Week 33: The EPA Has No Time for Texas

Trump stalls on Texas smog pollution and continues to stock his administration with the unqualified.

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

Pruitt image courtesy Gage Skidmore

The Dog Ate My Pollution Remediation Plan

Lawyers for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told a federal judge late last week that they needed more time to produce a plan to reduce air pollution from coal-fired power plants in Texas. Thankfully, Judge Amy Berman Jackson said no. The EPA has been under court order to submit its air pollution remediation program for the state for more than five years, which seems like more than enough time.

I’ve written in the past about how unprepared Scott Pruitt’s EPA has been in meeting its obligations. Whenever a deadline or a court date arises, Pruitt’s lawyers traipse over to the courthouse to beg for more time. They wanted more time to review the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Water Rule, and they’ve asked to delay oral arguments on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. Now they say they need more time to help Texans fight smog pollution.

The EPA’s justifications for stalling are rarely convincing, but this time the rationale was just plain silly. The agency claimed that since Texas environmental regulators get along with Trump’s EPA so much better than they did with Obama’s, the court should give the agency 15 more months (!) to see if state and federal conservation officials can work something out together.

Here’s the thing. The EPA was ordered to develop its own air pollution remediation plan because Texas was in violation of federal environmental standards. That was back in 2007, when George W. Bush was president. If Texas and the EPA couldn’t collaborate on a plan when the state’s former governor was sitting in the White House, why does the EPA think they can work things out now?

The EPA only wants more time because it doesn’t want to face judicial scrutiny. By pushing back deadlines and stalling, Pruitt can maintain the status quo and let his patrons in the fossil fuel industry continue to pollute air and water for as long as possible. Hopefully more judges like Jackson will see through this scheme—if the smog will let them.

Meet Sam . . .

Please acquaint yourself with Sam Clovis, President Trump’s choice for chief scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Several news reports this week have focused on Senate Democrats’ plans to basically make Clovis the poster child for Trump’s terrible choices (tough competition . . .).

It’s a good idea. To start with, Clovis isn’t a scientist. He has, in the past, taught economics, but this job—aptly titled “chief scientist”—requires him to assess and analyze competing demands for research money in the fields of agriculture and food science. Past holders of the position have been agronomists and held PhDs in human nutrition. Clovis simply doesn’t have the credentials to be entrusted with guiding the nation’s plan to feed the next generation.

Clovis’s defenders argue that the USDA chief scientist needn’t be an actual scientist, as long as he knows how to surround himself with smart scientists and listens to their advice. This is strikingly similar to the pitch George W. Bush made to voters in 2000, when his inability to answer basic questions about foreign affairs raised questions about his fitness to be president. Bush argued that the shallowness of his own knowledge was irrelevant because he would hire smart advisers. The New York Times editorial board rightly pointed out that this made no sense—experts often disagree, as John F. Kennedy’s advisers did during the Cuban missile crisis, and a leader has to know how to distinguish good advice from bad. You can’t do that if you don’t understand the issues and the facts. “The job description is for commander in chief, not advisee in chief,” the Times wrote. The same could be said of Clovis: The job description is for chief scientist, not chief listener.

Even more important, the “I’ll surround myself with smart people” argument might make sense if the person making it has demonstrated impeccable judgment. Clovis, however, has often shown himself to be governed more by emotion and ignorance than by reason. He has publicly dabbled in homophobia, birtherism, and racism. (I’d rather not repeat his statements here, but you can click through to read them.)

. . . and John

Speaking of the unqualified being put in charge of huge sums of grant money, over at the EPA, John Konkus, a Trump campaign aide with no apparent scientific expertise, will now be managing hundreds of millions of dollars in research funding. Konkus is seeking to block research dollars for climate change science—and reportedly refers to climate change as the “double-C-word” (which raises questions both about his appropriateness and his ability to count words).

Even in a Republican administration that supports climate change denial and openly censors climate research, this move is beyond the pale. Just ask Christine Todd Whitman, the EPA administrator under President George W. Bush. She told the Washington Post, “We didn’t do a political screening on every grant because many of them were based on science, and political appointees don’t have that kind of background.” Whitman also said she could not recall a political appointee involving himself or herself in these grant awards.

You know things are bad when Bush-era environmental regulators say they can’t remember things being so politicized.

. . . and Jim

Continuing his love for climate change deniers from Oklahoma, Trump nominated Representative Jim Bridenstine to lead NASA, one of the nation’s most important climate research agencies. Bridenstine has said of global warming, “I would say that the climate is changing. It has always changed. There were periods of time long before the internal combustion engine when the earth was much warmer than it is today.” This is one of the more reductive climate change denial arguments. No one claims that the internal combustion engine is the only thing that affects the earth’s climate, or that it is the only thing that influences the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The publication Aerospace America then asked Bridenstine a question that all climate change deniers should be forced to answer: “Is there any data that would change your view that fossil fuels and human activities aren’t warming the climate?” Rather than showing an open mind, or a skepticism based on an informed reading of the data, Bridenstine basically refused to answer the question. He instead ranted about the carbon pollution of other countries, falsely claiming that India’s and Russia’s emissions are higher than those of the United States. (Trump guys just can’t get their minds off of Russia.)

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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