The Real Lowdown: The Trump and Congressional Republican Assault on Our Environment, Vol. 29

Grossly unfit nominees abound; Pruitt casts smoke and mirrors around “sue and settle”; senator moves to strike public comments from infrastructure projects.
Credit: Phil Augustavo / iStock

Grossly unfit nominees abound; Pruitt casts smoke and mirrors around “sue and settle”; senator moves to strike public comments from infrastructure projects.

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt went after honest science this past week. He also declared himself a fan of less accountability and more freedom for corporate polluters to foul our air, land, and water.

A memo surfaced showing that the head of the conservative Heartland Institute, Joe Bast, also has a low opinion of the scientific community. But Bast expressed misgivings about Pruitt’s proposal for a “Red Team–Blue Team” exercise that is meant—though Pruitt doesn’t admit it—to question the scientific consensus that climate change is real, largely human-caused, and getting worse. The exercise “is vague, probably would not be effective, and is unlikely to come about,” Bast said in a memo that first surfaced in E&E News.

So much for your so-called allies, Mr. Pruitt.

Heartless ideas from Heartland on science and climate change

In his memo, Bast counseled his fellow climate deniers to cast carbon dioxide as helpful and not harmful, to never use the phrase “air pollution,” and to rally around the idea of stopping funding for research into climate change.

Along those lines, he wrote, it would be good to “fundamentally challenge, reform, or replace” the National Academy of Sciences. That’s apparently because Heartland’s anti-climate crusaders are threatened by the academy’s role in producing landmark scientific reports verifying that climate change is real, caused by humans, and a significant risk, Natural Resources Defense Council climate expert Juanita Constible wrote.

“We agree with Heartland and friends that scientists have more to learn about the details of climate change,” she wrote. “But there’s no credible way to learn those things if corporate polluters and their allies dismantle the scientific institutions with which they disagree.”

Pruitt purges honest scientists to make America toxic again

Pruitt revealed on October 17 that he’s instituting a new policy to purge scientists who receive a research grant from EPA―such as academic scientists not affiliated with private companies―from EPA science panels and advisory boards. But he won’t impose similar restrictions on scientists and consultants working for corporations that have a financial interest in EPA decisions.

“There’s a reason he won’t apply the same limits to scientists funded by corporate polluters,” said Jennifer Sass, senior scientist in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Health program. “Pruitt’s purge has a single goal: get rid of scientists who tell us the facts about threats to our environment and health.”

An end to sue-and-settle

On October 16, Pruitt issued a directive that would quash accountability to the public and give polluters more license to harm the environment as he vowed to end what the right wing has dubbed “sue and settle,” the EPA’s practice of settling lawsuits brought by environmental groups.

“Pruitt’s doing nothing more than posturing about a nonexistent problem and political fiction,” said John Walke, director of the Clean Air program at NRDC. “His targeting of legal settlements, especially where EPA has no defense to breaking the law, will just allow violations to persist, along with harms to Americans . . . and will lead to dirtier air, dirtier water, and sicker people.”

Four Trump environmental picks deserve Senate thumbs-down

This past week, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee was to consider two of President Trump’s nominees for the EPA, career chemical industry lobbyist Michael Dourson to head the toxics office and William Wehrum, whose work in the Bush EPA resulted in many Clean Air Act violations, to head the air office. But without explanation, the committee canceled its meeting.

NRDC President Rhea Suh said Dourson and Wehrum are “wildly unfit” Trump picks for environmental posts, as are two others, coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to serve as Pruitt’s deputy and climate denier Kathleen Hartnett White to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

The Senate should reject all four and insist that the White House choose new candidates “who will advance the solemn mission to protect Americans’ health and our environment, not put both at risk for the sake of polluter profits,” Suh said.

Senator Sullivan seeks to sideline public to push through projects

With talk of a major infrastructure bill being considered this year in Congress, NRDC was asked this past week for views on a bill introduced by Sen. Dan Sullivan. The Alaska Republican says his measure is designed to speed up the issuing of building permits for major projects. But it also would undermine the public’s right to comment or to recommend less environmentally damaging alternatives under the National Environmental Policy Act.

“The problem isn’t the NEPA process,” said NRDC’s Legislative Director Scott Slesinger. “The problem is money. Congress has been unwilling to find the money for big infrastructure projects.”

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 and fact-checking President Trump’s misstatements in Trump Lies.

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