3 Ways Andrew Wheeler Can Help Restore the EPA’s Dignity and Mission
By Jeff Turrentine
Plenty has been written in the past week about Andrew Wheeler, who has taken over as interim U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator after Scott Pruitt's abrupt yet way overdue resignation. (Some of us were even writing about Wheeler months ago!)
Most of the articles about Wheeler have focused on his past as a lobbyist for the coal industry and as a staffer for Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, the most notorious climate denier in Congress. And none of them evinces any hope that the EPA is suddenly going to reverse course under Wheeler and return to its pre-Pruitt public-interest roots. If anything, the collective subtext of the media coverage seems to be that Wheeler—from a day-to-day administrative standpoint—will simply be Scott Pruitt minus all the jaw-dropping corruption and equally stunning incompetence.
Nevertheless, Wheeler, to his credit, does seem interested in differentiating himself from his predecessor and former boss. In a recent interview with the Washington Post, he struck a moderate, even conciliatory, tone with regard to transparency and staff relations—two areas that proved to be sticking points (to put it very mildly) for Pruitt, whose tenure was characterized by paranoia and employee demoralization. And earlier this week, Wheeler made a point of letting the EPA's staff know that he believed in their work and that they had his full support in carrying out the agency's "vital mission of protecting human health and the environment."
In truth, America is still so traumatized by Pruitt's string of assaults on human health, the environment and common decency that we really do want to believe Wheeler when he says (or at least implies) that he's going to be a very different kind of EPA chief. With that in mind, I'd like to extend to him the benefit of the doubt ... for a little while, at least.
So: Mr. Wheeler, if you truly want to distinguish yourself from the ignominious example of Scott Pruitt, here are three things you can do right now to instill faith in a public that wants to see you—and, by extension, the EPA—succeed.
1. Forcefully Acknowledge the Reality—and Human Cause—of Climate Change.
In your interview with the Washington Post, you went there ... or halfway there. "I do believe climate change is real," you said. "I do believe that people have an impact on the climate." Unfortunately, you then went on to equivocate by suggesting, ridiculously, that fighting climate change by limiting carbon pollution—as the Clean Power Plan does—may not actually fall under the EPA's purview; as a result, you immediately lost credibility on the issue. You situated yourself on the opposite side of the mayors, states' attorneys general, senators, business leaders, and (literally) millions upon millions of citizens who have urged this administration to reinstate the plan, which represents our country's best shot for tackling emissions in a significant way.
You can restore some of that credibility, however. In your first major press conference, reiterate your stated belief that climate change is real and that our emissions are the root cause of it. But go one step further by acknowledging, publicly, that we have to immediately resume working with the global community to fight it. So far, you seem pretty good at implying things. If you can't yet bring yourself to declare outright that President Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement was a disastrous mistake, then at least imply it somehow. We'll all be watching and listening closely; we'll get your drift.
2. Play Down Your Past Coal Connections; Play Up the Potential of Renewables.
Much has been made—and rightfully so—of your work as a lobbyist for the coal industry. Addressing the topic earlier this week, though, you almost appeared a little sheepish about it, emphasizing that much of the work was actually related to helping coal miners obtain better health care, benefits and pensions. (And look, I totally get it. If I had ever lobbied for the coal industry, I wouldn't want to draw attention to the whole dirty, coal-burning, climate-destroying part of it either!)
So here's your chance to reframe that chapter of your life. Every time you get asked an embarrassing question about your connections to the coal industry, answer by saying: "Yes, it's true—I used to work for Big Coal. But that was in the past. Now I'm the administrator of the EPA, and as such it's my job to find ways of reducing pollution from our energy sources. That's why I'm so excited about the incredible progress being made by wind and solar all across the country. Investment is way up; scalability is getting closer every day; and—most important—in states like California, where renewables are strong, emissions are falling dramatically. You can ask me about my coal lobbying past, if you want, and I'll answer you forthrightly. But I'd much rather talk about the renewable energy future." See? The script practically writes itself!
3. Don't Hide Yourself—or What You're Doing—From the American People.
Scott Pruitt, in the end, was never interested in being a public servant. That's why he so assiduously avoided the public (except when he had no choice).
If you decide that you want to take seriously this aspect of your new role—and there are early signs that you do, based on your recent words, actions, and interviews with real journalists—then never, ever forget that you don't work for just one man. And you certainly don't work for a consortium of oil and gas interests, or for the coal industry. You work for us. So make sure to put us, and our health, and our environment first—and then let us know what you're doing, by always being completely honest and transparent.
Would doing any, or even all, of these three things make up for the damage that your old boss has done? No, absolutely not. But were you to signal your willingness to move away from his horrid example in this manner, you'd at least be off to a hopeful start. And then maybe you could get going on rolling back some of the EPA's recent rollbacks. We, the people (aka your new boss), have a few in mind.
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
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Anger, anxiety, overwhelm … climate change can evoke intense feelings.
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