official government website, and calling a halt to a health study on coal mining.

What about Fast-Growing Clean Energy?

Another much-anticipated report was released on August 24—dumped in the dark of night. This one came from the U.S. Department of Energy at the request of Secretary Rick Perry on the reliability of the electricity grid. While it doesn’t try to blame coal plant retirements on the growth of renewable energy or on federal regulation, it does read like “a disjointed attempt to support outdated, uncompetitive, and highly polluting power plants,” said John Moore, director of NRDC’s Sustainable FERC Project. Further, he said, the lengthy report ignores renewable energy’s contributions to a reliable electricity system.

“In short,” Moore and NRDC energy expert Miles Farmer said, “while we believe customers should pay less and get cleaner energy, Trump and the coal industry want customers to pay more and get dirtier energy.”

Climate Cleansing Again

Since Trump took office in January, a number of government websites have seen the words climate change altered or removed—as if that makes the central environmental threat of our time less real. The latest victim is the National Institutes of Health Environmental Science division website, a report from the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative shows. In one example, the headline “Climate Change and Human Health” was altered to “Climate and Human Health.”

“The cleansing continues,” David Doniger, director of NRDC’s Climate & Clean Air program told the Washington Post. “But they’re not going to be able to erase the science, or the truth, by scrubbing websites.”

Trump Halts Coal-Mining Health Study

Trump’s all about creating jobs, except those he doesn’t like. Officials at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine received orders on August 18 from the Interior Department to “cease all work” on a review of the increased health risks for Appalachian residents who live near mountaintop coal-mining sites.

The Interior’s purported reason was that it is conducting an agency-wide review of grants over $100,000 because of the department’s “changing budget situation.” Trump seeks a cut of $1.6 billion , or 12 percent, in the Interior’s budget.

“Stopping this study is a ploy to stop science in its tracks and keep the public in the dark about health risks as a favor to the mining industry, pure and simple,” said Representative Raul Grijalva of Arizona.

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.