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ENVIRONMENT POLICIES, ANALYSIS, AND RESOURCES

The Environment Domain tracks and reports on policies that deal with the use of natural resources, climate change, energy emissions, pollution, and the protection of endangered species. This domain tracks policies emanating from the White House, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Department, and the Interior Department. Our Principal Analyst is Megan Toney who can be reached at megan@usresistnews.org.

Latest Environment Posts

 

Zinke Faces the U.S. Senate

Earlier this month, Department of the Interior head, Ryan Zinke, a self-declared geologist,  faced a senate hearing to address his proposed 2019 budget. However, this hearing may expand to include his numerous scandals.

read more

EPA Set to Rollback Automotive Standards

Earlier this month Pruitt announced another step in Trump’s “regulatory agenda” with the plan to lessen automotive regulations on emissions and fuel economy. The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards were revised in 2010 to require a minimum fuel efficiency of 54.5 miles to the gallon (double the current typical average)  by model year 2025. 

read more

Judge Rules That Environmental Studies Are Not Required for Border Wall Construction Order in re: Border Infrastructure Environmental Legislation; Case 3:17-cv-01215-GPC-WVG

Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel ruled that the Trump Administration and the Department of Homeland Security have not exceeded their legal limits in waiving environmental reviews based on the REAL ID law of 2005. This Bush era law allows Federal agencies to waive previously required environmental reviews.

read more

EPA Announces Remedy for West Lake Landfill Superfund Site

EPA Secretary Pruitt announced a proposed remedy for the West Lake Landfill in North Saint Louis County calling the site a top priority for the EPA. The project, named “Excavation Plus,” will remove most of the radioactive material that poses a public health threat and place a permanent cap and engineered cover system for long-term…

read more

DOI Secretary Zinke Announces Offshore Oil Drilling Program [UPDATED]

Both officials and residents of California have come out in droves to push back against Zinke’s draft of the Offshore Oil Drilling Program. Protests have spanned the length of California, involving thousands of people. The protest in Sacramento preceded a Federal “open house,” which many are calling a peace offering for the lack…

read more

Update on Scott Pruitt’s  Investigation by Congress for Excess Spending, Secret Emails and Ethics Controversy

Environmental Policy – Brief 30

Letters from Congress Requesting Documentation for Investigation and Letter on Overdue Documents

Press Release from Oversight Committee Sent April 11, 2018

Update May 21, 2018

In late April, Scott Pruitt had a hearing on Capitol Hill regarding his various ethical controversies. Over the course of the two sessions, Pruitt did admit that he knew about the raises for two of his aides but little else, primarily placing blame on EPA aides and staff.  In his opening statement, Pruitt claimed that many of the accusations were either exaggerations or completely fabricated. A former aide has already told news outlets that Pruitt lied to Congress during these hearings. The response to Pruitt’s time on the Hill have been mixed, primarily along party lines. White House aides are prompting Trump to fire Pruitt and various Democrats are calling for his resignation. However, Republican members of Congress are aware that Pruitt is their best chance to pass legislation regarding environmental regulation. And so he stays.

Since the hearings, new potential ethics violations have come to lights, including meetings with the Heritage Foundation, plans to stage public debates, hiring additional private council, and another trip paid for by lobbyists. The EPA has attempted to keep records and documents from Congress, and emails have been discovered detailing EPA staff attempts to shield Pruitt from scrutiny and explain the necessity of his high security costs. Pruitt has continued to work on various rollbacks of Obama era legislation.

Summary

In letters sent to President Trump and the EPA Secretary Pruitt, the Oversight Committee of U.S. Congress requested documents from Secretary Pruitt as they investigate the myriad of controversies that have arisen around the EPA’s lead administrator. Pruitt is currently past the given deadline to  produce the documents, and the deadline has been extended to April 25, 2018. Another letter was written to Kevin Minoli, EPA’s Chief Ethics Officer, from the Office of Government Ethics asking him to participate in the investigations. The Government Accountability Office and the EPA’s Inspector General are also taking a look at records and requesting explanations. There have been rumblings of misconduct for quite a while, but these accusations nowballed once an aide came forward. The former aide, Kevin Chmielewski, was put on leave after questioning the Secretary’s spending habits. In addition to the extreme travel spending, Pruitt is under investigation by ethics committees for a discounted condo purchase from a lobbyist and the use of multiple undisclosed email addresses. Despite calls for his resignation and his 29 percent approval rating, many Republicans and businessman supported Pruitt and  his position, especially in light of the moderate that would most likely take his place.

Analysis

Spending: Most of Pruitt’s spending controversies revolve around his travel, security detail and bonuses for special hires. Citing death threats, Pruitt has booked exclusively first class travel and more exorbitant hotel accommodations than those recommended by the State Department for international travel.  Some of these destinations were based on personal travel rather than business, and Pruitt took many unjustified trips to his home state of Oklahoma.  Republican lawmakers have since disregarded Pruitt’s death threat reasoning for his extreme spending on travel and security.

Ethics: Pruitt has also approved extreme bonuses for loyal employees that were rejected by oversight committees, including a long-time lobbyist for the chemical industry. A coal lobbyist was just confirmed as his number two and an oil tycoon ran his re-election campaign.  Pruitt has gotten a long-term deal on a bedroom in a D.C. condo on a per-night basis from a health care lobbyist, although her husband has pending business with the EPA.

Emails: In another letter, the EPA’s Inspector General, Arthur Elkins, was asked to look into Pruitt’s three email accounts to make sure proper records were maintained. There is concern that Pruitt uses these additional email addresses to spread false information and conduct undocumented business.

Take Action

Read the full letters regarding the investigations into Pruitt: To Trump and Pruitt, To Elkins, To Minoli

Keep Track of the Pruitt Investigations on the Oversight Committee’s Website

This brief was compiled by Megan Toney. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact megan@usresistnews.org.

Zinke Faces the U.S. Senate

Brief # 31—-Environmental Policy

Summary

Earlier this month, Department of the Interior head, Ryan Zinke, a self-declared geologist,  faced a senate hearing to address his proposed 2019 budget. However, this hearing may expand to include his numerous scandals. The former Navy SEAL seems to have a pattern of travel fraud. In addition, reports show that he has nominated an oil industry lobbyist for the DOI regulatory rollback advisor, allowed trophy hunters to lead a panel governing animal imports, and failed to reveal his shares in a gun organization.  Zinke has managed to avoid public scrutiny, partially because of  the current investigations in and coverage of EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt.

Analysis

The Department of the Interior is in charge of managing the conservation of federal lands and natural resources, and Ryan Zinke was appointed as Secretary last year. While there is surprisingly little coverage on what ensued during Zinke’s recent hearing on May 10, 2018, there is an expectation that Zinke’s questionable behavior will be more thoroughly examined by the Senate. Prior to his role, Zinke was a state senator in Montana, giving rise to allegations that he has taken a pro-development stance in every state except Montana, possibly to save jobs. This may be in violation of the D.O.I.’s ethics rules. Furthermore, Zinke’s pattern of travel fraud is said to have cost taxpayers at least $84,000[1], with one instance of Zinke even charging the D.O.I. for he and his wife’s private security detail on a family vacation to Greece and Turkey. Theoretically, this laundry list of scandals could beg the question of whether or not Zinke is fit to lead the Department of the Interior, but given that no coverage has been applied to the matter, it appears that nothing has changed and all is running as it were.

Take Action

Get involved with the fight to save the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was created by congress in 1964 and is set to expire in September 2018. Check out the LWCF Coalition to become engaged

Keep checking in with the Sierra Club—the most influential grassroots conservation group in America–to stay up to date on many high-profile initiatives to protect the environment  

Learn more about the timeline of Zinke’s Ethics Scandals

Learn More about the Tension Between the DOI and EPA

This Brief was submitted by USRESIST NEWS Analyst Zoe Stricker:

zoe@usresistnews.org

[1] Costs compiled from The Intercept, Politico Media Matters and Climate Nexus

EPA Set to Rollback Automotive Standards

Environmental Policy – Brief 30

EPA Press Release on GHG Emission Standards

Summary

Earlier this month Pruitt announced another step in Trump’s “regulatory agenda” with the plan to lessen automotive regulations on emissions and fuel economy. The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards were revised in 2010 to require a minimum fuel efficiency of 54.5 miles to the gallon (double the current typical average)  by model year 2025.  Pruitt has promised these regulations will be replaced by a new set developed in conjunction with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. These new regulations have not yet been developed. Pruitt has also noted that California specifically has unreasonable standards. Various CA politicians immediately responded that they would hold their state to higher standards and have recently taken legal action along with 17 other states.

Analysis

While the Obama Era regulations have not yet been replaced, there is the expectation that the new set of rules will drastically decrease the existing requirements. The EPA has made it clear that it views the Obama Era rules as a regulatory burden and that dispensing with the rules will allow automotive companies to produce more affordable vehicles. Before this announcement was made on April 2, 2018, the Department of Transportation announced that it would not enforce the associate fines for failing to meet the CAFE standards, unofficially nullifying the regulations. Many environmental agencies are concerned about the implications of the rollback as it pertains to global warming. In the opinion of many scientists, fuel efficiency and emissions requirements are the best way to tackle climate change. Decreased pollution and decreased oil usage on a national scale would be significant. However, Pruitt has made his loyalties very clear with his rollback announcement location: A car dealership in Northern Virginia. Meetings were held in the Oval Office with major automakers within weeks of Trump’s Inauguration about these impending rules, and the Auto Alliance stated in a regulatory filing in February that climate science cannot be fully trusted.

Engagement Resources

Read more about the lawsuit filed by California, et.al. against the EPA

Check out the NYT Graphics about Emissions

Read more about the Evaluation of the Obama Era rules by the EPA

This brief was compiled by Megan Toney. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact megan@usresistnews.org.

UPDATED:Scott Pruitt Under Investigation by Congress for Excess Spending, Secret Emails and Ethics Controversy

Environmental Policy – Brief 29

Letters from Congress Requesting Documentation for Investigation and Letter on Overdue Documents

Press Release from Oversight Committee Sent April 11, 2018

Update May 21, 2018

In late April, Scott Pruitt had a hearing on Capitol Hill regarding his various ethical controversies. Over the course of the two sessions, Pruitt did admit that he knew about the raises for two of his aides but little else, primarily placing blame on EPA aides and staff.  In his opening statement, Pruitt claimed that many of the accusations were either exaggerations or completely fabricated. A former aide has already told news outlets that Pruitt lied to Congress during these hearings. The response to Pruitt’s time on the Hill have been mixed, primarily along party lines. White House aides are prompting Trump to fire Pruitt and various Democrats are calling for his resignation. However, Republican members of Congress are aware that Pruitt is their best chance to pass legislation regarding environmental regulation. And so he stays.

Since the hearings, new potential ethics violations have come to lights, including meetings with the Heritage Foundation, plans to stage public debates, hiring additional private council, and another trip paid for by lobbyists. The EPA has attempted to keep records and documents from Congress, and emails have been discovered detailing EPA staff attempts to shield Pruitt from scrutiny and explain the necessity of his high security costs. Pruitt has continued to work on various rollbacks of Obama era legislation.

Summary

In letters sent to President Trump and the EPA Secretary Pruitt, the Oversight Committee of U.S. Congress requested documents from Secretary Pruitt as they investigate the myriad of controversies that have arisen around the EPA’s lead administrator. Pruitt is currently past the given deadline to  produce the documents, and the deadline has been extended to April 25, 2018. Another letter was written to Kevin Minoli, EPA’s Chief Ethics Officer, from the Office of Government Ethics asking him to participate in the investigations. The Government Accountability Office and the EPA’s Inspector General are also taking a look at records and requesting explanations. There have been rumblings of misconduct for quite a while, but these accusations nowballed once an aide came forward. The former aide, Kevin Chmielewski, was put on leave after questioning the Secretary’s spending habits. In addition to the extreme travel spending, Pruitt is under investigation by ethics committees for a discounted condo purchase from a lobbyist and the use of multiple undisclosed email addresses. Despite calls for his resignation and his 29 percent approval rating, many Republicans and businessman supported Pruitt and  his position, especially in light of the moderate that would most likely take his place.

Analysis

Spending: Most of Pruitt’s spending controversies revolve around his travel, security detail and bonuses for special hires. Citing death threats, Pruitt has booked exclusively first class travel and more exorbitant hotel accommodations than those recommended by the State Department for international travel.  Some of these destinations were based on personal travel rather than business, and Pruitt took many unjustified trips to his home state of Oklahoma.  Republican lawmakers have since disregarded Pruitt’s death threat reasoning for his extreme spending on travel and security.

Ethics: Pruitt has also approved extreme bonuses for loyal employees that were rejected by oversight committees, including a long-time lobbyist for the chemical industry. A coal lobbyist was just confirmed as his number two and an oil tycoon ran his re-election campaign.  Pruitt has gotten a long-term deal on a bedroom in a D.C. condo on a per-night basis from a health care lobbyist, although her husband has pending business with the EPA.

Emails: In another letter, the EPA’s Inspector General, Arthur Elkins, was asked to look into Pruitt’s three email accounts to make sure proper records were maintained. There is concern that Pruitt uses these additional email addresses to spread false information and conduct undocumented business.

Engagement Resource

Read the full letters regarding the investigations into Pruitt: To Trump and Pruitt, To Elkins, To Minoli

Keep Track of the Pruitt Investigations on the Oversight Committee’s Website

This brief was compiled by Megan Toney. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact megan@usresistnews.org.

Judge Rules That Environmental Studies Are Not Required for Border Wall Construction Order in re: Border Infrastructure Environmental Legislation; Case 3:17-cv-01215-GPC-WVG

Summary

Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel ruled that the Trump Administration and the Department of Homeland Security have not exceeded their legal limits in waiving environmental reviews based on the REAL ID law of 2005. This Bush era law allows Federal agencies to waive previously required environmental reviews. Since August 2017, the Trump administration has filed three of the seven waivers filed in the law’s history. Three lawsuits were filed against the Trump Administration and the Department of Homeland Security based on federal overreach through the misuse of the REAL ID law and voided environmental standards outlined in the California Environmental Quality Act. The lawsuits were filed by Arizona’s Center for Biological Diversity, three California based advocacy groups (The Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and Animal Legal Defense fund) and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. They were consolidated by Judge Curiel into one case. These groups cited at least twelve endangered species and the possible effects of separating ecosystems, traffic, construction and lights as potentially damaging factors that warranted study. After hours of arguments and requests for more information from both sides, Judge Curiel sided with the Trump Administration saying that it has not exceeded the authority outlined in the REAL ID law. Judge Curiel also noted that his decision did not address whether the underlying projects and plans “are politically wise or prudent.” Attorney General Becerra says the state will examine other options for moving forward.

Analysis

When Judge Curiel’s decision was released, Trump tweeted, “Big legal win today. U.S. judge sided with Trump Administration…” However, this is not the first time Trump has tweeted about Judge Curiel. In May 2016, Judge Curiel was presiding over the lawsuit against Trump University. In this case Trump called Curiel a “very bad judge,” “very hostile” and “happens to be, we believe, Mexican.” (Curiel was born and raised in Indiana.) Curiel has been a judge in a variety of high stakes drug cases, and his colleagues said he was unphased by Trump’s name calling. While it is an unfortunate set back for both environmental and pro-immigration groups, Curiel made his decision based on the adherence to the REAL ID law by the Trump Administration Department of Homeland Security. A similar suit was filed in 2008 and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

 

Engagement Resource

● Read Judge Curiel’s full decision
● Learn more about the Sierra Club’s Efforts to block the Border Wall

This brief was compiled by Megan Toney. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact megan@usresistnews.org.

EPA Announces Remedy for West Lake Landfill Superfund Site

EPA West Lake Landfill Superfund Site Press Release and Corrected Proposal
February 6, 2018

Summary

EPA Secretary Pruitt announced a proposed remedy for the West Lake Landfill in North Saint Louis County calling the site a top priority for the EPA. The project, named “Excavation Plus,” will remove most of the radioactive material that poses a public health threat and place a permanent cap and engineered cover system for long-term health and safety. “Excavation Plus” will take 5 years to complete and includes digging to a depth of 16 feet to remove the waste. This decision came after much public criticism of the EPA and local agencies on their apparent unwillingness to find a solution to a problem that has only become more alarming over time. Westlake was established as a solid waste landfill in the early 1970s before standards or permits were required for such entities. In 1973, Westlake became radiologically contaminated when uranium processing waste was dumped on site, but it was not declared a Superfund site until 1990 when radioactive materials were confirmed on both the surface of the landfill and areas below (7 to 12 feet or deeper). Even then it was deemed as only requiring “further monitoring.” In 2008, the EPA placed a cap on the landfill hoping to stave off the spread of the contamination and prevent fumes in the surrounding area. In December of 2010, officials discovered a smoldering underground fire about 1,000 feet from the nuclear waste site, and emergency plans were created in the event that this fire reached the radioactive waste. Residents were confused and alarmed by this news, as well as the accompanying increase in fumes and odors from the landfill. “Excavation Plus” is a long-awaited excavation to remedy public health threats and prevent further damage.

Analysis

The Westlake Landfill has long been a complicated site, but the introduction of the fire put a timetable on disaster. However, it is not as simple as removing waste or putting out a fire. Removing the waste is a costly and time-consuming process that may release a higher level of toxins into the air and groundwater, posing risks to workers and residents. In March of 2013, over two years after the discovery of the fire, the “area of high subsurface temperatures” was measured at a depth of up to 150 feet and over an area of hundreds of yards, inching closer to the radioactive waste location. This was the tipping point for many locals. Residents of the surrounding areas rallied together to support each other and protest inaction from the government on multiple levels. A fire break was built in response to a lawsuit filed in 2013. There was a push for a more long-term solution. Now 600 feet from the fire, the current plan will remove 70% of the waste at a depth of 16 feet. Residents are concerned that partial removal will not be enough, and the public comment period has been extended to address concerns.

Engagement Resources

This brief was compiled by Megan Toney. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief please contact megan@usresistnews.org.


 

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DOI Secretary Zinke Announces Offshore Oil Drilling Program [UPDATED]

Update: February 13, 2018

Both officials and residents of California have come out in droves to push back against Zinke’s draft of the Offshore Oil Drilling Program. Protests have spanned the length of California, involving thousands of people. The protest in Sacramento preceded a Federal “open house,” which many are calling a peace offering for the lack of public input on the program’s draft. California may have found other avenues to block the ruling and set the stage for other states to follow suit. The land commission has stated that it will not issue infrastructure permits, and the California Coastal Commission, which has the authority to review offshore oil and gas activities, has publically announced its opposition.


Draft Proposed National Outer Continental Shelf Oil & Gas Leasing Program
Announced by the Department of the Interior on January 4, 2018

Summary

In an announcement last week, DOI Secretary Zinke announced the Draft Proposal Program (DPP) of the National Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil & Gas Leasing for 2019-2024. This five-year lease schedule opens the largest number of lease sales in U.S. history. Where previously 94% of the OCS has been protected, this plan makes 90% of total acreage available for leasing and 98% of the undiscovered area available as well. (Undiscovered are areas where oil is assumed but has not been proven.) There are 47 sites proposed for auction in that 5-year time frame, with 19 off the Alaskan coast, 7 Pacific, 12 Gulf Coast and 9 Atlantic. Many of these areas have either never been available or have been banned for upwards of 30 years. Some areas are a direct repeal of an Obama Era ban enacted after the 2011 Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster, which killed 11 people and caused the worst spill in American history. But Zinke has already repealed the rig and drilling regulations that contributed to this disaster.

Secretary Zinke sites this DPP as a move toward “energy dominance,” rather than the existing “energy weakness.” In his announcement, he stated that the funds that would come from this drilling would help with conservation efforts and coast revitalization. According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), offshore oil drilling is responsible for 18% of domestic oil production, as well as thousands of jobs, and the expansion of this program would increase domestic energy efforts.

The road to DPP approval is a long one, with time for public comment, a Note of Intent and an Environmental Impact study and statement, in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act. And while many members of Congress showed support for the measure earlier in 2017, many others are openly opposing the DPP, opening it up for possible Congressional Review. There are also many at least 12 governors, attorney generals, and 64 environmental agencies in opposition and seeking legal action.

Analysis

A few months after opening national landmarks for commerce and drilling, Zinke has moved to make the OCS available as well. One leader in the industry made a familiar argument when he said that the land is “taxpayer owned and should be made available [to the people].” However, Zinke is already wavering. In a meeting with Florida Governor Scott that, to many, stinks of political favoritism, the Secretary announced that waters off the coast of Florida would be exempt from the DPP and the sites would not be made available for auction. Citing Governor Scott’s points for exemption, the California Attorney General said, “California is also ‘unique’ and our ‘coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.’ Our ‘local and state voice’ is firmly opposed to any offshore drilling. If that is your standard, then we too should be removed from your list. Immediately.”

Engagement Resources

This brief was compiled by Megan Toney. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief please contact megan@usresistnews.org.


 

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Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the “Waters of the United States” Rule [UPDATED]

Executive Order
Issued February 28, 2017

Update: January 31, 2018

Almost a year after the announcement of its review, the Trump administration has formally suspended the “Waters of the United States” Rule. This suspension paves the way for this Administration’s version of the pollution regulating rules. The original Obama rule was up for implementation, and the documents filed on January 31 suspend the rule for 2 years while EPA Director Scott Pruitt and President Trump craft a new rule with looser pollution restrictions. Lauded as a means of economic development, Pruitt’s draft is anticipated sometime in the Spring. The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) plans to contest this suspension in court.

This update was compiled by Megan Toney. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this update please contact megan@usresistnews.org.

Summary

The Trump administration released an Executive Order (EO) directing EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to review the Obama Administration’s “Clean Water Rule” and “publish for notice and comment a proposed rule rescinding or revising the rule.” The Clean Water Rule: Definition of ‘Waters of the United States’ helped define the extent of governmental protection of national waters under the Clean Water Act establishing the government’s authority to regulate pollution of a large swath of smaller streams, wetlands, and other water sources. Opponents of the rule argue that it harms economic growth and places undue burdens on farmers and other business interests. LEARN MORE

Analysis

While the EO has no legal significance of its own, it signals the president’s desire to dismantle the Clean Water Rule, and Scott Pruitt is expected to vigorously begin the process of rolling back regulations put in place by the Obama administration. Environmental groups and fishing organizations support the rule, which offers “clearer protection to upstream bodies of water that contribute to drinking supplies for one-third of the population.” They argue that you can’t protect major rivers and lakes from pollution unless you cover their sources upstream; the gray area that exists in absence of the rule would make it difficult to bring a case against companies dumping in smaller streams and waterways. Additionally, while the farming industry has argued that new regulations harm business interests, the EPA explicitly avoided overburdening farmers, and a systematic legal analysis revealed that the agencies jurisdiction with regards to agriculture is, if anything, more limited than under the previous framework. 

Engagement Resources

  • Natural Resources Defense Council – a non-profit international environmental advocacy group committed to fighting Trump’s “environmental assault” and providing individuals with avenues for taking action.
  • Sierra Club – the nation’s largest environmental preservation organization; recent focuses include green energy, mitigating global warming, and opposing coal.
  • Clean Water Action ­– an environmental advocacy group focused on canvassing and gaining support for political issues and candidates.
  • Environment America – a federation of liberal state-based environmental advocacy organizations throughout the US that researches and advocates for environmental policies.

This brief was compiled by Conor Downey. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this, brief please contact conor@usresistnews.org.


 

Nominations for the EPA, NOAA and Environmental Policy Advisor Positions [UPDATED]

Update: February 3, 2018

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 11-10 (primarily along party lines) to advance Andrew Wheeler’s nomination for Deputy Administrator to the full Senate for a vote. The vote is not scheduled at this time.

This update was compiled by Megan Toney. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this update please contact megan@usresistnews.org.


October 16, 2017

Summary

Over the last few weeks, Trump has submitted nominations for various environmental positions within the government. With these nominations, many are worried that the administration has the manpower it needs to roll back green energy initiatives and replace them with coal and fossil fuel programs. There have been four nominations for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) positions: Andrew Wheeler, coal lobbyist, for Deputy Administrator; Michael Dourson, toxicology and chemical researcher, for Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical  Safety and Pollution Prevention; Bill Wehrum, coal and oil lobbyist, for Office of Air and Radiation; and David Ross, a lawyer typically defending those who have violated EPA regulations, for Office of Water. Trump has also nominated Barry Meyers, CEO of AccuWeather, for Under Secretary of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Commerce and Kathleen Hartnett, Texas Environmental Regulator and author of “Fossil Fuels: The Moral Case,” for the White House Senior Advisor on Environmental Policy. Each of these nominees has rejected the idea of climate change science and many have a substantial stake in the arenas they have been sought out to regulate.

Even before these nominations, Secretary Pruitt met frequently with lobbyists and industry leaders in sectors like oil, coal, and toxicology, soliciting their input on potential regulations, while avoiding meetings with environmental groups. Funding for environmental justice investigations has decreased, and Pruitt has threatened to stop funding this sector of the Justice Department altogether. Environmental crime investigators have been reassigned to Pruitt’s 24-hour security detail, and climate change researchers have claimed they received desk assignments rather than instructions to continue their research. To top it all off, an investigation recently began on Pruitt’s spending on private and chartered flights and the $25K sound-proof phone booth in his office.

Analysis

Earlier this month, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works began the process of confirming these nominations with a series of hearings. While the current employers of these nominees are alarming unto themselves, their histories have only caused greater distress among environmental groups and the Democratic Party. Dourson, the nominee for Chemical Safety, founded an organization that produces research in support of decreased chemical regulation. The results of these studies not only tend to minimize the harmful effects of certain chemicals, but their funding sources are not fully disclosed. When asked about potential conflicts of interest, Dourson replied he did not see any present issue. Wheeler, the nominee for Deputy Administrator, is a registered lobbyist for Murray Energy, the largest coal mining organization in the US that filed multiple suits against the Obama Administration for regulations on their industry. Wheeler has worked for Senators in the past, in particular on pieces of Bush Era environmental legislation. Hartnett, the nominee for Senior Advisor, has claimed that carbon is harmless and her current position at a think tank in Texas is funded by major fossil fuel companies. Wehrum and Ross, nominees to Offices of Air and Water, also have long associations with anti-regulation groups and have previously worked as lawyers against the EPA and other environmental organizations. Meyers, Nominee to NOAA, is a businessman with little scientific experience with a history of support of privatization of weather information and restriction on the NOAA’s dissemination of data. With these nominations it is clear that the Trump Administration is looking to deregulate coal and fossil fuel industries, rolling back the Obama Era climate preservation standards and allowing for private sector domination. In the midst of these efforts, money is being spent on chartered flights, private phone booths, and protection details before it is used for environmental justice investigations and climate change research.

Engagement Resources

This brief was compiled by Megan Toney. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief please contact megan@usresistnews.org.


 

Scientists Sue EPA and DOI Advisory Board Members Quit

EPA Lawsuit filed on January 24, 2018
DOI Advisory Board Members resigned on January 16, 2018

Summary

Earlier this month, The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Protect Democracy sued EPA Secretary Pruitt for blocking scientists who receive EPA funding from being on advisory boards within the agency. Pruitt announced this unprecedented shift back in October 2017 without any window for public comment, citing a potential conflict of interest as the reason for the change. No further explanation has been given for why leaders in the scientific community cannot contribute their expertise to the EPA and its policies. The UCS says that this violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which sets guidelines for balanced government advisories that are untainted by the viewpoint of the appointing authority. Pruitt has filled these advisory board openings with industry-funded scientists instead, causing further alarm within the academic community.

Meanwhile, in the Department of the Interior, nine of the twelve National Parks System Advisory Board members resigned their posts as a means of protesting Secretary Zinke and the acts of the DOI. A tenth member submitted her resignation the following day. In the resignation letter, former board chair and former Governor of Alaska Tony Knowles said that Zinke had disregarded the legal partnership between the board and the department. In a later interview he said that Zinke had “stonewalled” their efforts to address pressing issues of climate change and environmental protections by refusing to meet with them. A recent report by the UCS reviewed the 73 advisory boards within six federal agencies and found that these boards met less in 2017 than any other year since 1997, when the government starting keeping records. Almost two-thirds of those boards have met less than their charter recommends.

Analysis

In their press release regarding the legal action, Protect Democracy called Pruitt’s move “an attack on science itself,” as well as an abuse of power. Since the EPA is one of the largest funders of environmental and public health research, scientists face a choice between public service and continuing important scientific research with this board overhaul, which could lead to some of the brightest scientific minds stepping down from EPA advising. One member called the advisory boards “one of the most effective ways for me to use my scientific expertise to promote public health,” but goes on to say that this directive necessitates a decision between his own work and serving the public. One plaintiff says the order goes further by “caus[ing] significant harm to the public interest” by replacing these scientists with those who work for the industries and companies that the EPA is designed to regulate. As a self-designated champion of national parks, Zinke has also shone a lack of desire for scientific input, largely relying on industry leaders for advice on national monument size and offshore oil regulation. Neither the EPA or the DOI responded immediately to the respective lawsuit and resignations. DOI Spokeswoman Heather Swift has since stated that the “boards have restarted” without any further explanation and Pruitt has maintained that he is committed the EPA’s scientific integrity.

Engagement Resources

This brief was compiled by Megan Toney. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief please contact megan@usresistnews.org.


 

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