The Real Lowdown: The Trump and Congressional Republican Assault on Our Environment, Vol. 31

A tax bill that hurts the environment and people’s health, more lies by EPA chief Pruitt, and it may get very expensive to visit our national parks.
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A tax bill that hurts the environment and people’s health, more lies by EPA chief Pruitt, and it may get very expensive to visit our national parks.

Not all congressional Republicans seem willing to drink the “tax reform” Kool-Aid.

That’s the latest takeaway from the struggle by President Trump and his congressional GOP allies to force a tax cut for the rich through Congress this year.

House Republican leaders pushed their tax scheme through the lower chamber on November 16. The plan heavily skews benefits to corporations and the well-off, balloons the federal deficit by billions of dollars, and leaves the rest of us crumbs or an extra burden. This all comes at the expense of the middle class, public health, and the environment.

Worse, the House tax measure scales back incentives for electric vehicles and clean energy and barely nicks giveaways to the oil and gas industry, handouts that cost taxpayers at least $4.7 billion a year.

While most Republican House members voted for the tax plan, the Senate is toiling on its own, separate bill. In the Senate, though, several Republicans appear to share Democratic concerns about their deficit-busting measure’s far-reaching consequences, such as causing millions of Americans to lose their health insurance coverage and weakening protections against pollution. So passage of a GOP tax plan is no sure thing.

That didn’t stop a Senate panel, however, from passing a bill on November 15 to raise $1 billion in revenue—which could be used to help pay for the tax cuts—by opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to exploitation by the oil and gas industry. This wild Alaska refuge, nearly 20 million acres of coastal plain and mountain peaks, is home to salmon, cod, and 40 other kinds of fish; grizzly bears, bull moose, and noble musk oxen; and snowy owls, golden eagles, peregrine falcons, and other birds that visit the refuge annually from every state in our country.

The land is also sacred to the Gwivh’in people, whose culture and subsistence depend on the annual migration of the porcupine caribou that use the coastal plain as their nursery. 

After Americans pause over turkey, stuffing, and pie next week, Congress and Trump will be back at it, trying to put our health, environment, public lands, and fiscal future at risk with misguided tax schemes and other bad ideas.

Pruitt’s Big Lie on Economic Growth and Environmental Safeguards

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt told a conservative crowd in Houston recently that the attitude in Washington before Trump arrived was that “you can’t be about growth and jobs and also be a good steward of the environment. That’s inaccurate. That’s a false narrative.”

It’s a lie, all right, said NRDC President Rhea Suh, but Pruitt’s the one who’s been telling it―not the career professionals at EPA, and not others who were in place when the Trump administration “arrived.”

Between 2009 and 2016, while the administration strengthened safeguards to protect our environment and health, the U.S. economy grew an inflation-adjusted 16 percent and added 11.3 million jobs in the longest unbroken stretch of job growth in U.S. history, she noted.

Zinke Plans to Double Entry Fees to Parks and Open a Loophole for Polluters

The public comment period closes on Thanksgiving evening for U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s plan to sharply increase entry fees at the national parks to $70, which he announced on October 24.

Theo Spencer, senior advocate in NRDC’s Land & Wildlife program, notes that raising these fees stands in disturbing contrast to what Interior charges oil and gas companies to develop and drill on lands owned by American taxpayers. Companies routinely pay as little as $2 an acre for that right.

“In sum: Entrance to Grand Canyon―$70. Right to drill on public land―$2 an acre,” Spencer writes, adding, “Why are big oil, gas, and coal companies getting a massive discount on precious national resources found on our public lands?”

Dirty Trucks Get a New Lease on Life

The EPA, under Pruitt’s leadership, proposed on November 9 to repeal Obama-era emissions standards for freight trucks that combine an old engine with a new frame.

“Reopening this loophole is an unconscionable move that could cause the premature deaths of 1,600 Americans from just one year of dirty truck sales,” said Luke Tonachel, director of NRDC’s Clean Vehicles and Fuels Project. EPA has estimated these engines typically emit 20 to 40 times more pollution than the modern, cleaner engines that major truck manufacturers now make.

Trump Encourages Poaching by Reversing Elephant Trophy Ban

News broke on November 15 that the president lifted an Obama-era ban on bringing slain elephant “trophies” from Zambia and Zimbabwe back into the United States, even though elephants are listed as endangered species. Elephant populations plunged 30 percent across 18 countries in Africa from 2007 to 2014, the Great Elephant Census reported last year. This put their remaining numbers at slightly more than 350,000.

“While depressing, none of this is too surprising for those of us who have seen countless photos of Trump’s sons posing with their animal trophies. But it is disgusting and, likely, illegal. Our lawyers are looking hard at this and we’re weighing our options,” said Elly Pepper, wildlife advocate in NRDC’s Land & Wildlife program.

Worst-ever Wehrum Heads to EPA Air-Quality Office

On November 9, the Senate voted 49–47 to confirm Bill Wehrum—who has represented oil, gas and chemical companies—to head the EPA Office of Air and Radiation. This is despite the fact that when Wehrum previously served in that, office the courts overturned regulations 27 times that he helped write.

John Walke, clean air director at NRDC, called Wehrum “the worst pick ever to be the nation’s top air quality official.” He urged Wehrum to turn over a new leaf now and work hard to curb “dangerous air pollution that makes us sick and endangers our climate.”

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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