Welcome to (de)regulation nation, the newsletter tracking Trump administration environmental rollbacks, along with who’s fighting back and what’s going right.
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The Trump administration is “sitting on tens of billions of dollars in unspent recovery money,” reports The New York Times. Government agencies have spent less than one-third of $107 billion that Congress authorized billion in 2017 and 2018 to help communities rebuild homes and infrastructure damaged by severe storms and wildfires.
This problem didn’t begin with Trump. Rather, the laws and procedures for spending disaster recovery money are stuck in time: They were created before climate change helped make these disasters more frequent and destructive.
Since the the demand for relief funding is only increasing as climate change worsens, say experts, we need to update the processes involved in distributing, using, and accounting for disaster relief funds.
Since climate denial is current White House policy, along with dismantling the federal government, it’s a stretch to imagine this administration backing legislation to begin fixing this problem. But spending disaster relief money is a crowd pleaser, and this president lives for the adulation of the masses. So the question is whether this on the radar of any lawmakers in Congress who could sell proposed fixes to Trump.,
The Trump administration hid a scientific report showing that its “plan to send more water to San Joaquin Valley farmers would force critically endangered California salmon even closer to extinction, and starve a struggling population of West Coast killer whales,” reports the Sacramento Bee.
Career scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency told their superiors “to ask for a new environmental review of the proposed Pebble mine,” which would locate a massive copper and gold mine in Alaska, upstream of one of the world’s biggest wild salmon runs. But they “were overridden by political staffers” seeking to get the project approved before the 2020 election, according to Greenwire, who then edited the recommendation out of documents sent to another federal agency.
Democratic lawmakers are poised to “keep up the pressure on President Donald Trump and Republicans” over energy, climate, and environmental issues, reports the Washington Post.
House Democrats plan to introduce legislation that puts Trump’s regressive policies in high relief, including bills to block offshore and Arctic refuge drilling.
While the common wisdom is that these bills can’t win approval in the majority-Republican Senate, in the House they will force “coastal Republicans in states like Florida and South Carolina to take tough votes ahead of the 2020 election,” according to the Post.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva, the Arizona lawmaker heading the House committee that oversees the Department of Interior, has asked Interior’s internal watchdog to investigate the agency’s new public records policy. Trump officials changed the policy to give political appointees the authority “to review and potentially withhold documents from release,” as The Hill reports.
Grijalva’s committee also brought Trump’s public lands chief, William Perry Pendley, up to Capitol Hill today for a public grilling on Interior’s plan to relocate the Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters to several offices in western states. (A few hundred BLM staffers are based at DC HQ. All the rest of the agency’s 10,000+ employees work in state and regional offices.)
The hearing went pretty much as you’d expect, with Democrats asking pointed questions and Republicans heaping praise. But it may signal that the Dems will use their oversight powers to try and block the plan.
Some of the questions seemed informed by The Hill’s Monday story that despite assuring staff and the public otherwise, the Trump administration may try to move even high-level legislative staffers out of DC HQ: people whose work revolves around reporting to or communicating with Congress, other federal agencies, and international officials.
I watched the Pendley Q&A and had some thoughts:My analysis of this House Q&A with Acting Director Pendley on Trump admin plan to move out of DC? • Everyone on both sides knows the goal here is to shed staff, weaken federal hold on . • But one's saying so in plain English.This is how the Congressional oversight game has long been played. But the Trump administration's BAU is: bogus justifications for enviro+climate rollbacks, actively gutting top climate research offices, muting/retaliating against career climate, enviro, weather scientists.
Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico has demanded federal ethics information on former Interior political appointee Joe Balash, reports Greenwire. Before jumping ship last month “for a job with a foreign oil and gas company” with interests in Alaska, Balash spearheaded the Trump administration expansion of oil and gas extraction on federal lands, including opening the Arctic Refuge to drilling.
A top federal scientist is bucking the Trump administration’s cult of personality.
Craig McLean, the acting chief of NOAA (the agency that includes the National Weather Service, both of them part of the Commerce Department), has posted a letter of support for his agency’s scientists, and criticizing political interference in their work, on the NOAA website.
The New York Times reports that last week, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross “threatened to fire top employees” at the National Weather Service, “after the agency’s Birmingham office contradicted President Trump’s claim that Hurricane Dorian might hit Alabama.
“That threat led to an unusual, unsigned statement later that Friday by the agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, disavowing the National Weather Service’s position that Alabama was not at risk.”
That statement, McLean lays out in his letter, “was not based on science but on external factors including reputation and appearance, or simply put, political.” It contradicted NOAA’s scientific integrity rules, and put the public’s safety at risk.
“In my role as Assistant Administrator for Research, and as I continue to administratively serve as Acting Chief Scientist,” he goes on, “I am pursuing the potential violations of our NOAA Administrative Order on Scientific Integrity.”
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler@EPAAWheelerToday I called on major reductions in animal testing at EPA, including a 30% reduction by 2025 in mammal study requests & funding, & near elimination by 2035. Additionally, EPA is awarding $4.25M to advance the R&D of alternative methods to animal testing. https://t.co/FwYI7x6G39 https://t.co/AwM0MWjaWb
a sign of great things to come
A California-based firm has attracted $64 million in financing to expand its network of electric car charging stations, reports TechCrunch. Volta Charging, which is already running hundreds of charging stations in 10 states, will use the funding “to expand the company’s network of free, advertiser sponsored charging stations…to cities where it already has a presence, as well as moving into new markets.”
With transportation beginning to overtake the power sector as the industrial world’s leading source of climate-heating carbon pollution, automakers are investing billions in electric vehicles, as Reuters reported in April.
Building networks of charging stations that rival the distribution and number of gasoline and diesel fuel stations is key to quelling “range anxiety” among potential EV owners, and improving sales.
Thus many companies are diving into the charger network market, according to Consumer Reports, automaker VW among them: The firm “is spending $2 billion to build the infrastructure as part of its settlement with the US government over its diesel-emissions cheating scandal.”
In May, as Quartz reported, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (a business information service for paying clients, linked to the same company that produces Bloomberg News), forecast that EVs on the road would hit nearly 550 million globally by 2040, or just over 30 percent of passenger vehicles.
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This newsletter is written by me, Emily J Gertz. I’m a veteran environmental journalist. You’ll find links to my reporting and more biographical goodness at my website .
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This week’s quote is from Craig McLean’s letter of support to NOAA and National Weather Service staff.