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The resolution, passed by the House and Senate, repealed the Stream Protection Rule which would have required coal companies to avoid polluting streams and threatening drinking supplies and to return waterways to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

One Reply to “Environment: The Attack has Started”

  1. I enjoyed your column in Tuesday’s paper. Indeed, it seems that lots of folks are not concerned about a clean planet or the fouling our collective nest. Certainly the Republicans show disregard for this, and they are joined by uncaring uber-capitalists of both major parties. The rest of us probably carry some burden because of our collective lack of interest and lots of ignorance about the issues and the impacts and dangers involved.

    I see two major causes for our problems. The first may be common to both sides of the aisle at all levels of government and with many of us civilians too. We are ambivalent because no one rubs our collective nose in the nastiness that we impose upon Mother Nature. Many have a low level awareness that pollution is there but rationalize that it’s probably no big deal, or if it is, someone will do something about it sometime soon. Neither our homes nor our jobs force us to see the broad sum of environmental impacts from mining, carbon based fuel combustion, factory pollution, or even domestic pollution from household activities. We may see a little air pollution from wood stoves and automobiles during atmospheric inversions, but even then we don’t seem to realize the impact. We cannot see or feel the slowly accumulating degradations upon our bodies and upon the atmosphere, the ground water, and the soil. And so our ambivalence ensures that we eventually become victims to our life styles and our industrial practices.

    The second problem is a bit more visible, but we seem to rationalize it to minor significance, even as it portends issues that can be existential. This second problem is an attribute of our relatively unbridled capitalist system. Capitalism is not self-controlling with respect to the collateral damage it can incur. We have seen this many times over the past two centuries. Industry polluted the River Rouge to levels that rendered it combustible. The lead industry poisoned us through our paint and automobile exhaust fumes. Asbestos in insulation, shingles and even cigarette filters caused horrible respiratory diseases. PCBs in our industrial products and DDT in our insecticides are examples of lethal chemicals that have plagued us in the past while other chemicals – the greenhouse gases – currently threaten our very existence. Our primary defense is the regulatory process that ultimately depends upon the sensitivities and business ethics of the boardrooms of industry and the competence and motivation of our elected leaders. The history of industry has shown consistently that its will not act responsibly or with sensitivity to public health and welfare if in doing so it must impede cash flow to the bottom line of each quarterly report. And our Republican leadership at all levels of government demonstrates consistently that party politics and the rigors of re-election will usually cause them to prostitute statutory protection of the electorate to the flow of profits to industry and to campaign funding.

    We humans are very vulnerable to the various types of pollution loose upon our planet. Right now, our government seems intent upon becoming even a larger part of the problem and more removed from the solution. And so, we need every bit of support here in Idaho from the messages of Judy Ferro and the Idaho Democratic Party. Maybe we can do better here at home while we conjure possible ways to arouse our elected leadership in Washington D. C.

    I am looking forward to your continuing vigorous resistance to exploitation of our collective health and well-being and to the disrespectful fouling of our home planet through your weekly newspaper op-ed column. Keep up the good work and muster a team of voters for each upcoming opportunity to upset the malicious applecart that passes for Idaho’s state government.

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