Category Archives: Environmental protection

Pruitt resigns, but replacement Wheeler ‘should scare anyone who breathes’

Repost from The Energy Mix, Full story: POLITICO

Pruitt resigns, but replacement Wheeler ‘should scare anyone who breathes’

July 6, 2018, By Eric Wolff
Andrew Wheeler is pictured. | AP
As the EPA’s No. 2, Andrew Wheeler could immediately fill Scott Pruitt’s shoes as acting administrator, though President Donald Trump could insert someone above him in a temporary capacity. | Alex Edelman/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

U.S. environmental groups declared victory yesterday with the resignation of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, following months of unremitting scandal. But they’re already gearing up for a fight against his replacement, Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a veteran coal lobbyist who Politico describes as “smarter and more plugged in to Washington than Scott Pruitt was”.

“Wheeler is much smarter and will try to keep his efforts under the radar in implementing Trump’s destructive agenda,” said Jeremy Symons, vice president for political affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund. “That should scare anyone who breathes.”

Most of Wheeler’s professional career “has been devoted to resisting attempts to improve the quality of our air and our water and the safety of our communities,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. “He fought against safeguards to limit mercury poisoning. He fought against protections to limit the amount of ozone in our skies. He fought against [controlling] air pollution from neighbouring states. He’s a climate denier. So, sadly, he fits in well with EPA leadership.”

While Wheeler will take over EPA on an acting basis Monday morning, Pruitt’s permanent replacement will have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Some news reports yesterday suggested that may not happen before mid-term elections November 6, when there is at least a passing possibility of Democrats regaining control of the chamber.

Pruitt finally left his post under a cloud as “one of the most scandal-plagued Cabinet officials in U.S. history,” the Los Angeles Times reports, with 19 federal investigations—18 of them still in progress—into his conduct while in office. “The departure of the anti-regulatory crusader Pruitt ends a bizarre and tumultuous chapter of the Trump administration that puzzled even some of the president’s staunchest supporters.”

Trump reportedly held on to Pruitt for as long as he did because the former Oklahoma attorney-general, who previously made a name for himself by avidly suing to block the Obama environmental agenda, was also one of the most effective Cabinet secretaries in implementing Trump’s priorities, including attacks on climate policy, basic science, and clean air and water standards.

In the end, he became an embarrassment to Trump as well as a disgrace to his country.

“The spendthrift EPA chief has been a political liability for the White House for months, drawing the attention of federal investigators with scandal after scandal, many of which were linked to his lavish spending of taxpayer money and the use of his position to enrich his family,” the Times notes. “The transgressions include Pruitt’s deal with the wife of a top energy lobbyist for deeply discounted housing, huge raises he gave friends against the instructions of the White House, and his penchant for flying first class. Pruitt used his office to try to secure his wife a Chick-fil-A franchise and also enlisted aides to try to help her land lucrative work elsewhere. He had a $43,000 phone booth installed in his office.” The only Pruitt investigation completed so far concluded that that phone booth broke federal spending laws.

In the Washington Post, columnist Dana Milbank gets at the paranoia Pruitt brought to an office once devoted to protecting Americans’ air, water, health, and safety. “Pruitt spent the past 16 months turning the Environmental Protection Agency into a paramilitary operation, with the sole purpose of protecting him,” he writes. “Pruitt had spent some $4.6 million on security, enlisting a round-the-clock detail that followed him everywhere, even to Disneyland and Italy, whisking him from his office — where a $43,000 soundproof phone booth cocooned him and a panic alarm connected him directly to the security office—to the $50-a-night room in a condominium that he had rented from a lobbyist.”

Milbank introduces a new unit of measure for the duration of Pruitt’s tenure.

“Pruitt survived—for 503 days from swearing-in to resignation,” he writes. “That’s an eternity in the Trump administration. Anthony Scaramucci set the standard, lasting just 10 days in his job managing White House communications. If we take Scaramucci’s 10-day figure to be the standard of measurement—one ‘mooch’—then Pruitt survived an amazing 50.3 mooches, even while enduring more than a dozen scandals, any one of which would have doomed a lesser man.”

“Scott Pruitt’s corruption and coziness with industry lobbyists finally caught up with him,” said Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica told the Times. “We’re happy that Pruitt can no longer deceive Americans or destroy our environment.”

But much as the U.S. environmental community is taking a victory lap for the campaigns and advocacy that helped push Pruitt out the door, Wheeler will be a different sort of challenge.

“The man taking the reins at the Environmental Protection Agency after Scott Pruitt’s downfall is a longtime Washington insider and coal lobbyist who is set to pursue the same anti-regulation agenda—only without all of Pruitt’s baggage,” Politico notes. A former chief of staff to climate-denying Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and lobbyist for coal baron and avid Trump ally Bob Murray of Murray Energy, “Wheeler is a smooth insider with a penchant for policy details and a reputation for working well with both friends and adversaries. But those who have dealt with him say he’s on board with the broad deregulatory agenda that Pruitt and Trump are pursuing.”

“The problem with the Pruitt approach is it’s like a sugar high,” Democratic lobbyist and former Energy Department staffer Jeff Navin told Politico’s Eric Wolff. “It feels really, really good for a moment, but if you’re not following rules and procedure, not laying down substance for the decision you’re making, you’re not going to last very long.”

“He’s like Mike Pence is to Trump,” another unnamed source told Wolff. “He’s behind the scenes. He’ll get a lot done and doesn’t need to be in the news.”

“The impression he creates is very personable, respectful, good listener,” said one EPA employee. “He’s very interested in being involved in the substantive issues. He’s ready to get involved in our issues.” But there’s little doubt that his job will be to advance the radical deregulation that defined Pruitt’s tenure.

“I think that Andrew is well aware of the president’s agenda, and the parts of the agenda that are the responsibility of the EPA,” said lobbyist and political consultant Andy Ehrlich, a longtime associate of Wheeler’s. “I would expect based on my experience with Andrew to do what he can to see that the president’s agenda at the EPA is fulfilled in a methodical and thoughtful way.”

“Pruitt and Wheeler may have some small differences: The Democratic aide said Wheeler might offer more support to the agency’s research, in contrast to Pruitt,” Politico states. “But people who know Wheeler see him as a ‘true believer’ in rolling back regulations who is comfortable in the weeds of policy.”

And “that’s the worry of environmental groups, which note the years Wheeler spent working with Inhofe, who calls human-caused global warming a ‘hoax,’ and Murray, a fierce opponent of EPA’s climate regulations.”

Meanwhile, “in his short time at the EPA, Pruitt managed to do more to undermine the environmental protection work of its career scientists, analysts, and enforcement officers than any leader of the agency since the early days of the Reagan administration,” the LA Times notes. “Former agency chiefs—including some who served GOP presidents—were shocked by Pruitt’s denial of climate change and his hostility toward many bedrock environmental rules.”

The paper adds that Pruitt “often was unabashedly at war with his own agency, alleging it was under the control of activist bureaucrats working in tandem with environmental groups to impose a radical agenda. His stewardship of the agency reflected a Republican Party that has grown disenchanted with environmental rules and an administration that has little regard for the concerns of voters outside its base.”

On Grist, meanwhile, reporter Zoya Terstein explains why she’ll miss the ethically-challenged administrator—and asks readers to hear her out before they bring their toddlers to Grist HQ. (Her “love letter to Scott Pruitt” also contains a bunch of helpful, one-by-one links to the multiple Pruitt scandals that we consistently under-reported on The Mix, rather than letting it crowd out the more productive news going on in climate and energy.)

“Most of the time, the things that go on in the federal government, however consequential they may be, seem to bore Americans to tears,” Terstein writes.. “(Just look at voter turnout stats for midterm elections.) Whether you liked it or not, Scott Pruitt made the public pay attention. Fancy lotionstactical pantsChick-Fil-A? That’s dramaSecret phone booths? A 24/7 security detail? That’s intrigue. Getting your aides to pay for your hotel rooms? That’s petty. Pruitt was a veritable scandal-factory of his own making, and the wrongdoings were so juicy we literally couldn’t look away! I mean, the dude spent over 1,500 taxpayer dollars on a dozen fountain pens. Pens!

“As time went on, it began to seem like Pruitt didn’t actually care about how many bridges he burned, how many federal investigations were launched, or even whether other members of the GOP were calling for his resignation. But we cared! The scandals were so egregious, so bizarre, so shallow and grasping, that people kept digging and digging to see what else the guy was up to. And each ethical misdeed focused attention on the work he led: dismantling decades of environmental regulations, cutting EPA staffing numbers to below Reagan-era levels, and striking mentions of climate change from the agency’s website.

“People got mad! They marched, wrote letters, signed petitions, and sent the EPA multiple copies of Global Warming for Dummies.

“No wonder the administration rails against ‘fake news.’ Real journalism was able to take down a Trump loyalist.

“Now, someone else wears the tactical pants at the EPA. His name is Andrew Wheeler. He’s been the agency’s deputy administrator since April, and we haven’t heard a peep out of him. Under his leadership, we’re probably in for far less scandal. But you can bet he’ll keep rolling back regulations.”

    Study: White House’s top success is in limiting research, environmental protections

    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 loses

    By Carolyn Lochhead, April 23, 2017 8:06am
    Bayfront Park in Menlo Park, Ca., is home to the South Bay Salt Pond restoration project which is seen at sunrise in on Wed. April 19, 2017. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle
    Bayfront Park in Menlo Park, Ca., is home to the South Bay Salt Pond restoration project which is seen at sunrise in on Wed. April 19, 2017. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

    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.

    Overshadowed by the implosion on health care and standstill on tax reform, the GOP drive to dismantle, defang and defund environmental laws, rules and science is yielding many of President Trump’s most significant victories to date.

    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.”

    3 line cap please Traffic moves along highway 880 through downtown Oakland, Ca. on Wed. April 19, 2017. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle
    Traffic moves along highway 880 through downtown Oakland, Ca. on Wed. April 19, 2017. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

    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.

    The runways and taxiways at San Francisco International airport are at risk from the coming sea level rise due to climate change, as seen on Wed. April 19, 2017, in San Francisco, Calif. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle
    The runways and taxiways at San Francisco International airport are at risk from the coming sea level rise due to climate change, as seen on Wed. April 19, 2017, in San Francisco, Calif. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

    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.

    River road near Walnut Grove, Ca. on Wed. April 19, 2017, is also the western back and levee of  the Sacramento River. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle
    River road near Walnut Grove, Ca. on Wed. April 19, 2017, is also the western back and levee of the Sacramento River. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

    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.

      58 Republican Bills Introduced on Environment

      Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle  (This article is a feature of an important SF Chron investigative piece: “Trump Gains, Science Loses.”)

      58 REPUBLICAN BILLS INTRODUCED ON THE ENVIRONMENT

      The runways and taxiways at San Francisco International airport are at risk of flooding from coming sea level rise because of climate change. Michael Macor / The Chronicle

      Here are a few of them:

      HONEST Act: (Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas) Would effectively limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s use of science to study everything from climate change to environmental health and allows industry representatives on agency’s science advisory boards, while banning scientists who receive EPA grants. Passed the House.

      Listing Reform Act: (Rep. Pete Olson, Texas) Seeks to amend the Endangered Species Act to require consideration of the economic cost of protecting a species.

      Public Water Supply Invasive Species Compliance Act: (Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas) Would allow a state to buy water that contains invasive species if the species are already present in the area. The bill would help Texas pump water for its growing cities from neighboring states.

      Commercial Vessel Incidental Discharge Act: (Rep. Duncan Hunter, Calif., and Sen. Roger Wicker, Miss.) Would weaken the ability of states to limit pollution from commercial shipping. Ten state attorneys general, including California’s, wrote in opposition.

      Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency Act: (Rep. Matt Gaetz, Fla.) Would abolish the EPA.

      Public Input for National Monuments Act: (Rep. Greg Walden, Ore.) Seeks to amend the Antiquities Act, which has given presidents authority to protect public lands by declaring them national monuments.

      REINS Act: (Rep. Doug Collins, Ga.) Would give Congress the authority to approve new rules; if Congress fails to act within 70 days, the rule is voided. In a Congress bent on reducing bureaucracy, the act would likely all but eliminate new rule making. Passed House.

      Regulatory Accountability Act: (Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Va.) Would add numerous hurdles to rule making, hobbling federal agencies’ ability to pass new protections. Passed House.

      Midnight Rules Relief Act: (Rep. Darrell Issa, Calif.) Would allow Congress to overturn any regulation passed in the last 60 days of a previous administration, including Obama’s. Passed House.

      SCRUB Act: (Rep. Jason Smith, Mo.) Seeks to create a commission to review regulations, assessing costs of rules but not their benefits. Requires the agency issuing a new regulation to remove an existing regulation of equal or greater cost. Could restrict new protections regardless of the science behind them.

      Additional GOP bills targeting ability of agencies to write rules:  http://bit.ly/2pHNJW4  (Climate Deregulation Tracker, Columbia Law School, Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, Earth Institute, Columbia University)