(de)regulation nation: foxes guarding henhouses

"It’s crucial to keep imagining that things could get better, and furthermore to imagine how they might get better."

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

As we get closer to the election, tracking Trump’s environmental rollbacks, and debunking his efforts to mislead voters about them, will be crucial. You can help me do that by becoming a paid subscriber to (de)regulation nation for just $49 per year.

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bad: Trump’s new federal lands chief believes in selling off federal lands

  • Interior Secretary David Bernhardt last week appointed conservative Wyoming lawyer and activist William Perry Pendley as acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees a quarter-million acres of federal public lands.

  • “The thing is, Pendley thinks the government shouldn’t even own those lands,” reports Utah Public Radio.

  • Pendley has “for decades has championed ranchers and others in standoffs with the federal government over grazing and other uses of public lands,” reports the Denver Post. “He has written books accusing federal authorities and environmental advocates of ‘tyranny’ and ‘waging war on the West.’”

  • On the conservative speaking circuit, “Pendley said that ‘you can’t understand the battle against fossil fuels without understanding what is at the core of the environmental movement and the environmental extremists. . . . They don’t believe in human beings,’” reports the Washington Post.

  • A Department of Interior spokesperson told the Post that despite Pendley’s support for transferring federal lands to state control, “the administration adamantly opposes the wholesale sale or transfer of public lands.”

  • (To my reporter’s ear, “wholesale sale or transfer” reeks of non-denial denial.)

  • Pendley worked for three decades as president and lead lawyer of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a right-leaning group funded in part by the Koch brothers and Big Oil firms. In a 2007 article, High Country News reported that the group had “lost far more often than it's won” in its lawsuits against federal environmental regulations.

  • Pendley takes up management of a quarter-million acres of federal land just as the BLM has kicked off its plan to disperse its most of its D.C. headquarters staff across the western U.S. (where the vast majority of BLM staff are already based).

  • “Acting” appointees evade scrutiny by the Senate, along with any press coverage that might arise during confirmation hearings.

a bit more on William Perry Pendley

In 1982, when Pendley was acting head of minerals leasing in the Reagan-era Department of Interior, a massive sale of coal-mining leases in Wyoming (his home state) and Montana was “marred by the leak of a confidential memo with information about bid amounts,” notes the “Department of Influence” project. “Pendley was later criticized by the commission assigned to study the sale for sending a ‘clear signal’ to potential lessees that DOI would accept low bids.”

In 1983, the Senate failed to confirm Pendley to a more powerful role at Interior, after it emerged that under his watch, the agency had been “politically screening scientists advising the department about oil and gas drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf.”

better: countries, cities, corporations may soon pay a hard price for ignoring climate change

  • When a big entity like a corporation or a city, or a country, wants to borrow money, the potential lenders look at that entity’s credit rating to see what they should charge for the favor, and how likely it is they’ll be repaid.

  • Even though the destabilized climate is already costing companies and governments tens of billions of dollars, climate change largely hasn’t factored in to that rating.

  • But that may change, now that the rating agency Moody’s has acquired Four Twenty Seven, a California-based firm on the cutting edge of assigning money values to climate risks.

  • Moody’s will add Four Twenty Seven’s approaches to “studying company sites and their exposure to heat stress, floods, wildfires, hurricanes and other extreme events that become more frequent as the climate changes, and figuring out how vulnerable the company’s suppliers and consumers are to the same phenomena given their predicted frequency,” to its ratings of credit-worthiness, notes one expert observer in Bloomberg.

  • This takes climate policies and practices out of the squishy realm of “reputation management” as well as the brutality of wedge politics, and into becoming “a routine consideration when evaluating the financial strength of any government or company and their ability to pay their debts,” notes InsideClimate News.

  • If a bad climate risk rating results in bad loan terms for these major borrowers, that could drive more action in both public and private sectors on reducing greenhouse gas pollution (to fend off even worse climate change), and preparing for the impacts that can no longer be averted.

  • Thought experiment: Imagine if the US were unable to borrow money at a low interest rate, unless it stops supporting the long-term use of fossil fuels.

  • Moody’s is one of the financial world’s “Big three” credit rating agencies, with revenues of about $4 billion annually.

good: the European Union is preparing to ban a neuro-toxic pesticide that Trump has kept on the US market

  • U.S. pesticide regulators at Trump’s EPA recently reversed an Obama-era ban on agricultural use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, despite its well-documented potential to harm childhood brain development, as noted in (de)regulation nation on July 23.

  • European Union regulators, however, are preparing to ban chlorpyrifos entirely by 2020.

  • “No safe exposure level can be set for the pesticide chlorpyrifos, the European Food Safety Authority says,” reports Chemical & Engineering News. This “suggests that the European Union is unlikely to allow chlorpyrifos use after its approval expires in January.”

  • Late last year, as BuzzFeed reported, researchers analyzing Dow-generated data on the health effects of chlorpyrifos charged that the firm had “masked damage that the chemical had caused to baby rat brains” in its reports to European and US regulators back in the 1990s.

  • The pesticide’s manufacturer, Corteva Agriscience, formerly part of DowDuPont, has disputed the evidence that there is no safe exposure level, and Dow has denied that it manipulated data in the 1990s-era studies.

great: Democrats jam up a Trump Interior nominee (and former Koch advisor) who may have lied under oath

  • Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has blocked Daniel Jorjani’s confirmation to a top legal post at Interior, because Jorjani may have lied to Congress “about his role in reviewing public information requests submitted to the agency,” reports HuffPost.

  • “I believe Department documents made public through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) show Mr. Jorjani may have knowingly misled members of the Committee [on Energy and Natural Resources] about the Department’s adherence to laws meant to ensure transparency and accountability in government,” Wyden wrote in a letter requesting an investigation.

  • During the spring, Jorjani told the committee, verbally and in writing, that he neither reviewed FOIA requests, nor made decisions on how to respond to them.

  • But documents that environmental groups got a hold of after suing the administration suggest that Jorjani has actually been involved in Interior’s “Awareness Review” policy.

  • This recently finalized policy gives political appointees more power to control which documents will be given out in response to FOIA requests.

  • Jorjani joined Trump’s Interior in 2017 to “lead a task force for cutting regulations,” according to E&E News, off a stint as a top advisor to the petro-billionaire Koch brothers.

  • “Jorjani had a busy first year in office interacting with industry representatives who have business before the department,” reported Pacific Standard in 2018.

  • He also signed off on moves to gut two Obama-era environmental protections: blocking a copper mine near the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota, and stronger penalties for industry-caused bird deaths under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

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, emilygertz.com

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

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This week’s quote is from a recent essay in the magazine Commune, “Dystopias Now,” by Kim Stanley Robinson. I recommend reading the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite:

The situation is bad, yes, okay, enough of that; we know that already. Dystopia has done its job, it’s old news now, perhaps it’s self-indulgence to stay stuck in that place any more. Next thought: utopia. Realistic or not, and perhaps especially if not.

Besides, it is realistic: things could be better. The energy flows on this planet, and humanity’s current technological expertise, are together such that it’s physically possible for us to construct a worldwide civilization—meaning a political order—that provides adequate food, water, shelter, clothing, education, and health care for all eight billion humans, while also protecting the livelihood of all the remaining mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, plants, and other life-forms that we share and co-create this biosphere with. Obviously there are complications, but these are just complications. They are not physical limitations we can’t overcome. So, granting the complications and difficulties, the task at hand is to imagine ways forward to that better place.