Week 11: Trump Throws Chump Change at the National Parks He’s Defunding

. . . And lets car companies like Volkswagen police themselves on emissions testing.

Welcome to our weekly Trump v. Earth column, in which onEarth reviews the environment-related shenanigans of President Trump and his allies.

P.L. Herrera/iStock

Trust Falls with Trump

We all knew President Trump’s proposal to cut the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 31 percent would undermine vital programs. Now we’re learning which programs, and by how much. The news isn’t comforting.

A proposed budget document obtained by the Washington Post showed a 99 percent cut in federal funding for vehicle emissions and fuel economy testing. The proposal would withdraw $48 million from the program and eliminate 168 jobs.

Vehicle emissions testing was already badly underfunded, and it showed. Volkswagen used a widely known software trick to underreport its vehicle emissions for seven years before the company was finally caught in 2015. And it wasn’t even the government that discovered the company’s crime—most of the work was done by academic researchers in West Virginia.

The problem is that automakers conduct the overwhelming majority of emissions tests in their own laboratories. The meager funding the EPA receives allows the agency to independently confirm those results for only 10 percent to 15 percent of new car models. For the rest, we just have to take the carmaker’s word.

According to Margo Oge, head of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality under President Barack Obama, Trump’s budget cuts would require “pretty much shutting down the testing lab.” They would turn regulating vehicle emissions into a completely trust-based system, even after automakers have proved that they don’t deserve our trust.

He Loves Research, He Loves It Not

Another major victim of Trump’s EPA budget is the agency’s Science Advisory Board, which is a group of mostly outside scientists tasked with ensuring that our environmental regulations are scientifically sound. President Trump aims to cut the board’s budget by 84 percent because of “an anticipated lower number of peer reviews.” In other words, the EPA is going to stop conducting and publishing research, so we don’t need anyone to review it.

This exposes, once again, the hypocrisy in the Trump administration’s view of climate change. Trump and his appointees say things like “We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis,” but then they cut funding for the very review and analysis they have prescribed. Who do they think pays for climate change research? Identifying and studying the threats to our economy, communities, and way of life are core federal functions.

Here’s the truth. They don’t want more review and analysis, because they know what it will say. So, instead, they cut the funding and silence the scientists. The situation recalls the oft misinterpreted Henry VI quote “Let’s kill all the lawyers,” which was uttered by a rebel who viewed lawyers and the law as obstacles to his coup. Trump has taken a similar tack—let’s kill all the science.

An Inconvenient Policy

Francesca Grifo

Harvard STS Program/Flickr

Speaking of climate change denial, Scott Pruitt had a difficult week. After the EPA administrator told a CNBC interviewer that he did not agree that carbon dioxide is “a primary contributor to the global warming we see,” the agency’s scientific integrity officer, Francesca Grifo, was assigned to review whether Pruitt had violated EPA policy.

The review puts both Pruitt and Grifo in a tricky spot. The EPA’s scientific integrity policy states: “When dealing with science, it is the responsibility of every EPA employee to conduct, utilize, and communicate science with honesty, integrity, and transparency, both within and outside the Agency.” The policy specifically includes political appointees like Pruitt in its purview.

The policy also welcomes “differing views and opinions on scientific and technical matters as a legitimate and necessary part of the scientific process [emphasis added].” No doubt, if called to defend himself, Pruitt will point to this clause. Query, though, whether Pruitt is engaging in the scientific process. He isn’t a scientist and, to my knowledge, has never explained in scientific terms why he rejects the overwhelming evidence that human activity is driving climate change. Moreover, the scientific integrity policy encourages scientists who reject agency orthodoxy to “express that opinion, complete with rationale [emphasis added].”

This process will be nearly impossible for Grifo to manage. President Obama hired her to ensure that the agency—allegedly the subject of political interference during the George W. Bush administration—would adhere strictly to scientific evidence when forming and communicating its policies. Now her boss, and her boss’s boss, expressly reject the scientific evidence at the core of the agency’s mission.

Grifo may eventually have to choose between doing her job and having her job.

Check Yourself

Donald Trump donated his salary for his first 10 weeks in office to the National Park Service, in a mini-ceremony involving Sean Spicer, a park ranger, and a cartoonishly oversize fake check.

Ryan Zinke, Tyrone Brandyburg, and Sean Spicer

Susan Walsh/AP

But here’s the silliest part. Trump donated $78,333 to the NPS while simultaneously calling for a $1.2 billion budget cut for the U.S. Department of the Interior, to which the National Park Service belongs. Even Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke noticed, saying, “We’re about $229 million behind in deferred maintenance on our battlefields alone.” Um thanks, boss.

Stay up-to-date on Trump’s environmental antics by visiting NRDC’s Trump Watch or following it on Facebook or Twitter.


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.

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