Week 30: Build in a Flood Zone without Taking Precautions? Go Ahead, Says Trump.

Plus, EPA chief Pruitt moves in favor of more water pollution and the renewable energy report Rick Perry doesn’t want you to see.

August 18, 2017

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

Predicted increase of extreme rainfall by 2041–2070 as compared to 1971–2000


Flooding America with Crazy

President Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order that would revoke a current requirement that all recipients of federal funds consider risk-management standards when building in flood zones.

Here are some basic facts. There is no evidence that flood-management rules are slowing infrastructure projects, as Trump contends. And preventing flood damage is far cheaper than remedying it: For every $1 the government spends mitigating disasters like floods, it saves $4 in rebuilding and cleanup costs. Major floods are also becoming increasingly common. During the 1980s, three U.S. floods inflicted more than $1 billion in damages. There were three such floods in 2016 alone, and there have been two already in 2017. (Yes, those figures have been adjusted for inflation.) By midcentury, many parts of the country will experience two days per year of rain that exceed current records for rainfall.

“This is just another example of this administration trying to undo everything the Obama administration did, whether it makes any sense or not,” William Robert Irvin of American Rivers told the Washington Post, in one of the more honest assessments of Trump policy.

You may be wondering how you missed this blatant act of irrationality in the news this week. Just a few minutes after announcing his plan to put the nation’s infrastructure at risk of flood damage, Trump reiterated his belief that white supremacists were not entirely to blame for the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. In other words, he submerged his environmental wrongdoing in a deluge of race-baiting. Way to top yourself, Mr. President.

When Industry Speaks, Scott Pruitt Listens

Speaking of the nonsensical rejection of sensible rules, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt intends to repeal and replace limits on water pollution from coal-fired power plants, according to a court filing.

This is a phenomenally bad idea. Nearly three-quarters of all toxic water pollution in the United States comes from coal-fired power plants. The plants use water to flush coal ash out of their machinery and transport the toxic sludge out of the plant. From there, the facilities discharge millions of tons of lead, mercury, cadmium, and other dangerous pollutants into U.S. waterways.

Scott Pruitt joins coal miners at the Harvey Mine in Sycamore, Pennsylvania, April 2017

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The 2015 limits could reduce the annual discharge of toxic metals and other water-based pollutants by 1.4 billion pounds, and the rule very likely pays for itself through improved health, fisheries productivity, increased tourism opportunities, and many other ways. Why would anyone want to repeal a rule like that?

“After carefully considering your petitions,” Pruitt wrote last week to a pro-industry group, “I have decided that it is appropriate and in the public interest to conduct a rulemaking to potentially revise (the regulations).”

In other words, when industry says “jump,” Pruitt asks, “How high? Is this high enough? I can keep jumping if you want! Please support my political ambitions! I can do so much more than jumping! Do you want to legally poison every lake, river, and stream in America? I can make that happen! Look, I’m still jumping like you asked! Hey, how do you take your coffee?”

A Report Delayed…

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry requested a review back in April of the U.S. electricity grid. He wanted to know how the rise of renewables, like wind and solar, has affected grid reliability. The request itself generated controversy. Renewable energy advocates doubted Perry’s open-mindedness and assumed the report would be tilted to favor old-fashioned energy sources like coal. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a state that ranks second in the country for wind power generation, told Perry the study appeared “geared to undermine” the wind industry. Although Perry projected that the report would take only 60 days, more than twice that have passed and still no report.


What’s going on? From the outside, the truth seems to have gotten in the way of the Trump administration’s pro-coal agenda. A draft of the study, conducted by a contractor and leaked in July, concluded that renewables have not undermined grid reliability. If anything, better planning and regulation to accommodate wind and solar have improved the grid. The draft went on to say that environmental regulations and the subsidies for renewables played only a minor role in accelerating the retirement of coal-fired power plants—a conclusion that directly contradicts the administration’s habit of blaming coal’s decline on environmental safeguards. The report also noted, in a third gut-punch to Trump’s talking points, that coal has been a major beneficiary of government largesse, to the tune of approximately $4 billion each year. Coal companies are therefore in no position to complain about subsidies for renewables.

The administration predictably backed away from the leaked document. “Those statements as written are not in the current draft,” a DOE spokesperson told Bloomberg. She didn’t deny that the statements were true—she just acknowledged the obvious fact that the administration couldn’t admit as much.

This week, Perry got caught in the middle. A coal industry group released a paper criticizing the draft report and demanding that the DOE go back to the drawing board. On the other side, in an attempt to force out a full accounting of the reporting process, the Sierra Club sued the agency to find out who had been consulted in developing the draft.

The entire incident is a lesson for Rick Perry: Don’t ask for a study if you can’t handle the truth.

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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