(de)regulation nation: if the science doesn't justify the policy, gut the science

"It is certain, in any case, that ignorance allied with power is the most ferocious enemy justice can have."

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

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Last year, (de)regulation nation readers told me that they’d be happy to receive this newsletter once to three times a week.

But after some unexpected health problems landed me in the hospital for five days last November, I was exhausted, and had to start taking medication that made me feel more tired yet. So I took things in the exact opposite direction, to roughly two issues a month.

I’m so grateful to all of you for sticking with (de)regulation nation as I’ve rested up and recovered. With my energies picking up, I’m picking up the newsletter pace as well. As of this issue, I’ll be publishing twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

What do you think? As ever, send your feedback and story tips to emily@deregnation.com — and if you like this issue, click the little heart thingy at the top or bottom of the page, which helps more people find (de)regulation nation.


bad: Trump’s latest attack on federal climate science

  • Trump appointee and former oil geologist (and astronaut) James Reilly, head of the U.S. Geological Survey, has ordered his agency’s scientists to look forward to 2040 in their climate change-related analyses, reports The New York Times.

  • According to The Times, Reilly has barred inclusion of computer-generated, long-term projections of climate change’s effects, i.e., climate models, that analyze the effects of current actions (or inactions) out to 2100.

  • Modeling the effects of carbon pollution all the way to the end of the century is a standard climate science practice.

  • If true *, the order is a fundamental attack on how science informs federal climate policies.

  • Why? Because the greenhouse gas pollution pumped out today will persist anywhere from decades to thousands of years into the future, and have its biggest effects on the climate after 2040.

  • The worst-case projections of how hot and weird the planet could become by 2100 (nicknamed “business as usual” or BAU, because they reflect our current reality of too little action, taken too slowly) make a slam-dunk case for slashing greenhouse pollution sharply within the next one to two decades.

  • If federal scientists can’t include those models in their work, then — surprise — the Trump administration has a pseudo-scientific justification for its pro-fossil fuel policies.

  • It would also weaken the value of the National Climate Assessment, a multi-agency review of climate change science and impacts that comes out around every four years. (The administration attempted to squelch last year’s edition by releasing it on Black Friday.)

  • A move to bar the long-term, worst-case climate scenarios from the National Climate Assessment would be on thin legal ice, reports HuffPost, because under 1990’s Global Change Research Act, which mandates the report, it must include “current trends in global change, both human-induced and natural, and projects major trends for the subsequent 25 to 100 years.”

  • But “if the National Climate Assessment, which includes detailed regional projections, becomes less credible,” Rutgers climate scientist Bob Kopp told HuffPost, that will leave many states, counties, and communities in the information lurch as they try to craft local policies.

  • “Discrediting climate science fits into a decades-long mission to make the rich richer,” notes On The Media co-host Bob Garfield in the show’s latest installment, Climate Obscura.

  • The episode features an interview with Jane Mayer, the New Yorker reporter and author of “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right,” who connects the dots between decades of right-wing activism and Trump’s deregulatory drive.

* Officials at other relevant federal agencies (EPA, NOAA, Interior) have denied that they’re considering changes to the methodology behind the National Climate Assessment.

also bad

EPA chief Andrew Wheeler thinks the real climate problem is that reporters talk about it too much. As Newsweek reports, in a Monday speech Wheeler said that "the media does a disservice to the American public, and sound policymaking, by not informing the public of the progress this nation has made.” Wheeler advocates policies that would reverse some of that progress on climate and air pollution.

Under Wheeler, the EPA is also cutting its own Science Advisory Board out of the air pollution regulatory process as it pushes to use industry-favoring cost-benefit analyses to set the rules, reports Bloomberg Environment (behind a paywall).

The Trump administration has opened more public land to development than any other president in history, according to a new study in the journal Science—part of a “disturbing global trend"in conservation, as Rolling Stone puts it, “where 78 percent of global land [conservation] reductions have taken place since 2000.”

betterish: Interior chief downplays future changes to national monuments

  • Interior chief David Bernhardt told Congress in late May that he “has no plans for additional changes to national monuments that were recommended by his predecessor,” according to coverage by AP.

  • “The president is ultimately the holder of the pen,” Bernhardt told Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.)., and an anonymous source at the White House told AP that “the Trump administration was still considering taking action.”

  • Bernhardt’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for monument changes is a stark change from the man he replaced, Ryan Zinke.

  • In 2017, on Zinke’s recommendation and following his agency’s review of 27 sites, President Trump slashed two million acres off two national monuments in Utah, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante.

  • Months later, reporting by the Washington Post revealed that Zinke’s top officials had skewed the monument review to boost the worth of logging, drilling, and ranching while omitting justifications for maintaining monument borders (such as the economic benefits of outdoor tourism). They then edited the report to hide those biases from the public.

  • Tribes and environmentalists have taken Trump to court to avert drilling and restore the original boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase. That’s left both areas undeveloped so far, but also unprotected and under-managed, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

  • The Tribune also reports that Bernhardt has filled Interior’s Bears Ears management committee with critics of the original Obama-era monument boundaries.

also betterish

A week after his comments on the monuments review, Bernhardt “agreed to put off oil and gas leasing for a year on land that Native Americans consider sacred,” according to another report by AP, “surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico.”

good: these 30 twenty-somethings are working to “making the world greener and more just”

  • In 21st-century finance, a unicorn is not only a mythical horse sprouting a horn out of its forehead. It’s also the rare business venture that attains a market value of more than $1 billion.

  • As I stare through my Warby Parker glasses at my MacBook Pro, pausing occasionally to check the status page for my ThirdLove order, I’m living proof that companies sometimes become this valuable (or nearly so) by adeptly solving points of consumer pain.

  • But then there’s solving the big points of pain, like being on the verge of runaway climate change, or rampant manufacturing waste and pollution, or democracies destabilized by viral disinformation campaigns on social media.

  • These are the sorts of problems that the twenty-somethings profiled in GreenBiz’s 2019 30 Under 30 list are trying to tackle.

  • Right now the financial world isn’t much into ventures that aim for long-term stability rather than short-term growth and gain.

  • That makes it even more compelling to read about these innovative young professionals who are founding new businesses (from event planning to cryptocurrency ventures to carbon modeling for farmers) that could help solve big problems, or bringing those values into established news, finance, big business, and civic entities.

great: three southeastern states embrace controlled burns to conserve forests and prevent catastrophic wildfires

  • Alabama, Florida, and Georgia have bucked the national trend towards forest fire suppression, reports the startup news venture Southerly, in favor of controlled burning, also called prescribed fire.

  • In 2018 more than 4 million acres across the three states saw controlled burns, compared to around 2 million acres in the remaining 47 states and all U.S. territories combined.

  • Prescribed fire burns off forest brush and dead wood proactively, to prevent them from fueling wildfires. It also helps forests ecologically.

  • (Native Americans in the Southeast used forest fire intentionally for thousands of years before European colonization, to aid their hunting and gathering.)

  • An unscientific glance at federal wildfire data from the National Interagency Fire Center suggests that it’s worth asking whether and how these programs may reduce wildfire risk:

    • According to the NIFC, between 1997 and 2018, there were five wildfires larger than 100,000 acres in Georgia, one in Florida, and none in Alabama. The three states combined have an area of around 178,000 square miles.

    • During the same timespan in California, with an area of about 164,000 square miles, there have been two dozen wildfires larger than 100,000 acres.

  • Fire suppression has been the US norm since the early 20th century, mostly to protect forests for commercial logging.

  • As PBS Newshour reported last fall, this fire suppression legacy contributed to the intensity of last year’s lethal Camp Fire disaster in California, along with the hotter climate and increased home building along forest edges.

  • It’s still official policy to suppress wildfire on federal public lands, and forest managers get more money for suppression than prevention, according to a Vox explainer from September.

  • “We’re not using the evidence we have to inform our management, and that has led to more destructive wildfires,” Crystal Kolden, a University of Idaho forest fire expert, tells Southerly. “Until cultural attitudes toward fire change, and government agencies allow the well-accepted science around burning to inform land management, we will continue to put ourselves at a greater risk than we have to be in.”

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 at the [*deep breath*] Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York.

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You’ll find links to my past reporting and more biographical goodness at my website.

This week’s quote is by James Baldwin, from his book “No Name in the Street.”

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