(de)regulation nation: two weeks of rollbacks and denial

"Depending on how you look at things, a coal-stuffed climate summit is either completely absurd—'beyond parody,' as one commentator put it—or merely appropriate."

Welcome to (de)regulation nation, the newsletter tracking environmental news in the Trump era.

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Even by the standards of the Trump administration, it’s been a remarkable two weeks for environmental politics and policy. So in today’s newsletter, I’ll round up the bad environmental news that’s come out since Thanksgiving.

Stay tuned, though! On Friday, we’ll come out the other side with as much upbeat news as I can pack in to a single edition.

Onward with the bad news:

  • The Trump administration tried to bury the peer-reviewed National Climate Assessment by releasing it on “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving. Read more at The New York Times.

  • When news outlets nationwide covered the report’s red-alert conclusions anyway, Trump and his cabinet instead assaulted the messengers. Trump “flatly rejected [the report’s] central finding that global warming is causing ongoing and lasting economic damage. ‘I don’t believe it,’ he said.” But the report could be helpful in the growing list of lawsuits fighting rollbacks of Obama-era policies to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. Read more at InsideClimate News.

  • Then, at the G20 summit in Argentina, Trump refused to sign on to a joint statement vowing to fight climate change. The 19 other world leaders present took the pledge. Read more in Axios.

  • Emails obtained by Sierra Club and shared with reporters revealed that President Trump’s favorite morning show, “Fox & Friends,” let former EPA chief Scott Pruitt’s staff pick and choose topics for interviews, and review questions in advance. Read more in The Daily Beast.

  • Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) a drunk, after the lawmaker called for Zinke to resign over his own list of ethics inquiries. Grijalva will chair the House Natural Resources Committee next year, and says he intends to increase Congressional oversight of Interior. Read more in Politico.

  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the Trump administration will begin the formal process to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (the INF Treaty) with Russia, unless Russia proves by mid-winter that it has returned to compliance with the pact. Russia is widely regarded to have violated the treaty’s mandate against arming with ground-based intermediate-range nuclear missiles, but a U.S. withdrawal from the agreement could trigger a new bilateral arms race. Read more in The New York Times.

  • Trump wants to take America’s clean water rules back to the 1980s. The EPA has proposed to gut water protections for thousands of streams and millions of acres of wetlands, claiming the move will help streamline regulations for farmers and developers. The current “Waters of the U.S.” rule was backed by hundreds of peer-reviewed studies. “They’re trying to sidestep the science,” a former EPA water expert told a reporter. “The science is pretty clear that whatever happens at the top of the watershed affects the bottom of the watershed.” Read more in The Guardian.

  • The Bureau of Land Management announced plans to rewrite a 2015 federal blueprint (laboriously negotiated with states and other stakeholders by the Obama administration) for saving the sage grouse. The imperiled Western bird’s habitat happens to overlap with millions of acres that the Trump administration wants to lease for oil and gas drilling. Read more in High Country News.

  • The Trump administration also authorized seismic testing for gas and oil deposits off the Atlantic coast, including in areas on the migration route of critically endangered North-Atlantic right whales. Seismic testing involves setting off airguns underwater to bounce sound waves off the sea floor, sort of an ultrasound test to detect buried oil and gas. “From zooplankton all the way up to the largest right whales, including sea turtles and important fisheries,” the seismic blasts affect the entire marine food chain, an environmentalist told a reporter. Industry proponents disagree. Read more at WLRN Miami|South Florida.

  • The EPA wants to roll back Obama-era pollution caps on new coal plants, called “New Source Performance Standards.” The Trump administration’s replacement plan would increase the amount of carbon dioxide a newly built plant could pump out by over 30 percent, from 1,400 pounds per megawatt-hour to 1,900 pounds. The regressive move may have little practical impact, though, as market forces make construction of new coal-fired power plants in the U.S. very unlikely. Read more in Utility Dive.

  • Meanwhile, at the annual international climate conference (being held this year in pro-coal Poland), the United States joined with Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait to try and water down the gathering’s recognition of a recent United Nations climate science assessment, which forecasts catastrophic consequences if the world doesn’t zero out carbon emissions within 20 to 30 years. Watch more at MSNBC.com.

Okay, it’s over. See you on Friday with a compilation of the past two weeks in better, good, and great developments.

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. Learn more about me and see some of my work at my web site.

If you’ve received (de)regulation nation from a friend and like it, please subscribe.

This week’s quote is by Elizabeth Kolbert, from her latest comment on the international climate talks in The New Yorker.

Send tips and feedback: emily@deregnation.com