Welcome to our weekly Trump v. Earth column, in which onEarth reviews the environment-related shenanigans of President Trump and his allies.
A Plumbing Emergency on Pennsylvania Avenue?
When President Trump wants to dissociate himself from a distasteful belief, an urban myth, or a piece of misinformation that he nonetheless wishes to convey, he attributes that belief to unnamed “people.” “People are saying” Barack Obama isn’t an American citizen. “Some people say” the Iran nuclear deal was a conspiracy by pro-Iranian forces working inside the U.S. government. “A lot of people think” Obama had no interest in stopping terrorism.
So when Trump on Friday claimed—without specific attribution or evidence—that because of water conservation rules, “people are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times,” it was only natural to ask whether those “people” were really the flusher-in-chief himself.
I’ve never heard of anyone flushing the toilet 10 times in one bathroom visit. Indeed, the definition of insanity is flushing the same toilet over and over and expecting a different result. But having to flush, like, twice is not unheard of.
Let’s assume Trump was engaging in some Trumpian hyperbole, and we’re talking about the occasional double flush. Here’s one potential explanation. A 1992 law, which took effect two years later, required that new toilets use 1.6 gallons of water or less per flush. Prior to that time, many toilets used more than twice that amount. Plumbers report that manufacturers initially struggled to maintain flushing power with the reduced water volume. People who own toilets from the mid-1990s and find themselves forced to double flush are advised to update their fixtures to newer models, which are more reliable. The infrastructure in the White House is notoriously mix-and-match, so it seems entirely possible that the toilets could use an updating.
(It should also be noted that Trump reportedly said he spends so much time at his golf clubs because the White House is “a real dump.” You can take that however you like.)
Whatever Trump’s personal potty problems, there is simply no reason to believe that water conservation measures are counterproductive, as Trump’s rambling bathroom soliloquy last Friday suggested. Surveys and studies have repeatedly shown that consumers are satisfied with high-efficiency toilets, and the water savings approach 50 percent. So get some new toilets, President Trump. People are saying they really work.
Another Interior Ethics Shambles
The Interior Department’s inspector general concluded this week that a high-ranking official violated ethics rules by meeting with a former employer to discuss slashing protections for endangered species.
The official, Douglas Domenech, holds the title of assistant secretary for insular and international affairs (which would be amusingly paradoxical, except that “insular” refers to islands, not the Trump administration being cut off from normal society). Prior to joining the Interior Department, he worked at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an organization that receives funding from both the Koch network and Exxon.
During the one-year period in which certain government officials cannot involve themselves with government business relating to former employers, Domenech met repeatedly with the Texas Public Policy Foundation. While the Interior Department described Domenech’s meetings with his old employer as “primarily social in nature,” that explanation is transparently nonsense—Domenech’s own calendar showed that the meetings involved policy discussions. In one meeting, he discussed the Bone Cave harvestman, an endangered arachnid that has bugged right-wing groups for years. In fact, at the time of the meeting with Domenech, the Texas Public Policy Foundation was involved in a lawsuit to roll back the spider’s protection under the Endangered Species Act. A court has since ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider its 2014 rejection of a petition to delist the Bone Cave harvestman.
Domenech apparently made a habit of discussing live lawsuits against his department with his old pals. In a separate meeting, the Texas Public Policy Foundation bent Domenech’s ear about a heated property dispute between landowners and the Bureau of Land Management near the Texas–Oklahoma border. Shortly after that meeting, the lawsuit was settled, with terms favorable to the landowners.
The inspector general concluded that Domenech should have recognized that these meetings, at the very least, gave the appearance of impropriety; creating such an appearance is a violation of federal ethics rules. Since the meetings, Domenech has received additional training on ethics compliance, which presumably ended with a heavy wink.
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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