While the Trump administration swirls around in a vortex of Tweets, lies and Russiagate, one thing is for certain, while we are all distracted and perplexed by the daily mayhem, Trump and his fossil fuel buddies are getting away with environmental plunder.
It’s not a surprise, really, given that Trump believes man-made climate change is a bunch of stale chow mein, as he notoriously tweeted:
Unfortunately, Trump has moved beyond his wacky conspiracy theory and sparked a full-on assault on the environmental laws, science and regulatory apparatus which act as our best hope to curb greenhouse gas emissions. In documents uncovered by the New York Times earlier this week, the paper revealed the Trump gang is going to announce a proposal that will make it far easier for oil and gas companies to release methane into the atmosphere. Trump’s gaseous rollback would allow these polluters to stop monitoring and fixing leakage that originates from their pipes.
Leaking methane is catastrophic, and by some estimates the gas accounts for one-third of all warming from greenhouse gas emissions. In the US, leaks account for approximately 32 percent of the industry’s total methane pollution. While methane doesn’t stick around as long as carbon, it has a much more immediate impact and is considered 84 times more potent than CO2 in the first twenty years after being released. Obama did not go nearly far enough in halting the fossil fuel polluters; nonetheless, Trump’s administration is dismantling every meager roadblock Obama’s EPA erected.
Trump’s latest move falls on the heels of a draft rule from earlier this year that would kill Obama’s methane waste rule, which mandated that oil and gas companies to capture any leaking methane from their operations, as well as update their existing equipment to minimize leaks. Earlier this summer the EPA moved to weaken regulations on CO2 emissions from vehicle exhaust. And just last month Trump’s EPA moved to dismantle the Obama era regulations that caps CO2 emissions from coal-fired smokestacks, admitting the change would lead to at least 1,400 premature deaths per year.
It doesn’t stop there. In July, the Trump administration released a proposal that would remove key provisions from the Endangered Species Act, putting the survival of threatened and endangered species in further peril. To top it off, the brazen Bureau of Land Management is almost totally foregoing the public input stage that’s required before selling off our public lands to oil and gas development.
Along with gutting regulations, Trump is hellbent on exterminating the EPA as well. According to Columbia Law School’s Silencing Science Tracker, government scientists have been interfered with or censored by government agencies 116 times. Budgets have been slashed, staff has been cut and scientific research canceled. According to the tracker, only 20 of 83 federal science jobs have been filled under Trump.
On the campaign trail, Trump promised to drain the swamp and shrink government spending, and when it comes to the EPA he’s kept his promise. A Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Washington Post shows Trump has downsized the EPA workforce by 1,200. Additionally, the Post reports that “260 scientists, 185 ‘environmental protection specialists’ and 106 engineers are gone.”
During the height of the EPA in the 1990s, over 18,000 people were employed by the agency, that number has now dropped to around 13,750. The fall of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and his scorched-earth oversight was certainly a feel-good moment, but the appointment of Andrew Wheeler leaves much to be desired.
Wheeler, a former energy lobbyist, worked hard to put the brakes on Obama’s EPA from enacting laws that would hold oil and gas companies accountable. He also served as the vice president of the obscure Washington Coal Club that consists of lawmakers, lobbyists and coal barons who share the same agenda of keeping the dirty fuel burning for decades to come. Wheeler also worked for Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, one of the most anti-environmental senators to ever hold office. Inhofe often refers to climate change as a hoax and infamously brought a snowball to the Senate floor to prove global warming was a con-job. Wheeler by every measure is as dangerous as Pruitt and will gleefully support Trump’s war on the environment.
Trump and his dismal EPA are ensuring that pesky government regulations don’t get in the way of fossil fuel profits any time soon. The impact of Trump’s disdain for science will certainly be felt, starting with the communities being clobbered by Hurricane Florence.