By Glynn Wilson –
President Trump needs a new slogan. Instead of declaring that he wants to “make America great again,” if he was an honest man he would say instead: “Let’s make America more like Alabama.” That’s what’s going on as his administration guts the Environmental Protection Agency.
If it was possible to break through the shipwreck of misinformation, shock and awe, fire and fury and fake news that floods the news airwaves and Twitter these days and show people one credible, objective news story that will impact our future perhaps more than any other, this would be it.
While everyone’s attention is being diverted by a sensational little story about a spurious memo in the war between the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress against the FBI — and liberals, progressives and democrats everywhere are waiting around for special counsel Robert Mueller to issue a report in Russian meddling in the 2016 election they think will lead to the downfall of Trump — there is another story barely being covered at all in Washington that should be leading the news everywhere. It should be inspiring millions of protesters to descend on Washington, surround the White House, and demand Trump’s resignation.
This story demonstrates the problem with our information system like no other. Talk about alt-facts and a threat to the future of the planet, just take a look at the testimony of Scott Pruitt, Trump’s cabinet pick to head the EPA, before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee this week.
This is too long and boring for many readers to take the time to follow, but maybe you can take my word for it and keep reading below. I watched the entire thing on Thursday while working on this story. I am not going to summarize what he said at the hearing in-depth. If you have time and the inclination you can watch it for yourself. But I am going to report the critical facts about what’s really going on inside the Trump administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.
It would be easier to get people to understand this story if Trump and Pruitt would just come out and say what they really believe and be honest with the American people about what they are doing to slant U.S. government policy toward big business in a way that will destroy the environment. But Pruitt is so dishonest he literally testified under oath before Congress that what he is doing is actually good for the environment and for creating jobs.
What is a news outlet to do with this story when they are operating under a capitalist, economic definition of objectivity rather than a scientific one, where even Facebook is trying to figure out a way to reward “fair and balanced” coverage of “both sides” of all issues? [See more on my views about this here].
This story clearly demonstrates that Trump is not making American great again. Apparently he is dead set on destroying not just this country, but the world. He is certainly doing the opposite of what he is saying. George Orwell called this “double speak” in his book 1984.
Trump did not appoint this evil little hypocrite Scott Pruitt to “lead” a federal agency. He appointed him to destroy it from within. And that’s exactly what he’s doing.
Here are the relevant facts.
In the days leading up to this hearing, a few Senate Democrats held an unofficial hearing (which is not shown in a C-SPAN video) trying to gather information in preparation for Pruitt’s appearance on Capitol Hill. Senators had been trying for months to get Pruitt to show up and testify. But he was too busy flying overseas at taxpayer expense promoting U.S. coal and natural gas abroad and personally overseeing the deletion of all information about climate change and global warming from EPA’s website.
Led by Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Climate Action Task Force, the unofficial panel questioned three former EPA employees about what the lawmakers see as willful neglect, staff intimidation and a lack of regulatory enforcement under President Trump’s EPA. They asked witnesses for examples of wrongdoing at the agency that they could use to question Pruitt.
According to information I am being provided in email messages, they heard testimony from Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Mustafa Santiago Ali, former EPA assistant associate administrator for environmental justice, and Mike Walker, former director of EPA’s National Enforcement Training Institute. Tom Ripp, EPA employee from 1990 to 2017, submitted written testimony.
“We’re just trying to make public what is going on at the EPA,” Markey said after the meeting. “They are turning EPA into ‘Every Polluter’s Ally.’ They are systematically undermining generations of support for environmental enforcement.”
Furthermore, Markey said, the agency has gone from being a “watchdog” on the environment “to a lap dog on enforcement.”
What came to light in this unofficial hearing would shock the American people if they were to be told about it in the right way by every news outlet in the land. Instead this story is being buried where it is being covered at all.
Anyone concerned about the health of the natural environment and the future of the planet, whether they tend to vote for Democrats, Republicans or independents, should find it shocking that more than 700 employees have been fired or forced to resign at EPA, including more than 200 scientists. Trump’s radical tea party base may cheer at this news, but they do so not even realizing the threat to their own family’s health.
While industry already had an undue influence on writing regulations that attempt to limit and control the levels of air pollution and water pollution Americans are exposed to, under the Trump administration, polluting industries will totally control these levels and write standards to meet their output goals, not the goals of health advocates.
The EPA Criminal Investigation Division’s staff is at a 30-year low, Ruch testified. And the number of enforcement cases has decreased by one-third.
Ruch also criticized Pruitt’s long-term strategic plan, which doesn’t refer to climate change but endorses something called “cooperative federalism,” setting a broad goal of rebalancing “the power between Washington and the states to create tangible environmental results for the American people.”
Ruch said this amounts to the federal government renouncing oversight of state programs, which lack the funding, the expertise or the political will in many states, such as Alabama, to actually stand up to the power of industry and inspect plants and enforce state or federal regulations as they exist now.
“The problem at EPA right now is there is a chilling effect on enforcement,” Walker testified.
BP Oil Spill
As we all saw back during the BP Gulf Oil disaster of 2010, and the courts reaffirmed in its aftermath, the lack of federal enforcement of existing regulations backed up by on the ground inspections allowed the British oil company to push deeper into the Gulf of Mexico for more oil in a way that endangered lives and led to massive environmental destruction.
While the Obama administration learned from that experience and worked to toughen up the standards, the Trump administration is going backwards into deregulation mode in a way that far surpasses even what the administration of George W. Bush did to placate industry.
Pruitt has come under fire by environmentalists for leading an agency he actively tried to undermine as Oklahoma’s attorney general. He is known be a climate change denier who has close ties to the fossil fuel industry. He has sued the EPA more than a dozen times to try and stop enforcement of clear air and water laws and regulations.
Under his watch and at Trump’s request, the words climate” and “climate change” have been removed across EPA websites. Pruitt has also issued rules that block anyone who receives an EPA grant from serving on science panels.
A series of emails obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests by the Environmental Defense Fund and released this week prove that Pruitt not only ordered the information on climate change deleted from the agency’s website at the behest of Trump, he was personally involved in choosing and monitoring what information to delete, especially anything having to do with the Obama administration’s push to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, which scientists say is the number one contributor to climate change due to global warming.
John Konkus, a former Republican campaign operative hired as EPA’s deputy associate administrator for Public Affairs, sent an email to EPA staffers on Saturday night, April 1.
“We need to start building an updated page for the clean power plan ASAP with the goal of having it go live sometime on Monday,” Konkus wrote. “Is there any way we can get a little time put in on this project over the weekend so that we’re off on the right foot on Monday morning?”
Four days before the email, Trump had signed an executive order that included a directive to start the process of rescinding the Clean Power Plan and other environmental regulations that “potentially burden” the domestic production of oil, gas and coal. At the same time he was taking steps to get rid of tax incentives for alternative, clean energy sources such as windmills and solar panels, measures that ended up in the tax bill rammed through Congress in December.
According to the emails, the message from Konkus’ triggered a flurry of emails over the following days about extensive changes to the agency’s web site, including some edits ordered directly by Pruitt. Empowered by Trump’s priorities and Pruitt’s new power, the new staff began stripping away data about climate change and modifying search results for “Clean Power Plan” to feature a page showing Trump’s executive order with a photo of Trump, Pruitt and other members of his cabinet smiling with a group of coal miners (see above).
If that doesn’t piss you off, what will?
While the formal repeal of the Clean Power Plan began in October, Trump also announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, making the the U.S. the only nation in the world that is no longer committed to reducing carbon emissions under the landmark international agreement.
“How close are we to launching this on the website?” Lincoln Ferguson, an EPA senior adviser for public affairs who previously served as Pruitt’s spokesman in Oklahoma, said in an email on April 5. “The Administrator would like it to go up ASAP. He also has several other changes that need to take place.”
“You can tell him we have already mocked it up, and are just finishing up. Should happen this week,” replied J.P. Freire, then EPA’s associate administrator for public affairs and a former GOP congressional staffer.
“Just asking because he is asking …,” Ferguson emailed back. He being Pruitt.
In other information about what’s going at EPA sent to me by email, most of the lost positions at EPA will not be replaced, leaving the agency depleted of vital knowledge about protecting the environment and public health.
“There has been a drop of employees of 770 between April and December,” says Kyla Bennett, director of New England Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “While several hundred of those are buyouts, the rest of those are either people that are retiring or quitting in disgust.”
The EPA had employed about 15,000 people at the end of President Obama’s second term. President Trump has proposed a drastic 31 percent cut to the EPA’s budget — the largest cut to any federal agency. In June, the EPA unveiled a buyout program in an overall effort to remove 3,200 positions from the EPA, roughly 20 percent of its workforce.
“Rolling back enforcement is very troubling — it essentially means that people are going to breathe dirtier air and drink dirtier water,” Judith Enck, who served as Regional Director for EPA Region 2 during the Obama administration, says.
Pruitt, on the other hand, said in a cynical, hypocritical statement about the staff reduction program: “We’re proud to report that we’re reducing the size of government, protecting taxpayer dollars and staying true to our core mission of protecting the environment and American jobs.”
In the hearing where Pruitt showed up to testify, he denied being in a war against climate change on behalf of industry, and tried to tout his pro-environment record by changing the subject to lead in drinking water and his new priorities on the Superfund cleanup program.
But according to information presented in the informal Senate hearing by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, while Pruitt claims his Superfund Task Force developed a detailed plan to revamp the program, they did so without any preliminary or briefing paperwork. The agency failed to produce any of the requested material in response to a FOIA lawsuit in federal district court.
“Pruitt’s plan for cleaning up toxic sites was apparently immaculately conceived, without the usual trappings of human parentage,” Ruch said. “Over approximately one month, this Task Force produced a set of 42 recommendations with no identifiable antecedent or a single supporting document. It stretches credulity that 107 EPA staff members with no agenda or reference materials somehow wrote an intricate plan in 30 days.”
Emails from Pruitt’s time as Oklahoma Attorney General obtained through a public records lawsuit document his penchant for coordinating with industry, incorporating corporate “white papers,” and even using industry language in his petitions and legal filings. As EPA Administrator, Pruitt has continued this pattern of taking direction from industries that his agency is supposed to regulate.
“Given the Pruitt playbook, it is not surprising that his Task Force recommendations focus on maximizing real estate value and ignore public health concerns,” Ruch said. “A suspicious mind would say this report was written by industry and simply passed off to Pruitt’s people who merely added the EPA logo.”
It does not take a suspicious mind in Alabama. It only takes some basic reporting and an objective mind. I have been covering the environment here since the 1980s, and that’s the way it’s always been done at the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, an agency created by former Governor Fob James as a “one stop permitting agency” for polluting industries.
This story confirms the Alabamafication of the United States, and not in a good way.
If this does not piss you off enough to inspire a demonstration to surround the White House and demand that Trump resign, I don’t know what will. Waiting on Mueller may be too little too late. That’s my objective analysis anyway. Share it on Facebook, or ignore it at your peril.
© 2018, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.