(de)regulation nation: a Dow lawyer is confirmed to run Superfund

"It doesn’t much matter whether people care or don’t care. What matters is that people change the world."

Welcome to (de)regulation nation, the newsletter tracking bad, better, good, and great environmental news in the Trump era.

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Onward:

Areas of Michigan’s Tittabawassee River that were contaminated by Dow’s dioxins. Photos: Lisa Williams/USFWS

bad: a top chemical industry lawyer will run the nation’s top toxic cleanup program

  • Today the Senate confirmed Peter C. Wright, a longtime lawyer for Dow Chemical, to head the EPA office that manages the Superfund toxic pollution cleanup program.

  • A group of environmental lawyers backed Wright’s appointment, citing his “well-recognized personal integrity” and ethical standards, as The New York Times reports.

  • But his appointment “raises all kinds of red flags, and it makes his job more difficult in the sense that he will be watched every second,” countered Christine Todd Whitman, an EPA chief under President George W. Bush, to Times reporters.

  • Between 2003 and 2010, Wright was part of a Dow legal team that slow-walked the clean-up of decades of widespread dioxin contamination at the company’s Midland, Mich. headquarters and nearby rivers.

  • Dow’s resistance to the cleanup goes back decades, as Michigan Radio reported in 2010.

  • “Dow is the reason. They are the reason this river is not cleaned up,” a local environmental activist told Michigan Radio.” There is no other reason. None whatsoever. Dow is the reason this river is not cleaned up. Because they push back.”

better: Trump’s climate science “review panel” is dead, again

  • “The proposed White House panel that would conduct an ‘adversarial’ review of climate science is dead for now,” Climatewire/E&E News reports, “as President Trump grapples with negative perceptions of his environmental record at the outset of his reelection campaign.”

  • Since Trump’s first months in office, his administration’s most avid climate change deniers have been pushing for some version of this exercise.

  • Disgraced former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt envisioned a “red team-blue team” debate that would pit equal numbers of climate deniers against mainstream climate scientists, as World Resources Institute wrote in June 2017.

  • That “even numbers” thing gave the game away as a stunt to undermine climate science, however. As John Oliver vividly demonstrated in 2014, the sides would be far from balanced in any climate change science debate that reflected reality:

good??? 2 news outlets challenge Democratic hopefuls to appear at their “climate summit”

  • As I noted in last week’s retro report, climate change barely came up during the first two nights of Democratic presidential campaign debates.

  • Reporters for Gizmodo and The New Republic say they were “hardly surprised…which is why, back in April, we had a thought: What if we just planned a candidates’ exchange on climate issues ourselves?”

  • So they have, for late September in New York City, in consultation with two leading groups on politicians’ environmental voting records and climate science.

  • Several environmental activist organizations have signed on as sponsors, as well.

  • That pretty much guarantees that environmental journalists will argue amongst ourselves for the next couple months about whether the event is journalism or advocacy, while most conservatives will either denigrate or ignore it.

great: newborn female born to the world’s most endangered orcas

Newborn Southern Resident orca J56 with her mother, J31, on July 6. Photo: Dave Ellifrit/Center for Whale Research. Photo taken under Federal Permits NMFS PERMIT: 21238/ DFO SARA 388

  • When great news seems scarce, I look for an upbeat endangered species story to close out the newsletter. So, here it is:

  • There’s a confirmed newborn female calf among the endangered Southern Resident population of orcas in the Pacific Northwest.

  • “This is a very welcome addition to this endangered population of whales,” said the Center for Whale Research in a press release.

  • The Southern Residents are three pods of orcas native to the Pacific coast and inland marine waters of the northwestern United States and southwestern Canada.

  • “Scientists have identified dams, pollution and vessel noise as some of the main causes of their decline,” notes King 5 News Seattle. “It's believed that a recent, extended absence of the Southern Resident orcas” from Washington State’s inland marine waters “stemmed from a lack of Chinook salmon - their primary source of food.”

  • As I reported for TakePart.com in 2016, many researchers and conservationists are now convinced that saving the equally endangered Chinook salmon from extinction might save the Southern Residents as well.

  • A series of inland dams have long blocked the passage of Chinook between their upriver spawning grounds and the ocean for decades.

  • Washington State recently funded a study group to explore “what would happen should the four Lower Snake River dams be removed or altered” in order to save both the Chinook and the Southern Residents, as Oregon Public Broadcasting reported in April.

  • Since Washington’s Elwha River was fully freed of its dams in 2014, Chinook and other migratory fish have already begun to return.

  • “While the political climate regarding dams has shifted under President Donald Trump, more removals are likely in coming years” in western states, reports High Country News.


Thanks for reading (de)regulation nation, a production of Brooklyn Radio Telegraph LLC.

This newsletter is written by me, Emily J Gertz. I’m a veteran environmental journalist and a graduate of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism ’s annual fellowship. You’ll find links to my reporting and more biographical goodness at my website .

Please send tips and suggestions to: emily@deregnation.com

Also: Please subscribe to (de)regulation nation.

This week’s quote comes from the book “The Sixth Extinction,” by Elizabeth Kolbert. The full passage reads,

To argue that the current extinction event could be averted if people just cared more and were willing to make more sacrifices is not wrong, exactly; still, it misses the point. It doesn’t much matter whether people care or don’t care. What matters is that people change the world. This capacity predates modernity.