"...you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels..."
|Emily J Gertz||Aug 28, 2019|
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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I’m going to skip right over covering President Trump’s dismissal of climate change as insignificant at this past week’s meeting in France with fellow heads of state from France, Germany, the UK, Canada, Japan, and Italy.
Instead, let’s go straight to recent news on the administration’s efforts to translate Trump’s climate denial squelch reality-based climate change research, public information, and action to protect public health at federal agencies:
The White House has periodically put pressure on NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (a former climate denier himself) to “systematically sidestep” well-established science on the links between climate change, rising sea levels, and hotter temperatures; and to remove valid scientific information about climate change from the agency’s web site. “NASA does not appear to have buckled under such heat,” reports AP, and an agency spokesperson “upheld the space agency’s public statements on climate change.”
A former climate program chief at the Centers for Disease Control is filing a whistleblower complaint against the agency. George Luber, an expert on the public health impacts of climate change who once headed the CDC’s Climate and Health Program, claims that the agency’s leadership “retaliated against [him] for speaking out on climate change,” E&E News/Climatewire reports, “and raising concerns that the agency was shifting climate funds to other programs.”
Lewis Ziska, a leading climate researcher who has worked at the Department of Agriculture for more than twenty years, has quit his federal job “in protest over the Trump administration’s efforts to bury his groundbreaking study [showing that] rice is losing nutrients because of rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” reports Politico. Ziska recounts several instances of USDA scientists trying to preserve programs and funding by ex-ing mentions of “climate change” from materials, and says “he’s concerned the politicization of climate science poses a threat to the future of agriculture in the U.S. and abroad.”
A group of lawmakers led by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) “recently sent a letter” to (translation: turned up the heat on) the chief of the US Geological Survey, registering their concern that the agency is suppressing climate science, by compelling staff scientists to ignore long term climate change forecasts. “USGS has historically used models that projected the anticipated impact of climate change through the end of the century,” reports The Garden Island, but under Trump the directive is to use models only up to 2040. The move could cripple local planning decisions that rely on USGS data and research.
States and activists continue to challenge Trump’s environment and climate rollbacks in court:
22 states and 7 cities have united to sue the administration for scuttling Obama-era regulations limiting carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. Led by New York State Attorney General Letitia James, they charge that Trump’s replacement is illegally ignoring the EPA’s responsibility and mandate to curb the heat-trapping pollution driving climate change. “My office, and this groundbreaking coalition of states and cities from across the nation, will fight back against this unlawful, do-nothing rule in order to protect our future from catastrophic climate change,” James said in a statement.
A coalition of eight environmental groups have filed suit to block Trump’s rollbacks of the Endangered Species Act. They charge that “the Interior Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to disclose negative environmental impacts of the new rules,” according to the Albuquerque Journal.
Relatedly, this Washington Post explainer unpacks the administration’s argument that the ESA is a failure because few species have recovered enough to be delisted from its protections since 1973, when the law was enacted. TL;DR: It’s a bad argument that cherry-picks the data while ignoring the complexity of saving a species already on the fast track to extinction.
Unicorn Alert: The Trump administration has successfully defended an Obama-era environmental regulation, which caps ground-level ozone pollution at a level deemed safe for human health.
A coalition of conservative states and industries challenged the 2015 rule in court as impossible to meet, but a three-judge federal panel rejected their arguments, reports E&E News/Greenwire.
Ground-level ozone, the chief ingredient in smog, “is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). This happens when pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, industrial boilers, refineries, chemical plants, and other sources chemically react in the presence of sunlight,” as the EPA puts it.
Smog in turn causes breathing problems among children, as well as adults with asthma. Smog also worsens heart ailments, sometimes fatally.
Environmental advocates have also challenged a facet of the ozone rule, the “secondary ozone standard,” as too weak. The judges ruled on that facet of the litigation as well, reports Greenwire, by “order[ing] EPA to take a closer look at secondary public welfare standards aimed at protecting animals, crops and vegetation.”
A coalition of Native American tribes and others, led by the Crow Tribe, has won its lawsuit to re-protect the Greater Yellowstone-area grizzly bear population under the Endangered Species Act, reports WyoFile.
In her 48 page ruling, Judge Dana L. Christensen, chief justice of the U.S. District Court of Montana, detailed several ways that federal wildlife officials illegally failed to apply the best available science to the Trump administration’s decision to delist the Yellowstone grizz.
In the ruling’s wake, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming) accused “radical environmentalists” of “destroying our Western way of life” by preventing a planned grizzly hunt.
Members of the contemporary Crow Tribe are, presumably, descended from peoples who lived in what we now call the Western US thousands of years before Europeans came to this continent.
A representative for the tribes that brought the lawsuit responded to Native News Online that he “would remind the Congresswoman that at the time of the Lewis and Clark Expedition an estimated 100,000 grizzly bears roamed from the Missouri River to the Pacific Coast. That was all Indian Country. Now there are fewer than 2,000 grizzly bears and our people live in Third World conditions on meager reservations in the poorest counties in the US.”
In 2016, dozens of Indigenous tribes and nations in the US and Canada, “united by cultural and religious ties to grizzlies,” signed a cross-border agreement to protect the Yellowstone grizzly, as Reuters reported at the time.
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 past reporting and more biographical goodness at my website .
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This week’s quote is by Mario Savio, who was a member of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. It’s taken from a now-famous speech he gave in 1964, during a massive protest against the suppression of student activism at the University of California, Berkeley. The entire paragraph reads,
There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part! You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels ... upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop! And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!