Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle
[Editor: This analysis confirms my worst impressions of Trump’s first 100 days. Much has been made of the ineffectiveness of his many posturing executive orders. But he and his cronies are making real inroads against clean air and on behalf of the fossil fuel industry. This is important! – RS]
Analysis: Trump gains, science losesBy Carolyn Lochhead, April 23, 2017 8:06am
WASHINGTON — Nearly 100 days into a presidency remarkably thin on legislative success, one area where the Trump administration and Republican-led Congress have notched indisputable gains is on the environment.
From rolling back rules to fight climate change and air and water pollution to cutting funding for
scientific research, Congress and the administration are undertaking the biggest effort to limit the nation’s basic environmental protections since many were established nearly half a century ago, when Republican Richard Nixon was president.
Using a powerful mix of executive actions, new laws and budget cuts, the efforts exceed anything seen in the Reagan or George W. Bush administrations, two GOP presidencies also skeptical of environmental laws.
Republicans frame the drive not as the war on the environment that critics describe, but as an economic policy to boost growth, said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a top GOP economist who heads the pro-market American Action Forum.
“They have a clear agenda on improved economic performance,” Holtz-Eakin said. “I think that’s the No. 1 reason why voters sent Trump to the presidency and carried majorities of Republicans in the House and Senate.”
Whether the GOP succeeds, one of the most striking aspects of the effort is that the scientific community is urging precisely the opposite course.
Climate change and other key measures of environmental degradation are approaching — and crossing — dangerous thresholds, many top scientists warn. Each additional year of continued carbon dioxide emissions creates more damage. Much of it, from Greenland’s melting to mass species extinctions, is irreversible, they say.
The fiscal costs escalate, too, whether it’s the quarter-billion-dollar repair of Oroville Dam after the wettest California winter on record, or the half-billion dollars that Miami is spending to raise its streets above rising seas. Putting environmental efforts on hold for four or eight years of a Trump presidency is unthinkable for many scientists.
“We are in an emergency state for the planet,” said Elizabeth Hadly, a global change biologist at Stanford University. “I really don’t think I can overstate that.”
Katherine Hayhoe, a climate physicist at Texas Tech University and a co-author of the 2014 National Climate Assessment, compared Washington’s approach to climate change to a person with lung cancer continuing to smoke.
“It’s as if … you’ve been to the doctor and you have troubling signs that smoking is beginning to impact your health,” Hayhoe said. “You go home, and instead of stopping smoking as soon as possible as the doctor recommends, you decide that you’re not even going to wean yourself off slowly, like you have been. You’re going to go straight back to every pack that you were smoking before, because you figure, ‘Hey, it’s been working for me for so many years.’”
The problem is not climate change alone. Pervasive pollution, invasive species, habitat loss and mass extinctions have swelled into critical problems within the United States and globally. Each compounds the other, and all are amplified by climate change.
Scientists estimate that global temperatures are on course to become hotter than they’ve been in the past 14 million years, Hadly said. Modern humans evolved roughly 200,000 years ago.
“So not only are the temperatures we’re going toward — in fact where we already are — beyond the temperatures where our human civilizations evolved,” Hadly said, “they’re way beyond the temperatures that humans themselves evolved in.”
The administration and Congress are doing so much, so fast, on so many fronts that the scope of the drive has often escaped wide notice.
The White House was so concerned that its successes were going unheralded that legislative director Mike Short held a news briefing this month to highlight 11 bills Trump had signed, nearly half of which involved environmental protections.
“This is an important story that has not been told,” Short said.
Environmentalists say they’ve never seen anything like it. “I’ve worked in this game since 1977, and more bad stuff has happened in the last few weeks than in my entire career,” said Scott Slesinger, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Unlike health care, environmental issues unite the GOP’s pro-business and small-government wings. When united, Republicans wield extraordinary power through their control of the White House and Capitol Hill.
They tend to view environmental laws as an impediment to business, a drag on the economy, and a wellspring of big government.
“The metastasizing federal bureaucracy is a threat to our people, our Constitution, and our economy,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield said after House passage of four major antiregulatory bills. “Bureaucracies that aren’t accountable to the people, staffed with regulators that never stand for election, write rules that undermine our rights and destroy American jobs.”
To be sure, many Republicans in states that have booming wind and solar industries now embrace renewable energy. Hundreds of U.S. companies such as Walmart and General Mills have committed to using 100 percent renewable energy through the We Mean Business coalition.
But others in the fossil fuel, mining, logging and other extractive industries, or in sectors such as chemicals or real estate development, view environmental rules as a threat.
Trump’s biggest moves in the environmental arena have centered on climate change. Two orders, to roll back limits on power plant emissions and to review vehicle fuel efficiency standards, go after the centerpiece of federal climate policy.
In addition, McCarthy has spearheaded House passage of several anti-regulatory laws that would gut rule making by federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency. Most of these await action in the Senate, where Democrats hope to block them.
McCarthy said the new laws will save businesses $10 billion over 20 years.
Budget cuts to government agencies can be nearly as effective as gutting rules, because they can reduce monitoring, enforcement and research.
In a budget plan he sent to Congress last month, Trump proposed slashing domestic programs to fund a $54 billion boost for the military. His biggest cut, 31 percent, would come from the Environmental Protection Agency. He would also terminate four earth science and monitoring programs at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that scientists see as critical to studying the effect humans are having on the climate.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney called climate programs “a waste of your money.”
Trump also wants to eliminate Sea Grants, a $73 million program that helps coastal states with sea level rise, fisheries and scientific research, among other things. The administration said the program does not contribute to federal “core functions.”
“It’s so short-sighted it’s just ridiculous, but what can you say,” said James Eckman, director of the California Sea Grant program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. “Do we want to have red tides that we can’t control, that we don’t understand, that close beaches, that make seafood unsaleable?”
He noted that three of California’s four major airports — at San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego — are at sea level and already experience flooding.
Many of Trump’s proposed cuts face bipartisan resistance in Congress, but they garner support from small-government and pro-military conservatives.
While Congress considers Trump’s budget request, the pace of environmental rollbacks shows no sign of slowing. The EPA last week moved to delay a rule limiting mercury and other toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants, and seeks delays on ozone and methane rules. Administrator Scott Pruitt overruled agency scientists last month in refusing to ban chlorpyrifos, an insecticide applied to more than 50 crops, including almonds, that causes neurological damage.
Pruitt says he wants to take the agency “back to basics,” using “sensible regulations that enhance economic growth.”
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has ordered an overhaul of public lands planning to shrink a “quagmire” of environmental reviews. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has delayed rules to boost the energy efficiency of portable air conditioners, walk-in coolers and other equipment.
Congress is starting to take aim at the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law that allows the president to declare monuments on public lands. Utah Republicans are keen to reverse former President Barack Obama’s designation of the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument.
Congress has held hearings critical of the Endangered Species Act, a bedrock environmental law that often thwarts development but is the main tool to prevent extinctions.
“We’re still in the infancy of whatever fight it is that we’re going to have on the Endangered Species Act,” said Brett Hartl, head of government affairs for the Center for Biological Diversity.
Scientists are watching all this in horror.
They see different problems. The planet’s ice sheets and glaciers are melting with shocking speed. For the past three years, global temperatures have broken heat records. Sea-level rise threatens major U.S. cities and trillions of dollars in property.
Fisheries have collapsed, and once-common animals such as bats and monarch butterflies are disappearing. Pollutants are everywhere. Millions of dead conifers blanket the West. Droughts imperil the water supply of Phoenix and Las Vegas. Australia’s great coral reefs are dying, and ocean acidification is destroying plankton at the base of the food chain.
“Everything is very, very tightly linked,” said Hadly, the Stanford biologist. Such changes amplify each other, and if unabated, reach tipping points, at which the changes spin out of human control.
“We’re really running a giant experiment, and there’s no reverse gear,” said Gary Griggs, distinguished professor of earth sciences at UC Santa Cruz who has just written an update of the science on sea level rise for the state of California. “There’s no plan B. There’s no other planet to move to. It’s a huge gamble we’re taking.”Carolyn Lochhead is The San Francisco Chronicle’s Washington correspondent.