Welcome to our weekly Trump v. Earth column, in which onEarth reviews the environment-related shenanigans of President Trump and his allies.
Laying Down the Law
The week got off to a good start on Monday: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit blocked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from suspending an Obama-era rule limiting emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from new oil and gas wells. NRDC was a party to the case.
The rule will prevent more than 500,000 tons of methane pollution (the climate equivalent of 8.5 million cars’ emissions in a year) and avert thousands of emergency room visits and hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks in children. Not only that, it will pay for itself. The climate change mitigation benefits of the limits are worth $160 million more than they cost—and this doesn’t even include the value of their considerable health benefits.
The impact of the decision, however, goes far beyond methane. If a new president wants to undo his predecessor’s rules, federal law requires him to undertake a clear and predictable process. He must explain his rationale, notify the public, and respond to reasonable arguments against the decision. In announcing the suspension of the methane limits, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt sought to circumvent that time-tested legal process by executive fiat. The court rejected this illegal maneuver in no uncertain terms, pointing out that the EPA cited no precedent for its power grab. The judges also said the agency’s decision stands in direct contradiction to its obligations under the Clean Air Act.
In short, the court has laid down a challenge to President Trump: If you want to rip pages out of the Code of Federal Regulations, you must first lay out your logic. But logic is rarely on Trump’s side. He’s trying to undo the Clean Power Plan—the centerpiece of U.S. climate change mitigation efforts—based on nothing but a baseless personal belief that climate change is a hoax. He wants to upend a rule defining the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act with no plan to replace it. He wants to repeal two regulations for every one he adopts without providing any reasoning whatsoever. Much like his pre-presidential life, Trump will be spending much of his time in court.
He’s Not Worth It
We all got a big laugh in April when reports emerged that Scott Pruitt was asking for 24-hour personal security, in part to protect him from his own employees. Now the bill has come due, and it’s not so funny anymore.
According to documents acquired by E&E News through a Freedom of Information Act request, personal security for Pruitt cost the United States taxpayer $832,735.40 through the first quarter. (That’s $617,566.71 in salaries and $215,168.69 for travel.) The sum is almost twice the amount spent on security for the last two EPA administrators.
Pruitt is on course to spend approximately $3.3 million annually on security. To put this into perspective, the coral reef monitoring program that the Trump administration plans to cut costs $1.9 million.
A spokeswoman for the EPA said in response to the revelation, “Security is something to be taken very seriously.” Yeah, so is protecting the environment.
Put Trump on Mute
Donald Trump makes a lot of unpleasant noises, but we don’t have to put up with the ones that would result from his plans to open up the Atlantic coastline to offshore drilling.
This week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that it would extend the public comment period on the issue. Here’s why you should care.
First, a spill—a more likely possibility now that Trump plans to relax offshore safety measures put into place after the 2010 BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico—threatens Atlantic commercial fishing, which supports nearly 200,000 jobs and generates billions of dollars in economic activity. It also puts coastal tourism at risk, an industry so massive between Virginia and Florida that it’s difficult to accurately price.
Second, damage would be done well before a drill even hits the seafloor. Seismic exploration, the process by which fossil fuel companies map out potential oil and gas deposits, is devastating to marine life. It involves firing incredibly loud underwater air guns every few seconds, and this clamor along the Atlantic coastline would last for weeks or months. Vulnerable sea creatures rely heavily on sound to forage for food, find mates, and raise their young. Blasting air guns in their habitat is the equivalent of shining a spotlight in a person’s eyes for months at a time.
A broad coalition of scientists has come out against Trump on Atlantic drilling (and on most other scientific issues). They point out that, contrary to claims from industry, research demonstrates that seismic testing is irreconcilable with marine mammal conservation. Air gun blasts have been shown to disrupt feeding and mating, separate families, and increase whale and dolphin mortality. Such ocean noise has been a major contributor to pushing certain species, like the North Atlantic right whale, to the brink of extinction.
Drilling in the Atlantic is such a bad idea that even some of Trump’s most ardent supporters have broken ranks. South Carolina’s governor, Henry McMaster, who brags about being an early Trump booster, unequivocally opposes the plan to drill off the East Coast.
And in an op-ed this week, the bipartisan national commission on offshore drilling that came together after the Gulf spill said Trump’s plans are “unwise” and “put workers’ lives as well as ecologically rich and economically important waters and coastlines at needless additional risk.”
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.