(de)regulation nation: top Trump appointee suppressed damning pesticide study
|Emily J Gertz||Mar 29, 2019|
Welcome to (de)regulation nation, the newsletter tracking environmental news in the Trump era.
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As I wrote for The Revelator last week, the Trump administration is succeeding more often than it’s failing at rolling back environmental protections. So what does it take to get lawmakers talking even somewhat seriously about climate change?
On Capitol Hill, it’s taken two years of President Trump’s environmental and climate deregulation, set against thousands of deaths related to climate-change-fueled disasters like Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, Hurricane Harvey on the Gulf Coast, and California’s Camp Fire.
On a lighter note, a Florida state senator has opted for creative footwear choices, as I recount in this week’s newsletter:
bad: Trump’s top Interior pick squelched study on pesticide threats to endangered species
Two years ago, researchers at the Fish and Wildlife Service (part of the Department of Interior) finished a comprehensive study on how three popular pesticides affect endangered species.
They found that two of the three (malathion and chlorpyrifos) are so toxic that continuing to use them could wipe out more than 1,200 endangered plant, fish, bird, and other animal species may be wiped out.
But David Bernhardt, then Interior’s assistant secretary and now its acting chief, led internal efforts to suppress the study, according to a new investigative report in The New York Times.
Bernhardt (a former Big Ag and fossil fuel industry lobbyist) ordered FWS staffers to rework the findings using a narrower, pesticide-industry-approved approach that—I’m shocked, shocked—is much less likely to spur curbs or bans on malathion and chlorpyrifos.
Among others, an agri-chemical giant that donated $1 million to the Trump inauguration committee advocated this approach.
It’s “a case study of how the Trump administration has been using its power to second-guess or push aside conclusions reached by career professionals, particularly in the area of public health and the environment,” writes reporter Eric Lipton.
Lipton tweetstormed some of the roughly 85,000 documents he obtained about the report’s findings:
On Tuesday, after the Times story came out, Democrats in the House of Representatives wrote to Bernhardt to demand that Interior immediately release the original pesticide findings.
Bernhardt is now Trump’s nominee to become the latest Secretary of the Interior.
At his first Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday, Bernhardt denied blocking the pesticide report:
even more Bernhardt:
Offshore fossil fuel drilling: Last week Senate Democrats called on Bernhardt to release Interior’s latest draft plan for oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts ahead of today’s confirmation hearing. He did not.
“Which areas are open to drilling could affect the chance that Bernhardt will get the majority needed for confirmation,” reported Roll Call, “if the Democratic caucus holds firm against his nomination, as a number of Republican senators facing tough re-election races in 2020 are from states that could see the oil and gas industry setting up off their coasts.”
Inland fossil fuel drilling: Senate Democrats are also pressing Bernhardt to renounce and reverse former Interior chief Ryan Zinke’s changes to the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments. Zinke opened up thousands of federal acres to mining and drilling when he slashed the boundaries of both sites in 2017.
Savaging the sage grouse: Bernhardt has proposed opening about 15 million acres of prime greater sage grouse habitat to drilling and mining, lands that were protected by the original Obama-era plan to save the dwindling bird species. Environmentalists are suing, per Courthouse News, saying the revised plan is “a thinly veiled giveaway to natural resource extraction industries, developers, mining corporations and livestock grazers.”
On the plus side, reports High Country News, “some Democrat-led Western states are using the rollbacks to implement more stringent environmental protections in sage grouse habitat.” But they won’t make up completely for the weakened federal plan.
better: lawmakers take up bans on chlorpyrifos
Career scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency have recommended ending agricultural use of the highly neurotoxic pesticide, which is proven to injure farmworkers and cause learning disabilities in children. (EPA banned it for home use in 2000.)
But in March 2017, as reported at the time by NPR, the Trump EPA announced it would let chlorpyrifos stay on the market.
Now, as the administration and environmental advocates battle that decision out in court, state and federal lawmakers are taking up the matter:
Hawaii in 2018 became the first state to ban chlorpyrifos, as HawaiiNewsNow reported last June.
In California, where the most chlorpyrifos in the nation is used, state regulators last year recommended heavy cutbacks, as AP reported in November. This year a state senator has introduced a bill to ban it entirely.
Oregon lawmakers heard testimony from pro- and anti-ban sides this week, reports OPB.
In Congress, Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and a coalition of Democrats introduced a bill this week to create a nationwide ban.
good: this red state lawmaker’s rain boots
For the second year in a row, a Florida state senator is wearing rubber rain boots with his suit and tie to legislative work days in Tallahassee.
Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez (D-Dist. 37) says the boots are his way of prodding fellow lawmakers to make climate action a priority.
Rodriguez’s district includes Miami, Key Biscayne and Coral Gables, locales where rising seas are already causing unprecedented severe flooding.
"It's a silly gesture by design, it’s attention-getting by design,” Rodriguez told Fresh Take Florida. “But it seems to be having the effect that we're having a lot more conversations about climate."
great: federal judge blocks Wyoming drilling leases because climate change
On March 21, Judge Rudolph Contreras ordered the Bureau of Land Management (part of the Department of Interior) to complete comprehensive studies of the climate impacts of hundreds of oil and gas leases on federal lands in Wyoming.
The Obama administration awarded the leases in 2015 and 2016.
Contreras also ordered the BLM to cease all leasing in Wyoming while it does the new environmental reviews, reports Climate Liability News.
According to Oil & Gas journal, the judge ruled that the BLM broke federal environmental law in three ways:
The agency “failed to quantify and forecast drilling-related [greenhouse gas] emissions.”
It also “failed to adequately consider GHG emissions from the downstream use of oil and gas produced on the leased parcels.”
BLM also “failed to compare those GHG emissions to state, regional, and national GHG emissions forecasts, and other foreseeable regional and national BLM projects.”
The judge’s decision could affect the Trump administration’s so-far-successful push to open more federal lands and offshore waters than ever to fossil energy drilling and mining, notes The New York Times, because it “amounts to a road map that could be used to challenge hundreds of Trump administration leases as well.”
Thanks for reading (de)regulation nation, a production of Brooklyn Radio Telegraph LLC.
This newsletter is written by me, Emily J Gertz. I’m an environmental journalist. See my bio and links to some of my other work at www.emilygertz.com.
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This week’s quote is by Madeleine L’Engle, from her novel “A Wind in the Door.”
Photo: Office of Florida Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez / Daniela Fernandez
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