Week 59: Trump Called Elephant Hunting a Horror Show. Now He Wants a Front-Row Seat.

EPA’s science board isn’t meeting, Trump backtracks on trophy hunting, and Interior says only oil can save our national parks.

March 09, 2018

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

See No Science, Hear No Science

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board, which used to meet six to eight times annually to ensure that the agency’s decisions were consistent with the best available research, hasn’t met since August. “I guess the Science Advisory Board still exists; I guess I’m still on it,” said one befuddled board member, a prominent biogeochemist at Duke University, to a reporter from E&E News.

EPA officials offered the lamest possible explanation for the sidelining of the agency’s science advisory board: paperwork.

“They have had to onboard a larger number this time than they have in the past, but the HR people have just been working furiously because there is a lot of paperwork you have to fill out about all your stock holdings,” said Michael Honeycutt, who’s supposed to be leading the board, in an interview with Scientific American.

First, assuming that paperwork really is the obstacle (haha), the EPA brought this on itself. Administrator Scott Pruitt is appointing industry people to replace independent academic scientists who are loyal to research and facts. It’s reasonable to assume that many of these industry loyalists own stock in the companies that employ them—the very companies the EPA is supposed to be regulating. Pruitt should have known potential conflicts of interest would be an HR issue.

Second, how stupid does Pruitt think we are? He doesn’t want the Science Advisory Board to meet because it’s going to tell him that his decisions are almost uniformly in contravention of scientific evidence. Sure, everyone prefers to work with their own appointees. But this shouldn’t be political; these are scientists. They’re supposed to be dealing in facts, and those facts don’t change between administrations.

Trump Hearts Horror Shows

D’ya like elephants? That should be an easy question, but not for Donald Trump. In November his Department of the Interior announced that it would reverse the Obama-era ban on importing trophy-hunted animals or their body parts into the United States. Days later Trump changed his mind, calling trophy hunting a “horror show,” arguing that it doesn’t aid conservation efforts, and almost promising that he would reinstate the ban.

Last week he reversed himself again. In a memo released by the Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday, and first reported in The Hill, the administration announced that it would consider importation of trophy-hunted African elephants on a case-by-case basis.

It’s arguably the Trump-iest possible outcome of the months-long flip-flopping. Rather than taking an actual stand, the administration will allow hunters to apply in secret for the right to bring the spoils of their blood sport into the United States. The Fish and Wildlife Service will be allowed to wave them through with no explanation and no accountability, while falsely telling the public how seriously it takes elephant conservation.

Apparently a horror show is just fine, as long as Trump has plausible deniability for his own role in the slaughter.

Department of Interior Wants to Trade Oil for Parks

The House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on Tuesday at which officials from the Department of the Interior pitched their plan to use oil and gas revenue to repair the decrepit infrastructure on our public lands. Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, the committee chair and perhaps the most notorious foe of public lands on Capitol Hill, called the idea “innovative.”

Tying something we all want to taxes or royalties on fossil fuels, thus forcing the public to accept drilling that it would otherwise oppose, is not an innovative idea. It’s on page one of the oil industry’s handbook of dirty tricks. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rob Bishop wrote the foreword.

Let’s take a step back. National parks were never meant to be profitable or even self-sustaining. If they were, they wouldn’t be public—a corporation could buy and operate them to enrich its shareholders. The establishment of the national park system was an acknowledgment that our natural wonders belong to the people, and we have made a commitment to protect, maintain, and improve them.

In recent years, Congress has reneged on that commitment. Other issues, many far less sacred than the preservation of public lands, have been given higher priority. The results are distressing: Sewage is on the verge of flowing into the rivers of Yellowstone. The bridge connecting Arlington National Cemetery to the Lincoln Memorial is crumbling. Campsites around the country are nearly unusable. The list goes on. Eliminating the maintenance backlog would now cost at least $16 billion.

But inviting oil and gas companies to plunder our public lands so we can fix them is nonsensical. It’s like selling your floorboards to fix your leaky roof.

On second thought, it’s even dumber than that because WE DON’T NEED THE MONEY. The 2018 federal budget allocates more than $4 trillion. If we spread the cost of eliminating the parks backlog over just four years, it would represent one-tenth of one percent of the federal budget. Don’t tell me we can’t find a few things in the budget that are less important than maintaining our public lands so all Americans can enjoy them.

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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