Running the EPA...into the ground

Donald Trump has appointed a darling of the energy industry to run the Environmental Protection Agency that is supposed to police the polluters, writes Michael Ware.

Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt (Gage Skidmore | Wikimedia Commons)Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt (Gage Skidmore | Wikimedia Commons)

A YEAR ago, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder was the focus of national outrage when it was revealed that residents of Flint, Michigan, were being poisoned by their own drinking water, thanks in significant part to the actions of Snyder's pro-business, do-nothing-for-the-poor administration.

Today, with Donald Trump's appointment of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it's as if Flint never happened.

Bought and paid for by the Oklahoma energy industry, Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times as that state's attorney general. Today, he's in charge of running the agency...into the ground.

With Pruitt's appointment, the Trump administration hopes to repeal any meaningful regulation and enforcement of the energy and farming industries, as well as wage an ideological attack on the environmental movement, which the right views as an existential threat.

"Environmental Protection, what they do is a disgrace," said Trump after the election, claiming that the EPA has an "anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs." The irony is that Pruitt's draft budget for the agency calls for 3,000 layoffs and a 25 percent funding cut in order to free up money for the military.

In a recent interview with CNBC, Pruitt said that he doesn't think carbon dioxide is "a primary contributor to the global warming that we see." This is science that not even Shell or ExxonMobil dispute. He has called himself a "leading advocate against the EPA's activist agenda"--but hasn't had anything to say about the $300,000 in donations that the energy companies gave to his Oklahoma campaigns.

Pruitt was also caught letting Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma's largest oil and gas companies, write an official complaint to the EPA using his official attorney general letterhead. And it wasn't until his confirmation hearings this year that some 3,000 e-mails Pruitt wrote to oil and gas companies as attorney general were finally released, after he refused previous requests to release them for several years.

As 350.org Executive Director May Boeve noted, "You couldn't pick a better fossil fuel industry puppet."

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THE OPENING act for Pruitt was Myron Ebell, Trump's pick to head the EPA transition team. This "libertarian gadfly" is the director of global warming and environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and is known for his hostility to the EPA, science and the reality of global warming.

Ebell suggested firing 10,000 of the EPA's 15,000 current employments, half of whom are scientists. James Delingpole of Breitbart "News" relished Ebell's appointment, writing, "The left just lost the war on climate change...Yup, greenies. That climate change gravy train you've been riding these last four decades looks like it's headed for a major, Atlas-Shrugged-style tunnel incident."

In addition to staff and budget cuts, the White House draft plan for cuts at the EPA includes the elimination of 38 programs as well as many grants to clean up contaminated industrial sites, climate change initiatives and aid to Alaskan villages.

Research and development funding would be cut 42 percent, and the overall reduction of funds and staff would make an already weak enforcement division even weaker. As for the Office of Environmental Justice, Trump plans to shut it down.

"The point here will be, more than in any prior administration, to reduce the agency's effectiveness so much that it can't recover even when the political winds change," wrote the Natural Resources Defense Council's David Doniger.

However much the administration would like eliminate any fetter on profits, they won't be able to rip up existing protections without lengthy legal battles. But we shouldn't expect the courts to win these battles without a loud movement countering Trump and Pruitt.

The first victims are the Clean Water Rule and the Clean Power Plan, which the Trump administration is targeting because they're part of Obama's climate legacy, as meager as it is.

The Clean Water Rule involves defining what bodies of water are federally protected. Trump's executive order in February to roll back the rule is more about following through on a campaign promise he used to whip up resentment against the EPA with rural voters.

But the EPA is already too weak and pro-business to enforce regulatory compliance. The lack of enforcement on drinking water partially explains why Flint happened and why we have a national crisis of clean drinking water. The EPA estimates that the nation's failing water infrastructure will take 20 years and anywhere from $384 billion to $1 trillion to repair.

If Trump does address the water crisis in some way, you can bet it will involve privatization and profit.

Obama's Clean Power Plan (CPP) aims to reduce carbon emissions from power plants to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, which the market, not regulation, will accomplish through the glut of fracked natural gas and cheaper renewables at the expense of coal.

Keith Gaby of the Environmental Defense Fund noted, "The crazy thing is, [Obama's CPP] is a really flexible plan, very business-friendly." Eliminating it won't revive the fortunes of coal if current natural gas production continues. So Trump's attack is largely ideological.

Trump and Pruitt have also opened a review of new rules requiring automakers to meet fleet fuel efficiency target of 54.4 miles per gallon by 2025, which in reality is about 40 miles per gallon.

Not only will this prevent a reduction in carbon emissions, it will save automakers money while costing consumers and average of $8,000 more in gas per new vehicle.

United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams raised concerns about emissions, but was told by Trump that, "We all agree with you 100 percent. One hundred percent. We want you to make great cars, but if it takes an extra thimble of fuel, we want you to do it."

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THE STORY of how Republican President Richard "Tricky Dick" Nixon created the EPA in 1970, shortly after the first Earth Day, can help us to see how we can defend the EPA today.

The radicalization of the 1960s included rising demands that government must protect land, air and water from industrial pollution. Nixon, a paranoid, power-hungry conservative, felt compelled to create a unified regulatory agency to improve water and air quality, lower vehicle emissions, stop dumping the Great Lakes and guard against oil spills.

Multiple protest movements and a stronger left put the Nixon administration on the defensive. The key to beating back Trump lies in deepening the current radicalization, building the left and eventually making business as usual impossible.

The March for Science and the People's Climate March, both in late April, will be excellent opportunities for progressives and radicals to unite in a show of force against Trump.

Scientists fed up with the Trump administration's mischaracterization of science as a partisan issue and the threats to defund or silence research and scientific advocacy spurred a group of them to organize the march on Earth Day. The main science rally will be in Washington, D.C., but over 295 satellite marches are registered on the event's website, with 395 events taking place globally.

The following weekend will see a similar mobilization in D.C. for the People's Climate March, backed by many of the coalition members who organized the massive 2014 People's Climate March in New York City.

We know that Trump, like Nixon, hates these mobilizations--and this is just one of many reasons to organize and resist.