Welcome to our weekly Trump v. Earth column, in which onEarth reviews the environment-related shenanigans of President Trump and his allies.
Bulldozers Versus Butterflies
Heavy equipment rolled up to the National Butterfly Center, of all places, this week so workers could begin building a 36-foot-high structure along the border between Texas and Mexico. The Trump administration, which hasn’t secured funding for a wall, insists that this behemoth of concrete and steel is actually just fencing.
In addition to being a terrible idea all around, this segment of wall would divide the 100-acre protected habitat in two and be a disaster for wildlife that take refuge there, such as endangered ocelots. The wall would fragment bird and butterfly habitat, too, as it would be too high for several species to fly over. And the construction itself, along with the removal of 30 million square feet of vegetation, won’t be particularly conducive to feeding and breeding, either.
This is just another example of how amazingly freighted with symbolism this wall fight is. Just last week I wrote about the destruction of Joshua trees—themselves considered a symbol of welcoming immigrants—in the fight over President Trump’s border wall. This week, it’s the bulldozing of a sanctuary for delicate and vulnerable butterflies. It feels like Trump is trying to show his adversaries that his list of concerns has precisely one item on it: the border wall. Nothing else seems to matter to him. Not history, not beauty, not compassion.
The Bad and the Braggadocious
An analysis released late last week by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, a government watchdog group, shows that pollution and hazardous waste reduction have reached a decadelong low under the Trump administration. This actually makes the Trump EPA the worst-performing on record, since the current accounting methods are only 10 years old.
We already know that EPA enforcement actions and referrals to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution have fallen off a cliff during the Trump administration. Trump officials tried to explain this away, arguing that they’re taking a more cooperative approach to enforcement by working to bring polluters into compliance rather than taking them to court.
But the new analysis shows that excuse is absolute nonsense. The amounts of pollution and hazardous waste prevented by the Trump administration’s EPA are embarrassingly low compared with those of previous administrations. Between 2017 and 2018, the Trump EPA eliminated an average of 636 million pounds of pollution and hazardous waste per year. The median annual reduction for 2008 to 2016 was 5.4 billion pounds—more than eight times Trump’s average. The lowest total for any year during the Obama administration was more than a billion pounds.
It’s especially strange that acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler is bragging about these numbers. Last week, the EPA issued a press release pointing out that the 2018 pollution reduction numbers were better than those of 2017, but it failed to point out that the 2017 numbers were, by far, the worst EPA performance on record.
Congratulations, Andy. You’re only the second-lousiest EPA leader. So far.
The EPA Doth Protest Too Much
Here’s another way Andrew Wheeler acts like his disgraced predecessor, Scott Pruitt: They both try to intimidate the media with nasty press releases empty of substance. Take a look at this recent release: “E&E Publishes Hogwash Misleading Story.”
I object to this title on several levels. First, it’s a grammatical nightmare. Hogwash is a noun.
Second, an agency that’s actively trying to shield industrial pig farms from pollution reporting requirements probably shouldn’t bring up hogs sua sponte.
Third, it’s not the EPA’s place to get into a flame war with a news outlet. If the agency were doing even a passable job of stopping pollution, then maybe we could accept these juvenile press releases. But it seems like the EPA is putting more resources into press criticism than into its core mission of protecting public health and the environment.
Fourth, and most important, the E&E story isn’t hogwash at all. The reporter pointed out repeated contacts between Wheeler’s former lobbying firm and the agency he now leads. The EPA’s hair-on-fire press release accuses E&E of failing to provide a timeline of those contacts, but as a Washington Post follow-up explains, the E&E report provided an explicit and completely accurate timeline. There doesn’t appear to be anything missing or misleading whatsoever in the E&E story.
The EPA also accuses E&E of publishing clickbait: “Clicks are more important than facts for E&E News in their latest ploy by implying guilt by association constitutes a story.” Anyone who has read E&E will find this accusation hilarious. It is a technical, niche, subscription-only publication that’s read mainly by geeks like me. It’s not posting listicles of celebrity plastic surgery gone wrong.
SOTU: Hot or Not?
During the Midwest’s record cold snap last week, President Trump posted one of his patented cold-weather-disproves-climate-change tweets. Someone upstairs must be reading Trump’s tweets: In an act of meteorological retribution, unseasonably warm weather hit Washington, D.C., on the day of Trump’s State of the Union address.
To put it into context, cities along the East Coast saw a 60-degree temperature swing over the course of four days, and many locales set record-high temperatures for February. On Monday it was 61 degrees Fahrenheit in Syracuse, New York. I grew up outside Syracuse—61 degrees is a warm day in July. (I kid because I love.)
So the table was perfectly set for Trump to acknowledge in his State of the Union address that climate change is real, or at least that his habit of equating weather with climate is silly.
Wait—you say he didn’t mention climate change at all? Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.
onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.