The tragedy of Trump/Big Oil’s war on the EPA


We spent a good many years covering environmental issues, including the role played by corporations and the nation’s largest university system in building on polluted land.

We were first stirred to concern for our impact on the environment in 1962 when we read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the book that inspired the rise of the modern environmental movement in the last half of the 20th Century.

The movement became so significant that a Reoubkican President [and a loathed one at that] created the Environmental Protection Agency,

And while Donald Trump may share a leak paranoia with Agent Orange, he’s anything but Richard Nixon when it comes to the environment.

An agency dismembered

While Trump and many of his appointees called for outright elimination of the EPA, realism set in.

That and the beginning of the death by a thousand cuts, starting with a story from Newsweek written as the initial proposed budget cuts were revealed:

The proposal, sent to the EPA [last week], would cut into grants that support American Indian tribes and energy efficiency initiatives, according to the source, who read the document to Reuters.

State grants for lead cleanup, for example, would be cut 30 percent to $9.8 million. Grants to help native tribes combat pollution would be cut 30 percent to $45.8 million. An EPA climate protection program on cutting emissions of greenhouse gases like methane that contribute to global warming would be cut 70 percent to $29 million.

The proposal would cut funding for the brownfields industrial site cleanup program by 42 percent to $14.7 million. It would also reduce funding for enforcing pollution laws by 11 percent to $153 million.

The budget did not cut state revolving funds for programs, that Congress tapped last year to provide aid to Flint, Michigan, for its lead pollution crisis.

All staff at a research program, called Global Change Research, as well as 37 other programs would be cut under the plan.

As Bloomberg notes:

More than 40 percent of EPA’s budget – about $3.5 billion – is dedicated to state and tribal grants used to pay for staff and support an array of programs, including initiatives that protect drinking water. State clean air and water programs also benefit.

That means the disproportionate burden will fall on states, most of which have Republican-controlled legislatures and chief executives.

So it’s unlikely most states will replace the lost funds, and layoffs will ensue.

Also impacted will be city government, losing both federal funds and monies from the states.

Given that the burdens of pollution fall disproportionately on the poor, life expectancies may decline.

Hey, but he’s makin’ Ahmurka great agin, ain’t he?

Ain’t he?

The latest development: Still more cuts

Needless to say, climate research is involved.

Scientific American puts it i context:

The administration is seeking a nearly 20 percent cut to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget, including to its satellite division, The Washington Post reported. That includes significant cuts to the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, which has produced research that disproved the notion of a global warming pause. NOAA’s satellites provide invaluable data on climate change that are used by researchers throughout the world. The NOAA cuts target the Office of Ocean and Atmospheric Research, which conducts the bulk of the agency’s climate research.

That’s on top of proposed reductions to climate research at U.S. EPA, including a 40 percent cut to the Office of Research and Development, which runs much of EPA’s major research. The cuts specify work on climate change, air and water quality, and chemical safety. The Trump administration also has proposed 20 percent staffing reduction at EPA.

More than a dozen federal agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey, the Interior Department and the Department of Energy, conduct climate research. Further cuts are expected, particularly at NASA, which develops and launches the satellites that provide invaluable information on climate change used throughout the world. President Trump has called global warming a “hoax,” and some congressional Republicans pushing for climate science cuts have falsely claimed that federal scientists are engaged in a massive conspiracy to defraud the American public into thinking that human activity is causing the planet to warm.

About a third of the American economy relies on weather, climate and natural hazard data, said Chris McEntee, president of the American Geophysical Union, the nation’s largest scientific organization. She said much of the federal scientific research and data comes from multiple agencies working together, so cutting one will have a ripple effect.

“It’s not just one agency, it’s a holistic view here, and cutting one piece also has an impact on the whole enterprise of what we get out of science from the federal government that enables us to have the kinds of tools and information we need to protect the infrastructure, to protect lives, to protect public safety, and to give us knowledge and information to make a more effective economy and country,” she said.

After the jump, more cuts, the threats to a massive database and efforts to preserve them, and a case of class war. . .

More on the program cuts

And since the environment is something we all share, we should be worried about what’s to come.

From Science:

The Trump administration wants to cut spending by EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) by more than 40% from roughly $510 million to $290 million, according to sources that have seen preliminary directives from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The cuts target scientific work in fields including climate change, air and water quality, and chemical safety. EPA’s $50 million external grant program for environmental scientists at universities would disappear altogether. Such erasures represent just part of a larger plan to shrink EPA’s budget by 25% to $6.1 billion, and cut its workforce by 20% to 12,400 employees, in the 2018 fiscal year that begins 1 October.

The cuts are needed, the OMB guidance suggests, to help reduce the burden that EPA regulations place on industry and state and local governments. But environmental scientists, regulators, and current and former EPA officials warn the reductions would devastate the agency’s efforts to carry out its mission of protecting human health and the environment.

The proposed cuts could cause EPA’s research office “to implode,” warns a senior EPA official. “This is serious stuff. We’re all concerned about what might happen, not just to our livelihoods, but to our ability to support the agency’s mission,” says the official, who does not have authorization to speak to reporters and so requested anonymity. “This is a premier research organization, and it doesn’t take much for the best and the brightest to start looking for other places for work. Even the uncertainty can cause a place to implode, almost, and you don’t build that back quickly if it happens.”

Scientists struggle to save threatened data

Given that the new administration is a shill for Big Oil, what with ExxonMobil’s CEO moving over to helm the State Department, while a reliable BO pawn is now Attorney General, scientists aren’t worried about research ending.

They’re especially concerned about the potential [we’d say probability] the fate of the vast archives of data already gleaned for generations of research, data tso inconvenient to Big Oil and other corporate polluters.

From Wired:

At 10 AM the Saturday before inauguration day, on the sixth floor of the Van Pelt Library at the University of Pennsylvania, roughly 60 hackers, scientists, archivists, and librarians were hunched over laptops, drawing flow charts on whiteboards, and shouting opinions on computer scripts across the room. They had hundreds of government web pages and data sets to get through before the end of the day—all strategically chosen from the pages of the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—any of which, they felt, might be deleted, altered, or removed from the public domain by the incoming Trump administration.

Their undertaking, at the time, was purely speculative, based on travails of Canadian government scientists under the Stephen Harper administration, which muzzled them from speaking about climate change. Researchers watched as Harper officials threw thousands of books of aquatic data into dumpsters as federal environmental research libraries closed.

But three days later, speculation became reality as news broke that the incoming Trump administration’s EPA transition team does indeed intend to remove some climate data from the agency’s website. That will include references to President Barack Obama’s June 2013 Climate Action Plan and the strategies for 2014 and 2015 to cut methane, according to an unnamed source who spoke with Inside EPA. “It’s entirely unsurprising,” said Bethany Wiggin, director of the environmental humanities program at Penn and one of the organizers of the data-rescuing event.

Other groups in the U.S. and Canada are waging similar efforts, Wired reports.

And in the end, it’s a matter of class war

Just consider who will be hurt the most.

From the Guardian:

Planned cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency are set to fall heaviest upon communities of color across the US that already suffer disproportionately from toxic pollution, green groups have warned.

Donald Trump’s administration is proposing a 25% reduction in the EPA’s $8.1bn budget, eliminating nearly 3,000 jobs and several programs including the agency’s environmental justice office. Funding for the cleanup of lead, marine pollution, tribal lands and the Great Lakes region faces severe cuts, while climate initiatives are earmarked for a 70% budget reduction.

The environmental justice office is tasked with bridging the yawning disparity in pollution experienced by black, Hispanic and low-income communities and wealthier white neighborhoods. It provides grants to communities to mop up toxins and rehabilitate abandoned industrial facilities that are invariably found in poorer areas.

In the final months of Barack Obama’s administration, the EPA unveiled a new effort to tackle lead poisoning, air pollution and other problems suffered by communities of color situated next to waste treatment plants, smelters and other sources of toxins. But this plan will be cut down in its infancy should the environmental justice office be dismantled.

“The Trump administration has decided fence-line communities across the country, whose residents already bear an outsized burden from pollution, are on their own to take on big polluters,” said Ken Cook, president of advocacy organization the Environmental Working Group.

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