The Real Lowdown: The Trump and Congressional Republican Assault on Our Environment, Vol. 27

Scott Pruitt is ignoring the law on air quality, NRDC sues on behalf of endangered species, and the Clean Power Plan is in jeopardy.
Credit: Bill Dickinson/Flickr

Scott Pruitt is ignoring the law on air quality, NRDC sues on behalf of endangered species, and the Clean Power Plan is in jeopardy.

Actions speak louder than words, Mr. Administrator. From his first days in office, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt vowed that the agency would “respect the rule of law.”

Under the Clean Air Act, the nearly five-decade-old law that has scrubbed millions of tons of harmful pollution from our skies, Pruitt was required to report on October 2 which counties across the United States don’t meet the new and stricter federal standard for ground-level ozone, or smog.

Pruitt blew it off. The EPA didn’t release any information about where Americans are still breathing unsafe amounts of smog. “Pruitt is just breaking the law,” said John Walke, director of NRDC’s Clean Air Project, who hinted at possible legal action. “It risks the health of millions of people and stalls required cleanup steps.”

Another aphorism also applies to Pruitt’s week: A man is known by the company he keeps.

News broke that the nation’s chief environmental steward has spent huge amounts of time in his seven months in office going to fancy dinners and far-flung places meeting with executives of many companies EPA regulates―including coal, chemical, and oil and gas firms―and far-right donors and their front groups. But he’s had hardly a minute to share his vision or agenda with citizen and community groups concerned about Americans’ health. Even Vanity Fair was offended: “The EPA chief has treated coal-mining executives to steak dinners, while giving pro-environmental groups the cold shoulder.

On another pro-polluter front, the EPA this week launched a “Smart Sectors” program to work hand in hand with industry on how it should be regulated. NRDC’s Climate & Clean Air program director David Doniger interpreted the new venture thus: “Willingly delivering our public health and environmental guardian to industry captivity.”

In other ways, the assault on Americans’ health and environment by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans continued but met a significant setback.

Rough Confirmation Hearing for EPA Nominees Wehrum and Dourson

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on October 4 for two Trump nominees for senior posts at the EPA: Bill Wehrum to head the Office of Air and Radiation, and Michael Dourson to lead the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

They were grilled on various issues including their close ties to companies regulated by the EPA, and neither should be confirmed.

Wehrum would become Trump’s “dirty-air czar,” said NRDC’s John Walke, who has posted an extensive blog on Wehrum’s dubious record. Daniel Rosenberg, senior attorney in NRDC’s Health program, said that putting Dourson in charge of protecting people from toxic chemicals “is like hiring Martin Shkreli to control the price of medicine.”

BLM Methane

Trump’s deregulators suffered another legal setback in an October 4 decision by the federal court in San Francisco, which ruled that U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke acted illegally when he suspended an Obama-era rule curbing methane emissions from oil and gas operations on public and tribal lands. The same thing happened to Pruitt in July, when another court rebuked his effort to yank EPA methane standards.

The same day, the Bureau of Land Management announced another proposal to delay the Interior Department’s standards until January 2019, but the court ruling means they will go into effect, for now. NRDC methane expert Meleah Geertsma observed: “In the Trump administration’s short lifetime, at least two courts have already rejected lawless stays and suspensions, and Trump’s Justice Department has conceded error in several more cases, rather than risk more adverse court rulings.”

Energy Department Chief Perry Seeks Coal and Nuke Bailout

On September 29, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry proposed an enormous bailout for coal and nuclear power plants. The Perry plan, according to NRDC attorney Miles Farmer, misconstrues the DOE’s own recent study of electric markets to justify propping up the plans.

“If adopted,” Farmer said, “the proposal would essentially ensure that coal and nuclear plants in regions encompassing most of the country continue to run even where they are too expensive to compete in the energy market. It would saddle utility customers with higher costs, while posing obstacles to the electricity system integration of cleaner and less risky energy sources such as solar and wind.”

John Moore, director of the Sustainable FERC Project at NRDC, testified on Capitol Hill on October 3, where he charged the DOE with “sowing confusion” and added that the United States can achieve higher grid reliability at lower cost with less pollution by defining reliability and resiliency needs first.

House Takes Aim at Endangered Species

Five bills that would wipe out federal protection for endangered species were considered on October 4 by the House Natural Resources Committee. “The Endangered Species Act has saved more than 99 percent of species under its care from extinction. If the GOP is so concerned about fixing the act, they should start with fully funding it,” said Nora Apter, an NRDC legislative advocate.

NRDC Lawsuit on Pesticides

 Earlier in the week, NRDC went to bat for butterflies, birds, and insects by asking a federal court to vacate the registrations of nearly 100 products that contain three widely used and harmful neonic pesticides the EPA allowed on the market illegally.

“Massive pollinator die-offs across the country show that these pesticides cause serious harm to wildlife. It’s time for EPA to do its job and make sure our most vulnerable species are protected from the products it approves,” said Rebecca Riley, a senior attorney with NRDC.

Ahead: EPA to Abandon Climate Action for a Dirty Power Plan

Any day now, the EPA is expected to propose a rule to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the nation’s best tool to curb climate change and sell the country a snake oil replacement—a Dirty Power Plan—that won’t work or may even make carbon pollution worse. Go figure.

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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