Week 14: 100 Days Later, Trump Not Yet Bored of Attacking the Environment

The president ponders whether to undo protections for America’s national monuments.

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

Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

iStock

Monumental Error

President Trump asked Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Wednesday to review all national monuments established since 1996 and recommend whether they should be maintained, changed, or eliminated. This sounds like a lot of work, since together Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama designated more than 50 national monuments, but we suspect two specific monuments might get extra scrutiny—both in Utah, and both of interest to the oil and gas industry. President Trump is targeting the new Bears Ears National Monument and the 21-year-old Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument.

Thinking about revoking a national monument by presidential order is not unprecedented—but actually doing so would be. In 1938, Franklin Roosevelt asked Attorney General Homer Cummings to determine whether the president had the authority to repeal the designation of South Carolina’s Castle Pinckney National Monument. Cummings determined that Roosevelt had no such authority.

President Roosevelt then did something that Trump might find truly shocking: He obeyed the law. Roosevelt abandoned his attempt to revoke the designation, and every president since Roosevelt has essentially accepted that limit on his authority. Some have occasionally tinkered with a monument’s boundaries or management plans, less drastic acts which have not been fully tested in court themselves, but no president has ever nullified their predecessors’ designations.

Secretary Zinke’s response to Trump’s executive order will teach us a great deal about Zinke’s respect for the rule of law. The right move—the decision that respects U.S. traditions and the separation of powers—would be to tell President Trump that he is reaching beyond his authority. But does Zinke have the courage that Homer Cummings had?

You Scratch My Back

We know that the fossil fuel industry is very comfortable asking EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for help. So comfortable, in fact, that when Pruitt was Oklahoma’s attorney general, he slapped his signature on a letter written by Devon Energy and sent it to the EPA as if it were his own. So it should be no surprise that when Pruitt needs a little lobbying help, he turns to his friends in fossil fuels.

Coal cars at Union Pacific’s Bailey Railroad Yards, North Platte, Nebraska

Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock

On Monday, Pruitt met with the leadership of the National Mining Association. On Tuesday, the group voted to join Pruitt in his effort to persuade President Trump to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord. Politico, citing an unnamed source, reported that Pruitt explicitly asked the NMA to help him out. A spokesman for the industry organization denied the report, but it doesn’t take much to connect the dots.

In addition to some education on climate science, Scott Pruitt needs a lesson in covering his tracks.

I’ll Have the Pasta. No, Really.

The Senate has unveiled its version of the Regulatory Accountability Act, an initiative that has been atop industry’s wish list for years. The bill is long and complicated, but its basic aims are to make it difficult for federal agencies (like the EPA) to pass new regulations, and to make it easier for industry to challenge regulations in court.

The RAA, for example, would require agencies to consider a wide array of alternatives to each regulatory action it wanted, including developing other versions of the proposed rule, taking no action at all, relying on state and local agencies to do the work for them, and pursuing other unspecified “innovations.” It sounds appealing in theory—who doesn’t like innovation?—but in practice it’s a thinly veiled attempt to make regulating industry next to impossible.

Under the RAA, every time an agency attempted to solve a problem, it would first have to explain why every other solution is worse. Then it would have to go to court and face accusations that there were still other solutions that it failed to consider―and then explain those away, too.

Imagine if, every time you ordered food at a restaurant, you had to tell the waiter why you didn’t pick every other dish on the menu. Then imagine that, after he finally accepted your order, he came back and told you the kitchen had lots of other dishes that weren’t on the menu, and you had to explain why you didn’t want those, either.

Executive agencies are supposed to solve problems. Congress should get out of the way and let them do their jobs.

Secretary of Misdirection

Unlike Pruitt, Energy Secretary Rick Perry wants the United States to remain in the Paris climate agreement, but Perry wants to renegotiate the terms. His rationale for reopening the negotiations, however, makes no sense.

Rick Perry at the 2015 Southern Republican Leadership Conference

Michael Vadon/Flickr

On Tuesday, Perry lashed out at Germany for allowing a slight increase in its carbon emissions in 2016. Perry hinted that he viewed this as hypocrisy, proof that the United States is being treated unfairly under the Paris accord.

A spokesperson for Germany’s environment minister, Michael Schroeren, responded on Wednesday, calling Perry’s logic “absurd.” (Incidentally, this isn’t the first time a foreign dignitary accused Perry of absurdity. In 2014, Mexico’s foreign affairs secretary at the time, Jose Antonio Meade, used the same adjective to describe Perry’s claim that ISIS terrorists were pouring across the U.S.–Mexico border.) Schroeren correctly pointed out that the United States is free to unilaterally adjust its commitments under the Paris accord, as is every signatory to the agreement. There is simply no need to renegotiate the agreement, even if Trump wants to move backward on our climate commitments.

Perhaps, before the Trump administration decides whether to stay in the Paris climate agreement, someone should read it.

100 Days Down . . .

Saturday marks 100 days of the Trump administration, which means 1,361 days to go. Geez, that sounds like a long time. Maybe think of it this way: We’re nearly 7 percent through the Trump years. Wait, that still seems like a long time. I’ll try again. If you spent the rest of the Trump administration sleeping eight hours per night and binge watching Breaking Bad during your waking hours, you’d have to watch the series only 351 times. Not so bad, right?

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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