Environment: The Attack has Started

by Judy Ferro

In his recent speech to Congress, President Trump declared his desire to work across party lines “to promote clean air and clear water.”

Just hours earlier he had signed an executive order directing the Environmental Protection Agency, to “reconsider” its definition of “navigable water” covered by the Clean Water Act. The agency’s definition—now being challenged in court— requires permits before polluting any waters with a “significant nexus” to permanent water bodies. Farmers, fertilizer and pesticide makers, and oil producers, among others, don’t want to be bothered with permits.

So we endure green slime and pesticides in our rivers to keep Idaho’s economy churning.

At least we’re not in Appalachia. Days earlier Trump had signed a resolution which, as the New York Times’ editorial board put it, blessed “the coal industry’s decades-old practice of freely dumping tons of debris into the streams and mountain hollows of American’s mining communities.”

The resolution, passed by the House and Senate, repealed the Stream Protection Rule which would have required coal companies to avoid polluting streams and threatening drinking supplies and to return waterways to their previous condition when mining operations ceased.

Repeal by Republicans has now given coal companies full permission to dump waste into 6,000 miles of Appalachian streams. Federal estimates are that the repeal saves 260 mining jobs—and costs nearly as many environmental ones. (Market shifts have cost 30,000 coal industry jobs in the past eight years.)

Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has its sights on a number of environmental rules, including the Clean Power Plan. Under EPA guidelines, states are to reduce pollutants from electrical power plants by improving efficiency and utilizing less polluting energy sources. The EPA estimates that by 2030 the cuts could save more than $25 billion and prevent more than 2700 premature deaths each year. Funding to states is on hold, however, until an appeals court rules on the Clean Power Plan’s Constitutionality, or Congress does away with it.

Three other House bills alarm the League of Conservation Voters. H.R. 998 and H.R. 1009 would prioritize a regulation’s cost to industries in deciding which environmental rules to rescind. Public health, safety and preservation of clean air and water would be lesser concerns. H.R. 1004 would codify the current restrictions on federal agencies’ communications with the public.

But these attacks on environmental action are a drop compared to the deluge proposed March 1 by the Office of Management and Budget.   According to the Huffington Post, the office recommends defunding 42% of the science positions in research and development, cutting the agency’s grants to states by 30%, and eliminating 38 programs entirely.

The administration’s recommendation caused Idaho’s Rep. Mike Simpson to exclaim, there’s “not that much in the EPA [budget] for crying out loud.”  Simpson, chair of the House Energy and Water Appropriations subcommittee, has a 13% voting record with the Conservation League, but even he hopes Congress won’t approve such severe cuts.

The slash in funding to state agencies is a real surprise. The Republican platform calls for replacing the EPA with consortia of state environmental agencies. Cutting state programs’ Federal funding by nearly 1/3 makes that impossible; agencies already report severe underfunding prevents adequate enforcement.

So, President Trump quietly sets this all in motion, and then proclaims his desire for clean air and clear water. Apparently, he’s confident voters are too worried about health care and the Russians to pay attention.

Too bad none of our Congressmen held town hall meetings while visiting Idaho last weekE