Week 116: Trump to Let Pork Producers Police Themselves. What Could Go Wrong?

Plus, the president defies Congress on conservation and wants to force pipelines on states that don’t want them.

April 12, 2019

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

Photo illustration: Virginia Lee for onEarth

This Little Piggy Carries Listeria

The Trump administration is proposing to let pork producers hire, train, and manage most of their own slaughterhouse inspectors, according to a report last week in the Washington Post. If this were to happen, the government could cut 40 percent of the public employees currently responsible for pork safety inspections.

You don’t have to be a modern-day Cassandra to see how this is going to turn out. All you have to do is look at the automotive industry. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency once conducted only 10 to 15 percent of the emissions tests for new car models, leaving the automakers to run the rest themselves. Under pressure to keep costs down, several companies cheated the system. Volkswagen, most notably, built a device into its cars that would detect when the vehicle was being tested and then change its engine performance to minimize its tailpipe emissions. And since most of the tests were conducted in Volkswagen facilities by Volkswagen employees, the chances of the company being caught were pretty low. An eagle-eyed watchdog in Europe eventually tipped off the authorities to the scam. Otherwise, who knows how long the company would have gotten away with it?

Is this the kind of oversight we want to replicate where human health is at stake? Outbreaks of dangerous bacteria already regularly occur in the U.S. food system, and pork is a common culprit in foodborne illnesses. As recently as January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recall on pork patties after a listeria infection broke out in four states. The CDC issued another recall just a month earlier for deli ham.

Moreover, the food industry has already shown it cannot police itself. About a decade ago, in an effort to stave off federal regulation, major food companies publicly promised to advertise only their healthier products to children. But studies showed they did no such thing. The industry shifted some of its ad dollars away from television and into online markets and continued to hawk junk food to kids.

This is the wrong industry to be regulating itself. If Trump gets his way, you should most certainly pass on the pork tartare.

Now You LCC Them, Now You Don’t

Most environmental challenges require a coordinated effort across several levels of government. In species preservation, for example, the federal government can offer expertise and research, while employees of state and local governments provide the hands-on work to maintain natural habitats and deal with invasive threats. In 2010 the Obama administration, recognizing the need for more collaboration of this kind, established a system of Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs), housed within the U.S. Department of the Interior and divided into 22 research units such as desert, Great Plains, and Northwest boreal.

By any sensible measure, the LCCs have been a success. They’ve helped species win federal protection, helped Americans living in flood-prone areas get insured, and conducted research on best practices for farm management. The annual price tag has been around $12 million—a relative pittance for the important work they have done. And yet, the Trump administration has repeatedly tried to kill the program, twice proposing to defund LCCs, only to have Congress reject the requests.

This week The Guardian reported that President Trump has defied Congress and quietly defunded the program anyway. LCC scientists told the newspaper that the man who instigated the trouble was Steve Howke, whom regular readers will remember as the football buddy of former interior secretary Ryan Zinke. Zinke brought Howke in to review scientific grants despite his lack of relevant credentials or credibility. Guardian sources speculate that the Trump administration was uncomfortable with Interior Department scientists getting all science-y and putting their fact-based agenda ahead of politics.

Fortunately, Congress is on the case. Betty McCollum, chair of the House interior-environment appropriations subcommittee, brought up the issue at a recent hearing. This week’s report will almost certainly lead to more digging.

Pipeline Pusher

In his inaugural address, Donald Trump sang the praises of federalism. “[W]e are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another,” he said, “but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the American people.”

Giving power to the people is a tricky thing, though, because sometimes the people don’t agree with you. Like when you want to build a network of environmentally irresponsible pipelines and the people living in the affected states are all “No thanks.”

Then what happens to your federalism principles? If you’re Trump, you toss them out the window.

This week, news emerged that the Trump administration will attempt to take away states’ rights to reject new pipelines. The Clean Water Act requires a pipeline or other infrastructure project to obtain state certification before construction can begin, and states are entitled to withhold that certification if they believe the pipeline will threaten their water supplies. The states maintain this right even when the federal government deems the project safe.

Donald no likey, because states have rejected some of his beloved fossil fuel projects. New York, for example, determined that the Constitution Pipeline would threaten local water supplies, and Washington State said no to a coal export terminal on the Columbia River.

Trump’s proposal to take back power from the states flies in the face of the Clean Water Act and will almost certainly be challenged in court. Fortunately, courts haven’t been too friendly to the Trump administration’s efforts to jam pipelines through . (See, e.g., KXL.)

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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