Category Archives: Resources

Why Donald Trump could win his war on the EPA


Founded in 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency is the one positive legacy left by Richard M. Nixon, one of America’s worst Republican Presidents, the only one forced to resign in disgrace because of his criminal conduct.

The agency, charged with protecting folks from the worst environmental ravages wrought by corporations and developers, the EPA has played a major role in cleaning up the nation’s worst environmental disasters and preventing others.

But with prominent members of the Trump administration opposed to the agency’s vary existence, California legislators announced new measures this week designed to replace threatened federal regulations with new state counterparts.

From the Sacramento Bee:

Fearing a federal rollback of longstanding protections for air quality, clean water, endangered species and workers’ rights, California Democrats are pursuing legislation that would cement those environmental and labor regulations in state law.

The trio of bills announced Thursday also seek to use state authority to block private development of federal lands in California and extend some safeguards to federal whistleblowers.

“Californians can’t afford to go back to the days of unregulated pollution,” Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León said at a press conference. “So we’re not going to let this administration or any other undermine our progress.”

>snip<

De León and other state senators who joined him Thursday pointed to a litany of developments over recent months that compelled them to act: Trump calling climate change a hoax; proposals to eliminate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; the confirmation of Scott Pruitt, who as attorney general of Oklahoma repeatedly sued the EPA, to lead the agency.

But nationally the threat remains

And it’s very real, with the Trumpies presented with uniquely circumstances boding ill for our world and our descendants.

University of Florida Professor Emeritus of Political Science Walter A. Rosenbaum is uniquely suited to address the threat, being both an internationally recognized academic environmentalist and a former Special Assistant to the EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Policy Planning.

What follows is his analysis, Why Trump’s EPA is far more vulnerable to attack than Reagan’s or Bush’s, an essay written for The Conversation, an open-source academic journal written in conversational English:

For people concerned with environmental protection, including many EPA employees, there is broad agreement: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is in deep trouble.

The Trump administration has begun the third, most formidable White House-led attempt in EPA’s brief history to diminish the agency’s regulatory capacity.

Scott Pruitt, Trump’s newly appointed EPA administrator, is a harsh critic and self-described “leading advocate against EPA’s activist agenda.” Pruitt’s intention to reduce EPA’s budget, workforce and authority is powerfully fortified by President Donald Trump’s own determination to repeal major EPA regulations like the Obama’s Clean Power Plan and Climate Action Plan.

Previous presidents have tried to scale back the work of the EPA, but as a former EPA staff member and researcher in environmental policy and politics, I believe the current administration is likely to seriously degrade EPA’s authority and enforcement capacity.

The vanished majorities

This latest assault on EPA is more menacing than previous ones in part because of today’s Republican-led Congress. The Democratic congressional majorities forestalled most past White House efforts to impair the agency’s rulemaking and protected EPA from prolonged damage to its enforcement capability.

Presidents Ronald Reagan (1981-1988) and George H. W. Bush (1989-1993) both sought to cut back EPA’s regulatory activism. Reagan was fixated on governmental deregulation and EPA was a favorite target. His powerful assault on EPA’s authority began with the appointment of Anne Gorsuch, an outspoken EPA critic, as EPA administrator. Gorsuch populated the agency’s leadership positions with like-minded reformers and supervised progressive reductions in EPA’s budget, especially for EPA’s critically important enforcement division, and hobbled the agency’s rule-making – a key step in the regulatory process – while reducing scientific support services.

Bush’s forays against EPA authority were milder, consisting primarily of progressive budget cuts, impaired rule-making and disengagement from international environmental activism.

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Border wall moves ahead; Mexican resistance stirs


Yep, the border wall is moving ahead.

From the Chicago Tribune:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Friday that it plans to start awarding contracts by mid-April for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico, signaling that he is aggressively pursuing plans to erect “a great wall” along the 2,000-mile border.

The agency said it will request bids on or around March 6 and that companies would have to submit “concept papers” to design and build prototypes by March 10, according to FedBizOpps.gov, a website for federal contractors. The field of candidates will be narrowed by March 20, and finalists must submit offers with their proposed costs by March 24.

The president told the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday that construction will start “very soon” and is “way, way, way ahead of schedule.”

The agency’s notice gave no details on where the wall would be built first and how many miles would be covered initially. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has sought employees’ opinions during border tours of California, Arizona and Texas.

Announcement comes a day after cross-border meeting

The wall wasn’t even mentioned when two cabinet members traveled south of the border the day before the announcement.

From NBC News:

There were promises of cooperation, of closer economic ties, and frequent odes to the enduring partnership between the U.S. and its southern neighbor. But there were no public mentions of that massive border wall or President Donald Trump’s plan to deport non-Mexicans to Mexico as top U.S. officials visited the Mexican capital.

Instead, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson played it safe, acknowledging generally that the U.S. and Mexico are in a period of disagreement without putting any specific dispute under the microscope. It fell to their hosts, and especially Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray, to thrust those issues into the spotlight.

“It is an evident fact that Mexicans feel concern and irritation over what are perceived as policies that may hurt Mexicans and the national interest of Mexicans here and abroad,” Videgaray said Thursday after meeting with Kelly and Tillerson.

The Americans focused instead on putting to rest some of the fears reverberating across Latin America – such as the notion that the U.S. military might be enlisted to deport immigrants in the U.S. illegally en masse. Not so, said Kelly. He said there would be “no mass deportations” and no U.S. military role.

Sure, Mexico can trust anything that comes out of an administration headed by a man who can’t even keep his own lies straight, then flies into a rage any time anyone dares point that out.

Trump may do the impossible for Peña

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has been polling at all-time lows, earning an abysmal 12 percent approval rate in one recent survey., making Trump’s current 42 percent approval rating look like a rave review.

But Trump may prove a boost for the beleaguered Mexican President is Agent Orange continues with his self-serving racist rants, especially now that Peña’s administration is showing a little resistance.

From teleSUR English:

The U.S. wants to pressure Mexico into keeping migrants and refugees as they await trial, forcing Mexico to deport them instead. Mexico isn’t falling for it.

Mexico will reject the remaining funds of the Merida Plan if they’re used by the U.S. to coerce the country on immigration policy, said Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong on Friday.

The US$2.6 billion security assistance package on the drug war has been almost been entirely distributed since 2008, mostly on military equipment like helicopters and training for its security forces.

The plan has been widely criticized for worsening, rather than improving, violence and disappearances in the country and being partly responsible for the disappearance of the 43 student-teachers in Ayotzinapa. It already contains a proviso to withhold funds if Mexico doesn’t improve its rule of law or human rights abuses, though the U.S. has never enacted this demand.

Besides now taking into account U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan to build a border wall, the aid may be dependent on Mexico hosting undocumented immigrants from third countries as they are awaiting processing of their deportation trials in the U.S.

“They can’t leave them here on the border because we have to reject them. There is no chance they would be received by Mexico,” said Osorio Chong on Friday, speaking with Radio Formula after a cool reception of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who visited on Thursday.

Mexico already deports hundreds of thousands of Central Americans apprehended at its southern border, but cities like Mexico City are among the largest receptors of refugees deported from the U.S.

Mexico hints at a trade war

A not-so-veiled threat was issued Thursday at the same time Trump administration officials were meeting with their Mexican counterparts.

From Reuters:

Mexico’s economy minister said on Thursday that applying tariffs on U.S. goods is “plan B” for Mexico in trade talks with the United States if negotiations aimed at achieving a new mutually beneficial agreement fail.

Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo told local broadcaster Televisa that he expected North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations with both the United States and Canada to begin this summer and conclude by the end of this year.

And promptly takes the first step

Guajardo’s warming was accompanied by action as well,

From teleSUR English:

Amid trade tensions with the United States, Mexico plans to send a delegation next month to visit Brazilian corn, beef, chicken and soy producers as an alterative to U.S. suppliers, its representative in Brazil said on Friday.

Mexican chargé d’affaires Eleazar Velasco said Brazil is uniquely positioned to expand agricultural commodity sales to Mexico if trade with the United States is disrupted because it is closer than other potential suppliers like Australia.

“The United States unilaterally wants to change the established rules of the game,” Velasco told Reuters. “This will evidently lead us to rebalance our trade relations.”

Mexican Agriculture Secretary Jose Calzada was due to visit Brazil last week but had to postpone his trip until March due to scheduling issues, Velasco said.

Calzada will bring Mexican food industry executives to do deals with Brazilian exporters, the diplomat said. The trip is part of a drive to lessen dependence on U.S. exports as President Donald Trump threatens to upend long-standing free trade between the two countries.

And Mexico acts on the financial front as well

The country has been engaged in a massive buttressing of its currency.

From CNNMoney:

Mexico’s currency, the peso, is one of the best performers in the world in February, up over 5%.

Before the U.S. election, the country’s central bank started implementing what its governor, Agustin Carstens, called a “contingency plan.” Carstens says Trump’s potential policies would hit Mexico’s economy like a “hurricane.”

For ordinary Mexicans, the peso’s momentum doesn’t mean much. Gas prices rose as much as 20% in January while economic growth and wages continue to be sluggish. Life is getting more expensive.

Still, it’s a swift turnaround for a country and currency facing an uncertain future with the U.S.

Since November, Mexico’s central bank has raised interest rates three times and sold U.S. dollars to international investors. Among other efforts, it’s all meant to buoy the peso that’s been weighed down by Trump’s threats.

Things are starting to get interesting. . .

Map of the day: America’s fast-vanishing forests


Loss of Forest Coverage [upper maps] and Changes in Average Distance from Nearest Forest [lower maps], 1991-2000  From Forest dynamics in the U.S. indicate disproportionate attrition in western forests, rural areas and public lands, a new study published in PLOS One [open access], maps indicate tghe decline in forest area [a] and percentage of change [b] and the average distance of an individual from the nearest forest [c] and the change in distance over the decade [d].

Loss of Forest Coverage [upper maps] and Changes in Average Distance from Nearest Forest [lower maps], 1991-2000
From Forest dynamics in the U.S. indicate disproportionate attrition in western forests, rural areas and public lands, a new study published in PLOS One [open access], maps indicate the decline in forest area [a] and percentage of change [b] and the average distance of an individual from the nearest forest [c] and the change in distance over the decade [d]. Click on the image to enlarge.

Forests in the United States are dying, whether at the hands of loggers, ranchers, or real estate developers, or, as in the cases of Colorado, Oregon, and California, from disease and drought.

Loss of habitat poses a major environmental threat to countless species, but loss of the nation’s forest has another impact as well.

It further isolates us from an environment that provides us with both recreation and a source of renewal and reflection.

And with the Trump administration already implementing policies top open up yet more of the nation’s forests and other public lands to commercial exploitation, things can only get worse.

New study reveals extent of a one-decade loss

Scientists looked a forest losses over the last decade of the 20th Century, and their findings are very worrisome, especially in light of what the next four years may bring.

From the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Americans are spending their lives farther from forests than they did at the end of the 20th century and, contrary to popular wisdom, the change is more pronounced in rural areas than in urban settings.

A study published today [open access] in the journal PLOS ONE says that between 1990 and 2000, the average distance from any point in the United States to the nearest forest increased by 14 percent – or about a third of a mile. And while the distance isn’t insurmountable for humans in search of a nature fix, it can present challenges for wildlife and have broad effects on ecosystems.

Dr. Giorgos Mountrakis, an associate professor in the ESF Department of Environmental Resources, and co-author of the study, called the results “eye opening.”

“Our study analyzed geographic distribution of forest losses across the continental U.S. While we focused on forests, the implications of our results go beyond forestry,” Mountrakis said.

The study overturned conventional wisdom about forest loss, the researcher noted. The amount of forest attrition – the complete removal of forest patches – is considerably higher in rural areas and in public lands. “The public perceives the urbanized and private lands as more vulnerable,” said Mountrakis, “but that’s not what our study showed. Rural areas are at a higher risk of losing these forested patches.

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Emails confirm new EPA chief a tool of the Kochs


Why are we not surprised?

From the New York Times:

During his tenure as attorney general of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt, now the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, closely coordinated with major oil and gas producers, electric utilities and political groups with ties to the libertarian billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch to roll back environmental regulations, according to over 6,000 pages of emails made public on Wednesday.

The publication of the correspondence comes just days after Mr. Pruitt was sworn in to run the E.P.A., which is charged with reining in pollution and regulating public health.

“Thank you to your respective bosses and all they are doing to push back against President Obama’s EPA and its axis with liberal environmental groups to increase energy costs for Oklahomans and American families across the states,” said one email sent to Mr. Pruitt and an Oklahoma congressman in August 2013 by Matt Ball, an executive at Americans for Prosperity. That nonprofit group is funded in part by the Kochs, the Kansas business executives who spent much of the last decade combating federal regulations, particularly in the energy sector. “You both work for true champions of freedom and liberty!” the note said.

Mr. Pruitt has been among the most contentious of President Trump’s cabinet nominees. Environmental groups, Democrats in Congress and even current E.P.A. employees have protested his ties to energy companies, his efforts to block and weaken major environmental rules, and his skepticism of the central mission of the federal agency he now leads.

A tools of the plutocracy

The documents, though redacted, make clear that Pruitt serves not the interests of the citizens he has sworn to serve but the billionaire patrons who have greased the skids for his political career.

More from the Center for Media and Democracy, the organization which battled for and won release of the documents, which are posted at the link:

As a result of an Open Records Act request and lawsuit filed by the Center for Media and Democracy, on Tuesday night the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office released a batch of more than 7,500 pages of emails and other records it withheld prior to Scott Pruitt’s nomination as EPA Administrator last Friday.

The AG’s office has withheld an undetermined number of additional documents as exempted or privileged and submitted them to the Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons for review. A number of other documents were redacted, and CMD will be asking for the court to review those as well. On February 27, the AG’s office has been ordered to deliver records related to five outstanding requests by CMD.

“Despite repeated attempts by Pruitt and the Oklahoma AG’s office to stonewall CMD and the public, we’ve won a major breakthrough in obtaining access to public records that shine a light on Pruitt’s emails with polluters and their proxies,” said Nick Surgey, research director at the Center for Media and Democracy. “The newly released emails reveal a close and friendly relationship between Scott Pruitt’s office and the fossil fuel industry, with frequent meetings, calls, dinners and other events. And our work doesn’t stop here – we will keep fighting until all of the public records involving Pruitt’s dealings with energy corporations are released – both those for which his office is now asserting some sort of privilege against public disclosure and the documents relevant to our eight other Open Records Act requests.”

“There is no valid legal justification for the emails we received last night not being released prior to Pruitt’s confirmation vote other than to evade public scrutiny,” said Arn Pearson, general counsel for CMD. “There are hundreds of emails between the AG’s office, Devon Energy, and other polluters that Senators should have been permitted to review prior to their vote to assess Pruitt’s ties to the fossil fuel industry.”

Among the documents released late yesterday, CMD has found:

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The sacred landscape: DAPL, tradition, & profit


For somebody like Donald Trump, who sees a stretch pristine coastline as merely the opportunity of a golf course and a landmarked historic building as an inconvenienced to be bulldozed to make way for a new hotel,  nothing must get in the way of turning a quick buck.

So it was only natural that he’d reverse the freeze on the Dakota Access Pipeline in order to keep the profits flowing for his campaign contributors.

But for many Native Americans, the landscape through which the pipline passes is a sacred text, a living presence integral to the stories of their origins and being.

Rosalyn R. LaPier, a Native American scholar and Visiting Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies, Environmental Studies and Native American Religion at Harvard University, explains in an essay for The Conversation, an open access academic journal written for the lay reader:

For several months Native American protesters and others have been opposing the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The plans for construction pass through sacred land for the Native American tribe, Standing Rock Sioux.

But, within days of taking office, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum supporting the construction of the pipeline. Recently a U.S. federal judge denied a request by tribes to halt construction on the final link of the project.

On Wednesday, however, the protesters appeared to have received support from none other than Pope Francis, a long-time defender of indigenous people’s rights. The pope said indigenous cultures have a right to defend “their ancestral relationship to the Earth.” He added,

“Do not allow those that destroy the Earth, which destroy the environment and the ecological balance, and which end up destroying the wisdom of peoples.”

As a Native American scholar of environmental history and religious studies, I am often asked what Native American leaders mean when they say that certain landscapes are “sacred places” or “sacred sites.”

What makes a mountain, hill or prairie a “sacred” place?

Meaning of sacred spaces

I learned from my grandparents about the sacred areas within Blackfeet tribal territory in Montana and Alberta, which is not far from Lakota tribal territory in the Dakotas.

My grandparents said that sacred areas are places set aside from human presence. They identified two overarching types of sacred place: those set aside for the divine, such as a dwelling place, and those set aside for human remembrance, such as a burial or battle site.

In my forthcoming book “Invisible Reality,” I contemplate those stories that my grandparents shared about Blackfeet religious concepts and the interconnectedness of the supernatural and natural realms.

My grandparents’ stories revealed that the Blackfeet believe in a universe where supernatural beings exist within the same time and space as humans and our natural world. The deities could simultaneously exist in both as visible and invisible reality. That is, they could live unseen, but known, within a physical place visible to humans.

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Poor teens go hungry as younger sibs are fed


From Johns Hopkins University, an alarming finger about hunger and poverty in the United States:

In very poor families, teenagers are going hungry twice as often as their younger siblings, a new Johns Hopkins University study finds.

Parents first forgo food themselves, skipping meals to feed their children. But if there still isn’t enough for everyone, the study found parents will feed younger children before teenagers, regularly leaving the older kids—teen boys in particular—without enough to eat.

“If you’re really poor, you try to sacrifice yourself first, but when you’re forced to make some choices, these parents are deciding to let the teens not have enough—if they have to give up on something, they’re giving up on teenagers,” said JHU economist Robert Moffitt, the lead author. “It’s hard to imagine parents having to do that.”

The study, which is the first to demonstrate how children’s food deprivation can differ by age and gender, even within the same household, is published as a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research [$5 to read].

Moffitt and co-author David C. Ribar of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research analyzed a survey of about 1,500 extremely disadvantaged families in Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio. The survey asked parents, along with one of their children, about missing meals, checking in with them several times over six years, from 1999 to 2005.

The families had incomes well below the federal poverty line, making an average of about $1,558 a month, or $18,696 a year. Most were headed by single parents, unemployed, on welfare, and not college-educated. Most were minorities and raising children in rental homes.

Questions for the parents included:

  • At any time in the past 12 months, did you or other adults in your household cut the size of your meals or skip meals because there wasn’t enough money for food?
  • At any time in the past 12 months, did you or any other adults in your household not eat for a whole day because there wasn’t enough money for food?
  • In the past 12 months, were you ever hungry but didn’t eat because you couldn’t afford food?
  • Sometimes people lose weight because they don’t have enough to eat. In the past 12 months, did you lose weight because there wasn’t enough food?

In these disadvantaged families, researchers found 12 percent of the adults suffered from extreme food hardship, answering “yes” to several of these questions. At the same time, about 4 percent of the children went hungry.

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Army approves: DAPL construction imminent


With the final approval in place construction is imminent along the contested segment of the Dakota Access Pipeline, reversing Barack Obama’s last and futile environmental gesture.

From the Associated Press:

With the green light from the federal government, the company building the Dakota Access oil pipeline said Wednesday it plans to resume work immediately to finish the long-stalled project. Opponents of the $3.8 billion project meanwhile protested around the country in an action some dubbed their “last stand.”

The Army on Wednesday granted the developer of the four-state oil pipeline formal permission to lay pipe under a Missouri River reservoir in North Dakota, clearing the way for completion of the disputed project.

“We plan to begin immediately,” Vicki Granado, a spokeswoman for developer Energy Transfer Partners, said in an email to The Associated Press Wednesday night.

Work had been stalled for months due to opposition by the Standing Rock Sioux, but President Donald Trump last month instructed the Army Corps of Engineers to advance pipeline construction.

The tribe fears a pipeline leak could contaminate its drinking water. ETP says the pipeline is safe.