The Real Lowdown: The Trump and Congressional Republican Assault on Our Environment, Vol. 4

Budget cuts on our environment and health, rollbacks on clean cars, and more trouble for our climate.
Credit: iStock

“Beware the Ides of March!”

That warning rang true the day after, on March 16, when President Trump released his 2018 budget proposal. The Washington Post front page was covered in red ink showing Trump’s epically egregious cuts for federal agencies from NASA to Housing, from Health to State. None were deeper than those affecting the Environmental Protection Agency—which Trump would mortally wound.

A 31 percent cut in the EPA budget would take the environmental cop off the beat and make it much harder, if not impossible, for EPA to protect clean water, air, and lands, defend us from toxic chemicals, clean up hazardous waste, and make it possible to leave our children a livable world. It’s a “direct assault on our future,” says Scott Slesinger, NRDC’s legislative director.

The overarching narrative emerging from the Trump budget, according to NRDC’s government affairs director, David Goldston, is an ideological effort to shut down environmental protections throughout the government and sanction corporate misbehavior.

It’s not as if Congress will approve this budget; it’s so delusional and extreme there’s little danger. The problem is that the GOP-run Congress might use it as a starting point for its own deep budget cuts. Fortunately, Goldston observes, Trump’s plan is just the opening salvo, and if past is prologue, the American public will see how much damage Trump would do to clean air, safe water, and a healthy environment—and shut him down.

Along with Trump’s targeting of specific and popular environmental programs in various budgets for cuts or eliminations, in recent days we’ve seen other actions from Team Trump that put polluters first and the rest of us at risk.

Trump steers away from cleaner cars.

Just before releasing his budget, the Platituder in Chief took to the road recently to spin another of those yarns he’s so good at—never mind the pesky truth. Trump traveled to a Detroit auto plant to proclaim that weakening carbon pollution standards for cars will make America great again. Wrong. These standards save drivers money at the pump, cut our dependence on oil, and clean up the air. “This is just another part of President Trump’s retreat from action on climate change,” says NRDC President Rhea Suh.

Interior Department budget overlooks national parks.

In his 2018 budget outline, Trump envisions a 12 percent cut to the Interior Department, which even its secretary, Ryan Zinke, thinks is too much. Sharon Buccino, head of NRDC’s Land and Wildlife program, points out that our national parks are huge generators for the economy, drawing more than 300 million visitors last year, yet there is a $12 billion backlog in projects to maintain these special places. And funding cuts instead of investing in conservation “paves the way for dirty energy development,” Buccino says.

Energy science, weatherization, and ENERGY STAR losses.


Trump’s misguided budget proposes cuts to applied research at the Department of Energy 45 percent and the Office of Science 17 percent. He would end weatherization assistance for the country’s neediest households. The EPA’s ENERGY STAR program also would be zeroed out.  The latter has 18,000 private partners who help consumers and businesses save money by choosing the most efficient appliances, equipment, and buildings.

NOAA research is downsized.

Trump thinks the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration can live on less—but not so, says Sarah Chasis, director of NRDC’s Oceans program. “All of us, including our military, airlines, farmers, and fishermen, depend on its satellite data and weather forecasts,” she says.

NRDC is holding team Trump accountable.

Meanwhile, NRDC is working to hold Team Trump accountable, starting with pro-polluter Scott Pruitt. What in the world drove the EPA administrator to tell a national audience on CNBC’s Squawk Box program that he doesn’t think human activity and carbon dioxide are major contributors to climate change?

Asked whether CO2 emissions contribute to global warming, Pruitt responded: “I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” That statement is so confounding, so contrary to established science, according to Ben Longstreth, senior attorney in NRDC’s climate campaign, the public deserves to know what he based it on. So we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the EPA for any and all records, data, conversations, meetings, and information that informed Pruitt’s baffling comment. 

Pruitt passes on safety.

Someone needs to remind the new administrator that the mission of the EPA is to protect Americans from harm. That surely wasn’t foremost in Pruitt’s mind when he granted a request by chemical manufacturers to sideline implementation of new safety requirements at chemical plants.

The rule, developed over three years in response to a 2013 fertilizer plant explosion in Texas that killed 15 workers, sought to improve emergency coordination and remove hazards. The Texas accident wasn’t the only tragedy. There were 1,500 similar incidents between 2004 and 2013 that killed 58 people and injured 17,000.

More climate trouble is ahead.

Any day now, Trump is expected to sign an executive order to begin unraveling the centerpiece of former President Obama’s climate action agenda, the Clean Power Plan to cut dangerous carbon pollution from power plants. The order, which could sweep away other climate change–related measures advanced in recent years, will meet strong resistance from NRDC and many others.  

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


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