The Real Lowdown: The Trump and Congressional Republican Assault on Our Environment, Vol. 3

Anacostia River, Maryland
Pollution in the Anacostia River, Maryland
Credit: Kamaweti Mutu/Flickr

Nearly halfway through his first 100 days, President Donald Trump is on track to set a record for putting Americans’ health and our environment at risk.

In recent days, we’ve seen Trump issue an order to keep streams and rivers flowing with toxic chemicals, add a trio of polluters’ allies to his cabinet, hint of eviscerating the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and telegraph he’ll soon start to try to unravel our country’s best chance to curb dangerous climate change: the popular Clean Power Plan.

Cabinet nominees

The GOP-led Senate staffed up Trump’s cabinet of polluters by confirming Ryan Zinke at the U.S. Department of the Interior, threatening public lands; Rick Perry at Energy, jeopardizing clean energy; and Scott Pruitt, the polluters’ lawyer, at the EPA.

After Pruitt was sworn in, his old office in Oklahoma released—on court orders—thousands of e-mails confirming his critics’ worst fears. They showed he worked hand in glove as attorney general with fossil fuel lobbyists and dirty energy companies to try to block the EPA’s clean air and clean water rules as well as other health protections. Pruitt also used private e-mail to communicate with his AG staff, even though he told the Senate he did not.

The newly minted administrator, speaking before the Conservative Political Action Committee on February 25, promised to roll back environmental protections in an “aggressive way” and told his appreciative audience that calls to completely eliminate the EPA are “justified.

NRDC is fighting back

A few days before, NRDC filed a Freedom of Information Act request for materials and communications related to a press release the EPA issued announcing Pruitt as the new agency administrator. In the press release, the EPA endorsed statements calling itself “tone deaf,” “rogue,” and “one of the most vilified agencies in the ‘swamp’ of overreaching government.” Such statements are “unheard of and extremely alarming,” says Aaron Colangelo, codirector of litigation at NRDC. “We want to know who and what is motivating the agency’s new leader to undermine the EPA’s mission before he even gets started.”

On February 28, Trump addressed a joint session of Congress for the first time as president, where he outline an agenda that purportedly would create jobs and lift the economy. In response, NRDC President Rhea Suh penned a blog on the website The Hill, noting that the speech left unsaid “his unmitigated assault on the nation’s environment and public health.”

Slashing the EPA budget

Words and deeds don’t always match up. In his address to Congress, Trump promised to “promote clean air and clean water.” But he declined to mention this: Behind the scenes, he’s cooking up a budget plan that, according to news reports, includes a 24 percent cut to the EPA, the guardian of our air and water and environment. If approved, his plan would cripple the agency founded by Richard Nixon in 1970. NRDC President Rhea Suh warned: “Slashing the EPA’s budget will be dangerous to our health and the well-being of our children.”

Love that dirty water

Trump loves that dirty water. He has signed away safeguards that protected streams and downstream communities from coal-mining pollution. And he recently signed an executive order dubbed the “Dirty Water Rule” because it begins the rollback of the Obama-approved Clean Water Rule to protect wetlands and drinking water sources for more than 117 million Americans. Suh declared: “We will stand up to this reckless assault. We’ll stand up for clean water and a healthy future for all Americans.”

Moving ahead with pipelines

In that same address to Congress, Trump boasted about clearing the way for construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which would threaten drinking water and our climate, and the Dakota Access Pipeline, disregarding concerns from indigenous people about its impact on their communities. Trump also touted a directive he issued that new American pipelines be made with American steel—except a few days later he exempted KXL from his “buy American” requirement.

Pruitt steps away from limiting methane emissions

Just days into his job, Pruitt yanked an Obama administration directive from last November requiring thousands of oil and gas companies to report a broad range of information about their operations’ emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Pruitt acted just one day after 11 state attorneys general asked the EPA to suspend the requirement, which had been part of a long-term plan to limit wasteful and climate-harming methane emissions.

Drilling on public lands

Even before Zinke took office, the Department of the Interior abruptly stopped enforcing a rule that closed a loophole the fossil fuel industry has used to lower the royalties for extracting oil on public lands (by artificially depressing the market value of that oil). Taxpayers, according to estimates, have lost as much as $30 billion with this scheme.

Orders coming to derail climate action

Trump could, as early as next week, issue an executive order undermining or eliminating the Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of President Obama’s climate action agenda. The plan sets the first national emissions limits on the nation’s power plants, the largest source of the dangerous carbon pollution that is driving climate change.

Reopening public lands to coal mining

Trump also is expected to sign an order lifting an Obama administration moratorium on new coal leasing on public lands. This ignores poll findings of strong support for conservation rather than development among residents of the Rocky Mountain states, home to large tracts of public lands.

NRDC has prepared a list of other far-ranging threats posed by the new administration. And we will be vigilantly monitoring and reporting on its assault on the environment through Trump Watch.