Week 18: The Pope Gives Trump Some Science Homework

And the Senate prepares to give Trump’s budget proposal its last rites.

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

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

First, Some Perspective

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal recommends cutting funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by approximately 30 percent and eliminating 3,800 jobs. The budget also proposes ending several programs, including the wildly successful Energy Star initiative that promotes energy- and cost-saving appliances and other products.

Trump justifies the cuts with a collection of discredited right-wing philosophies from the past three decades. You may be familiar with these old chestnuts: The private sector can do it. (They don’t want to.) Let the states do it. (They tried and failed—that’s why we created the EPA.) And my personal favorite: “This Budget challenges the EPA to identify efficiencies in administrative cost,” which assumes without any evidence whatsoever that the EPA’s employees aren’t earning their paychecks.

In fact, the Trump budget as a whole is nothing more than a baseless claim that the U.S. Department of Defense is the only government entity that earns its keep. That’s nonsense, of course. The EPA has defeated acid rain, cleaned our air, liberated our farms from toxic pesticides, eliminated leaded gasoline . . . and that’s just a small sampling of the agency’s accomplishments. A huge number of EPA rules pay for themselves in health savings and increased worker productivity. Today, the agency’s one-two punch of research and regulation are leading the fight against global climate change and a host of other environmental dangers.

Every single person—Republicans, Democrats, independents, the old and the young, northerners and southerners, and even those living beyond our borders—will live a longer, healthier, and more productive life because of the work the EPA continues to do.

Now some guy who builds golf courses and luxury apartments—a man who paid a $25 million settlement for allegedly defrauding students—tells us the EPA is wasting our money? Please.

Now the Good News

When Trump proposed his fiscal year 2017 “skinny budget” back in March, senators of both parties called it “dead on arrival.” Members of Congress then went about their business, striking a deal among themselves and demanding that Trump sign it. The consensus budget largely ignored the president’s agenda, leaving the EPA’s funding nearly unchanged and protecting agency jobs.

Trump’s apologists said the deal was just a temporary setback for the president’s agenda and that the fiscal year 2018 budget would be the real test of his influence. So, senators, what’s the prognosis for the president’s new budget?

Dead on arrival,” said Senator John Cornyn (R-TX).

Dead on arrival,” agreed Senator John McCain (R-AZ).

Dead on arrival,” confirmed Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD).

Dead on arrival,” nodded Brian Schatz (D-HI).

Trump promised to unite us, and he finally has. Everyone hates this budget. Let’s all join hands and sing in harmony. Then we can ignore Trump’s budget and get to the real work of setting our national priorities.

Wait, Is All This a Joke?

One of the hallmarks of satire is a pattern of internal contradictions. Even if we knew nothing about the 18th-century essayist Jonathan Swift, for example, we would still immediately recognize that “A Modest Proposal” is a satire, because there’s nothing modest about suggesting that the rich should eat poor children. Satirists use these obvious inconsistencies as a wink to their audience.

For this reason, I often wonder whether the entire Trump presidency is a satire. So much of what the president and his cronies say directly contradicts other things they say.

Take Scott Pruitt. The EPA administrator bases his climate change denial on his claim that the research is inadequate. “We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis,” Pruitt says. The Trump administration budget, though, proposes deep cuts in the agencies responsible for that very research. There’s no way to reconcile those two ideas.

Here’s another example. Donald Trump loves to talk about “clean coal.” A huge proportion of the research conducted on carbon sequestration—the process that supposedly makes coal clean—is funded and/or conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy. And yet, in his FY18 budget, Trump proposes cutting that research funding by 85 percent. It makes no sense.

Either the president has gone mad, or he’s engaged in an elaborate satire on a scale never before seen. Eat your heart out, Jonathan Swift.

Trashing Progress

Gene Sepsard/Flickr

The EPA this week delayed implementation of its limits for landfill methane emissions that were enacted during the Obama administration. In an immediate sense, the move is a setback for efforts to address climate change. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and landfills are the country’s third-largest source of methane emissions caused by human activity.

In a larger historical sense, the decision represents the Trump administration’s desire to halt decades of environmental progress. As recently as the 1970s, Americans put their trash into dumps—nothing more than gigantic holes in the ground. The stew of rotting liquids and hazardous chemicals that seeped from these pits contaminated groundwater, and the bacteria that decomposed the trash released copious amounts of methane into the atmosphere. For decades, every level of American government has worked to improve garbage management. Modern landfills are carefully lined, include piping systems to capture the dangerous sludge that emerges, and flare the methane to reduce its planet-warming potential. Some facilities even produce electricity in the process.

The Obama-era rules to further limit methane emissions were the next obvious step in the modernization of American trash management. The rules were the result of careful research into the benefits and feasibility of methane reduction. And now, with no indication it has bothered to fully consider the impacts, the Trump administration has summarily tossed the rules into the dump.

Good One, Pope

Evan Vucci/AP Photo

President Trump met Pope Francis this week. The pope engaged in one of history’s most passive-aggressive gift-givings, handing the climate-denying Trump his own encyclical on climate change. No word on whether the pope delivered the gift with a wink.

via GIPHY

Trump reciprocated by giving the pope a first-edition collection of the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., telling the pontiff, “I think you will enjoy them.”

In my fantasy world, the pope would have laid a hand on the book and gently pushed it back toward Trump. “You keep it, my son. You need it more than I do.”

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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