(de)regulation nation: retro report
"Calls for 'conversation' are just another way of defending a very specific status quo"
|Emily J Gertz||Jul 2, 2019|
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Greetings from Lausanne. I’m here this week as a guest of the World Conference of Science Journalists, where on J̶u̶l̶y̶ ̶2̶ July 3 I’ll be joining some amazing colleagues to discuss “enemies of the people: journalism in the age of populists and strongmen”:
Thomas Nilsen of The Independent Barents Observer (Norway/Russia)
Barış Altıntaş of the Media and Law Studies Association (Turkey)
Thiago Medaglia of Ambiental Media (Brazil)
Pablo Ortellado, professor of public policy at the Universidade de São Paulo who studies political polarization, social media, and public access to information.
Milica Momčilović of Radio Television of Serbia
Wish me luck!
Today’s (de)regulation nation is a retro report, checking in on new developments across four stories I’ve been tracking in the newsletter:
Climate change (or not) at the Democratic Party presidential debates
Attacks on public transparency at the Environmental Protection Agency
The Trump administration’s campaign to weaken the Endangered Species Act
The push for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Looking ahead, the newsletter will take the day off on July 4, and return on schedule on Tuesday, July 9.
retro report 1: Climate change barely discussed at first Democratic debates
The Democratic Party has so far refused to schedule a presidential debate focused on climate change, saying it would unfairly favor candidates centering their campaigns on the issue.
(Which is to say one candidate, Wash. state Gov. Jay Inslee, although several others among the two dozen hopefuls back the idea.)
So perhaps it's not surprising that climate questions were in short supply at the first two-evening debate, held last week in Miami. While “the first two Democratic presidential debates for the 2020 election this week devoted more attention to climate change than in all the 2016 debates combined,” reports Vox,“the climate crisis got just 15 minutes across four hours of airtime.”
The news-for-the-news-industry outlet Poynter gave the debate moderators a rare rave: “NBC moderators played it right, asking the pertinent questions with topics including the economy, climate, gun control, immigration, Iran and health care.”
The dead-center political news outlet The Hill noted the welter of critiques by “green groups and politicians alike…for failing to ask enough substantive climate change questions” during the first debate evening.
The progressive-of-center outlet HuffPost was also critical, noting that the first climate question appeared 82 minutes into the first 120-minute evening of debate. “When hosts Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow finally gave the topic airtime, they asked questions that climate experts roundly criticized as badly framed and uninformed,” reports HuffPost. “After about seven minutes of meandering discussion from just four candidates, the moderators moved on.”
“At a debate held in a sinking city, only four candidates were directly asked about the climate crisis,” writes Emily Atkin in The New Republic. “Over the course of two hours, approximately seven minutes were devoted to the top existential threat facing humanity.”
Inslee is calling for a rules change that would allow him to put on a climate-centered debate (independently of the official Democratic National Committee event schedule) without being barred from subsequent official debates.
Inslee, who polls at or below 1 percent according to The New York Times, may be calculating that creating an intra-party climate controversy will boost his nomination chances, since lately Democratic voters put climate change up there with health care and jobs as a priority.
While he’s seen as a national leader among governors on climate policies, Washington State climate activists say they’re skeptical about Inslee’s claims to be the “climate candidate,” reports Pacific Standard.
“Inslee has scored tangible victories that demonstrate his competency in climate leadership” but “hasn’t always been an ideal legislator on environmental issues in his state,” activists tell PS. Inslee was for building a liquid natural gas facility and a methanol plant in the port city of Tacoma before he was against them, they note, and focused too much on trying to get an “outdated, ineffective” carbon tax policy through the state legislature.
retro report 2: EPA denies it’s trying to keep the public in the dark
The Environmental Protection Agency responded late last week to criticism of its new “Freedom of Information Act Regulations Update.”
The agency’s revised process gives more political appointees a say in what materials get released in response to Freedom of Information requests, according to the Society of Environmental Journalists and FOI experts quoted by CNN, Roll Call, E&E News, and The Hill.
(Full disclosure: I’m an SEJ board member and FOI Task Force member.)
EPA may also have broken the law by finalizing the rule without giving the public a chance to comment on it.
Responding to SEJ’s critique, EPA charged SEJ with repeating “numerous inaccuracies that were regurgitated from false articles.”
“This new regulation brings the Agency into compliance with the Congressional amendments to FOIA from 2007, 2009, and 2016,” the EPA states in its press release. “Congress provided all federal departments and agencies until the end of 2016 to update their FOIA regulations. The Obama administration failed to meet this deadline.”
retro report 3: a foe of the Endangered Species Act now leads the agency that oversees it
On June 5, the Senate confirmed Susan Combs as the Department of Interior’s assistant secretary for policy, management and budget, reports High Country News.
During Combs’ two years as acting assistant secretary for policy etc., the Trump administration has proposed to weaken Endangered Species Act protections for plant and animal species at risk of extinction, as well as the habitat these species need to survive.
According to a deep dive into Combs’ professional bona fides by Rolling Stone and anti-corruption group Global Witness, Combs has continued to propel an industry-friendly re-organization of Interior begun under former, ethically-challenged Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. But Combs has some conflicts of interest of her own:
“Combs earned possibly as much as $2.1 million in recent years from oil companies who stand to benefit from the reorganization,” Rolling Stone reports.
“During her years in Texas politics, Combs received at least $970,000 in campaign funds from the oil and gas sector, according to the National Institute on Money in Politics,” according to Rolling Stone. “From 2016 to mid-2017, Combs indicated she earned between $271,006 and $2,167,500 in rent and royalty payments from leases issued to six oil and gas companies for mineral rights to her land in south Texas.”
“Five of the six oil companies that have paid Combs royalties are listed as members of lobbying groups that explicitly endorsed the Interior reorganization she’s in charge of.”
retro report 4: Trump’s push to drill the Arctic Refuge hits a headwind
The Republican-backed tax law of 2017 included a stealth measure that opened the Arctic Refuge to oil and gas drilling.
The Trump administration has been rushing to get drilling leases auctioned before the 2020 presidential election.
But now, “unusually harsh criticism from federal wildlife regulators could deal a blow” to that effort, as Reuters (via Yahoo News) reported in May.
Alaska-based staff of the Fish and Wildlife Service are (in so many words), charging Bureau of Land Management with doing a shoddy job assessing how drilling will affect the refuge environmentally. (Both agencies are part of the Department of Interior.)
The BLM “failed to include oil spill response plans, analyze the effects of climate change on the Arctic, or ensure that surveys of polar bear denning habitats are required,” FWS staff wrote in response to the BLM’s environmental report.
“The Interior subagency also listed dozens of other information gaps in its 59 pages of comments and implied that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management wrote the study without properly consulting wildlife regulators,” according to Reuters
These comments would seem to strengthen the legal case that the Trump administration’s permitting process for drilling in the Arctic Refuge has been flawed, were anyone to sue the Trump administration to stop it.
Back in March, a government watchdog group charged Interior with hiding “18 memos detailing the environmental “unknowns” of drilling in the Arctic refuge,” as E&E News reported at the time, and petitioned the agency’s Inspector General’s office to investigate.
House Democratic lawmakers have put a bill in motion to close the Arctic Refuge to drilling, along with the Atlantic and Pacific coasts
“It does nothing to go after the existing jobs in oil and gas,” said co-sponsor Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.).“It simply says you can’t expand into this one special place,” reported Alaska Public Media.
Based on his track record to date, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), isn’t likely to schedule a vote on any Senate companion to the House bill.
“We have to provide the American people with a choice, a bet to save ANWR. I don’t know how [Republicans] are going to defend it. They did it in the middle of the night; they stuck it to a bill it didn’t belong in. No hearings, nothing,” Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the head of the committee that approved the bill, told The Hill. “They did it in a very sneaky way, underhanded way, so what we did today was out in the open, we had a good debate about it.”
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 Stacy-Marie Ishmael, via Twitter: