Week 70: The Trump Administration Joins the Climate Fight . . .on the Side of the Polluters

Also, Zinke takes aim at wolf pups while Pruitt takes aim at reporters.

May 25, 2018

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

A gray wolf in Denali National Park

Leo Keeler/Alamy

A Refuge from What, Exactly?

In 2017, Congress and the Trump administration used the Congressional Review Act—a rarely employed statute that enables Congress to undo a regulation—to repeal the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rules that protected predator animals and banned certain inhumane hunting practices in the Alaskan wilderness. The repeal permitted hunters on 16 federally owned wildlife refuges to shoot animals from helicopters and to kill wolves and bears and their young while in or near their dens.

Apparently that bit of cruelty wasn’t enough for Alaska Representative Don Young, because denning wolves and their pups are still protected on lands managed by the National Park Service. This week, at Young’s behest, the NPS proposed a rule repealing those last protections for denning predators.

Hunters will also be allowed to use artificial light to kill hibernating black bears and their cubs within dark dens, to bait and chase down bears with dogs, and to shoot swimming caribou from motorboats.

Young’s stated argument is the usual “federal overreach” nonsense, but the move is just an effort to suppress the population of predator animals so that the preferred prey of human hunters, like those swimming caribou, will be more abundant. Jamie Rappaport Clark of Defenders of Wildlife called the move a “new low” for the administration’s wildlife policies.

Manhandling Reporters in Defense of the Chemical Industry

We learned last week that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spearheaded an effort to suppress a scientific study showing that the allowable levels of two chemicals found in drinking water weren’t low enough, putting Americans at risk of low birth weight, immune disorders, and cancer. Rather than publishing the research and sounding the alarm, the administration fretted internally about the public relations fallout and then buried the information.

This week, the EPA tried to put on a dignified face and held a hearing explaining the situation―except the Pruitt-era EPA has no dignity, and the effort inevitably descended into farce as the agency blocked major news organizations from attending the press conference. Reporters from the Associated Press, CNN, and E&E were all barred from entering. When one of the journalists asked to speak to an agency public relations staffer, a security guard grabbed her by the shoulders and forcibly removed her from the building.

Stop Andrew Wheeler

This isn’t Pruitt’s first indiscretion when it comes to a free and open press. The EPA has removed reporters from Pruitt’s previous public appearances, and his underlings ask radio hosts not to accept calls from the public when the administrator is appearing on their programs. The agency’s PR staff also accused AP journalists of reporting on a Texas Superfund site “from the comfort of Washington” when a video made clear that they had done on-site reporting.

As many have pointed out, Pruitt is taking his cues from the big boss, who uses his Twitter account as a free-speech chilling machine. Trump has made a hobby of insulting reporters personally and the press in general, going so far as to call it “the enemy of the people.” Thomas Jefferson once told John Jay, “Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press.” How far we’ve come.

Where was I . . . Oh, the chemical contamination conference. It did eventually happen, minus a few manhandled reporters, and the EPA did exactly what you’d expect, refusing to commit resources to solving the problem. A New Hampshire official pointed out that the new chemical threat is one of many drinking water problems—some of which are just as dire or more so, and all of which are underfunded—and begged for more EPA resources devoted to water quality. The EPA’s response? “Thank you for your opinion.”

One thing is clear: The near-universal scolding Pruitt received for his media suppression did not chasten him. The very next day, the EPA barred reporters from yet another chemical conference.

Amicus Petroleum

The California cities of San Francisco and Oakland filed a landmark lawsuit last year against five major oil companies (ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell, and BP), accusing them of knowingly damaging the global climate decades after their own research identified the dangers. The cities are seeking damages to cover the cost of climate change mitigation and adaptation. This week, the federal government finally jumped into the lawsuit—on the side of the polluters.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the Trump administration would back Big Oil against the Democratic strongholds of northern California. But when you see the administration’s arguments in writing, they’re still shocking. The federal government’s brief spends pages of text explaining how vital oil production is to our national security interests. “The United States has strong economic and national security interests in promoting the development of fossil fuels, among other energy resources,” the brief states. (“Other energy resources,” presumably refers to renewables, but I guess the administration couldn’t bring itself to use that word.)

There’s vanishingly little acknowledgement that the government also has a strong economic and national security interest in combatting climate change, a long-term threat that is surely greater than the financial liability of a handful of private energy companies.

The brief’s passing mention of the government’s responsibility to fight climate change is unintentionally hilarious: “This case also has the potential to interfere with the United States’ ongoing attempts to address the impacts of climate change, both domestically and internationally.”

Say what? This administration’s attempts to address climate change consist of withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, attempting to hawk coal at global warming conferences, and working to repeal virtually every one of our national programs to reduce carbon emissions, from the Clean Power Plan to the clean cars initiative.

This lawsuit can’t interfere with the administration’s effort to address climate change, because the administration has made no effort. The presiding judge and his clerks must have had a good laugh at that sentence behind closed doors.

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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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