Rhea Shu is president of the NRDC Action Fund.
For all the bewilderment and chaos of President Trump's first month in office, on one point he's been all too clear: He is dead set on destroying the commonsense safeguards we all depend on to protect our environment and health, crippling our government's ability to stand up to industrial polluters and shutting down the voice of the people in those actions that most impact our lives.
As early as this week, Trump is expected to escalate this assault with orders that could threaten our waters, public lands and hopes of leaving our children a livable world. He is reportedly poised to direct his administration to rewrite the Clean Power Plan (the single-most important tool we have for cutting the U.S. carbon pollution that's helping to drive climate change), rewrite the Clean Water Rule (putting at risk wetlands and streams that feed drinking water sources for 117 million Americans) and lift the moratorium on new coal leases on our public lands.
And let's be just as clear as to who'll pay the price for this reckless assault on our values and rights: our families, workers, communities and kids. That is not okay.
It's all according to a plan ripped straight out of the playbook of big oil, coal and gas. And, like so much else we've seen from this administration so far, it's built on the sand of state-sponsored deceit.
Trump claims it's about jobs. It's not. It's about profits for some of the worst polluters on the planet. He says this will strengthen our economy. It won't. Shifting to cleaner, smarter ways to power our future is the economic play of our lifetime. Trump wants to slam us into reverse and squander our future on the dirty fuels of the past.
And he boasts this will "make America great again." But taking us back to the days when rivers caught fire, beaches were blackened with toxic crude oil and air pollution darkened our skies is not great.
Less than five weeks after taking office, Trump and his Republican allies in Congress have rushed to set back progress achieved through decades of bipartisan cooperation on clean water and air, the protection of our public lands and coastal waters and our obligation to protect future generations from the dangers of climate change.
Trump has killed rules to protect coal communities and mountain streams from the ravages of mountaintop removal. He's swept aside the voice of the Standing Rock Sioux and vowed to force the Dakota Access Pipeline across their water sources and sacred lands. And he's put a career opponent of environmental protections in charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Former Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt has sided with industrial polluters to take the EPA to court 14 times to try to block the agency from doing its job of protecting the public from polluted air and water and the perils of unchecked climate change.
Pruitt has turned to oil and gas producers to write letters critical of EPA policy that he has then posted, almost verbatim, on official stationery of the Oklahoma office of attorney general. He's accepted more than $300,000 in direct political contributions from oil and gas companies and organized the collection of millions more from the industry on behalf of conservative causes and candidates. Just last week, an Oklahoma court ordered Pruitt to release up to 3,000 e-mail exchanges he had with fossil fuel and other industrial interests.
Those e-mails will tell us, in Pruitt's own words, just how ready he is to regulate these polluting industries as head of the EPA. That information goes directly to Pruitt's fitness to serve and that''s precisely what the Senate has a constitutional duty to assess. That's what checks and balances are all about.
And yet, on Feb. 17, rather than wait a few days for those e-mails, Senate Republicans, joined by two Democrats from coal-mining states, forced a 52–46 vote to confirm Pruitt. Among Republicans, only Susan Collins of Maine showed the courage to stand up for the people of her state and vote to reject Pruitt, the worst pick ever confirmed to head the EPA.
True to form, shortly after being sworn into office, Pruitt tweeted out his mission statement: "I'm dedicated to working w/stakeholders—industry, farmers, ranchers, business owners—on traditional values of environmental stewardship."
In so many ways, that says it all. Pruitt is there to serve special interests, not to do the job President Richard Nixon first assigned the EPA nearly five decades ago: Defend the natural resources upon which our prosperity, our security and our very lives depend.
What does Pruitt's tweet say, though, to that family in coal country, watching ancient Appalachian streams buried by tons of toxic scree when mountains get dynamited to rubble? What does it say to that waterman in the Chesapeake Bay, where Pruitt fought EPA cleanup efforts meant to save dying crabs, oysters and fish? What does it say to that child struggling with asthma, that senior citizen plagued with respiratory ailments or that expectant mom worried about mercury harming her unborn baby—all real problems addressed by EPA rules Pruitt went to court to try and overturn? And what does it say to our children and grandchildren when they ask why we failed to stand up to the mounting dangers of climate change?
The EPA is our environmental guardian. We need that guardian to be strong. We need it to stand up to industrial polluters and fight for the good of our people.
This story, though, is just being written. It's the beginning, not the end. We still hold, in this country, more political power in the palm of our hand than any other people in any other place at any other time in the history of the world.
We will not abide this reckless assault. We will not lie quiet and calm. We'll embrace our political power. We'll rise as one and resist. We'll gather in numbers, both large and small and, from our living rooms and kitchen tables to the halls of Congress and the National Mall, we'll sound the voice of a united people standing up for a healthy environment, standing up for our values and rights, standing up for our common future.
Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Before Inauguration Day, the Trump era has opened with an extremist agenda that poses an alarming threat to our people, our environment and the core values we share about justice, fair play and our commitment to leave future generations a livable world. Already, we've seen a set of cabinet nominees dominated by fossil fuel advocates, billionaires and bankers; a president-elect who says "nobody really knows" what's happening to our climate; and a full-on witch hunt for the experts who know the truth.
This is not normal. It's the most radical approach to American governance we've seen in our lifetime. Whatever we voted on in November, nobody voted for dirty water and air. Nobody voted to walk away from climate leadership and millions of clean energy jobs. And nobody voted to hand over our country to a pollute-ocracy that puts polluter profits first—and puts the rest of us at risk.
The following list addresses some, but not all, programs, policies and initiatives the Trump administration and GOP lawmakers have targeted. This could become the worst legislative and executive assault in history against the common sense safeguards we all depend on to protect our environment and health. At risk is the water we drink, the air we breathe, our public oceans, coasts and lands and the very approach we've taken for generations in this country to protect our common inheritance.
At the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), we will stand up and hold this government to account, by making sure the public understands what's at stake—for our country, our people and the common future we share.
Climate and Energy
The Clean Power Plan: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set the first national standards reducing dangerous carbon pollution from our largest source, fossil fuel power plants. The Clean Power Plan provides reasonable state-specific goals for carbon cuts, flexibility for states to meet them and a federal plan that will cut a key driver of climate change 32 percent by 2030 and stimulate growth in clean energy. More here and here.
International Climate Agreement: The Paris climate agreement signed by nearly 200 nations and effective as of Nov. 4, 2016 is a global response to the threat of climate change. It aims to hold global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. More here and here.
HFC International Commitments: In October 2016, more than 140 countries signed onto the Kigali Agreement, which calls for phasing down powerful climate-warming pollutants called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montreal Protocol, the treaty that saved the ozone layer. Industry supports the agreement. More here.
Reducing Methane Pollution and Natural Gas Waste in the Oil and Natural Gas Industry (BLM & EPA): These standards will reduce methane, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and toxic air emissions from fracking and other oil and gas operations. Leaks and purposeful venting waste gas that could be sold and used while threatening health and worsening climate change. More here and here.
Restrictions on public financing for overseas coal projects: The Obama administration restricted U.S. funding for overseas coal power plants to limit climate change. This affects the Export Import Bank and other entities. More here.
Assessing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Climate Impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act (CEQ): The White House Council on Environmental Quality issued guidance to federal agencies on analyzing the climate impacts of their proposed actions before deciding on how to proceed. More here.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump released an economic agenda Thursday that would eliminate safeguards for America's air, land, waters and food supply; open public lands to damaging oil and gas development; and worsen the impacts of climate change.
Trump photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Trump went on the attack against clean air, safe water and food, and a livable future for our kids. His plan to make America dirty again reads like a polluter wish list. It would set us back a generation, taking a toll we can't afford on our air, climate, waters and even the meals we feed to our families.
Here's a reality check:
- The clean water rule provides needed safeguards to protect the sources of clean drinking water for one in every three Americans.
- Food safety standards help fight food contamination that threatens peoples' lives.
- Cutting smog pollution will save us billions of dollars each year by reducing the number of Americans forced out of work and into the emergency rooms with asthma attacks and other respiratory ailments that smog makes worse.
- Cleaning up the dirty power plants that account for 40 percent of our carbon footprint is essential to stave off the worse impacts of rising seas, widening deserts, soaring temperatures, raging wildfires and floods and storms.
Florida's algae problem is the latest reminder that we must act now to protect our waters and combat climate change.
It's as thick as guacamole, but you don't want it near your chips. You don't want it in your water, either, but that's exactly where it is, a sprawling mat of toxic algae the size of Miami, spreading out across Florida's storied Lake Okeechobee and from there along major rivers to the state's Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.
Lake Okeechobee's blue-green algae bloom is visible from space.National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Fish are dying. Beaches are closing. People are getting sick.
"The smell is so bad it will make you gag," Mary Radabaugh told officials at a town hall meeting last week near Palm Beach. "We have red eyes and scratchy throats."
Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in affected areas and is pleading with Washington for assistance to cope with widespread threats to the environment and public health.
"South Florida is facing a crisis," Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL, wrote in a letter July 6 to U.S. Senate leaders. "Beaches and waterways that would normally have been crowded this past Fourth of July weekend were empty as families and vacationers heeded warnings to avoid the toxic blue-green and brown algae blooms that have formed along the waterways and even out into the Atlantic Ocean."
The algae blooms that have thrown the Sunshine State into crisis are telling us three things. First, we need to protect our waters from the pollution that breeds these toxic blooms. Next, we need to fight the climate change that brings warmer temperatures that amp up algae growth. And finally, we need to demand real action on both fronts from our elected leaders at every level.
Algae blooms are a national problem. In recent years, we've seen them in water bodies as large as Lake Erie. There are a perennial problem near the mouth of the Mississippi River, where algae blooms strip oxygen from the water, creating a dead zone that threatens shrimp, fish, crabs and other marine life across a span of ocean the size of Connecticut in the rich fisheries of the Gulf of Mexico. They're a growing threat to our environment and health.
The immediate cause of the blooms can vary, but the common basics are these: Rains wash pollution from farms, septic tanks and other sources into our waters—from small streams and wetlands to great rivers and lakes—and municipal sewage systems add waste to these waters. These pollutants then supercharge the waters with nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. That feeds a population explosion for algae that feast on these nutrients. Warmer temperatures accelerate the growth.
Algae blooms, though, are toxic. Cyanobacteria is what scientists call them and they can cause skin and respiratory ailments as well as gastrointestinal and liver illness. In large doses, they can even threaten the nervous system. Humans can be affected by coming in direct contact with the algae; swallowing water at the lake, river or ocean; or even breathing water spray in which algae are growing.
These toxins threaten marine life, birds and other wildlife as well. In addition, when algae die they decay, a process that robs water of oxygen, which can cause mass fish kills. Finally, a mat of algae like the one covering much of Lake Okeechobee starves underwater plant life of needed sunlight, in turn denying food to fish and other species dependent on those plants.
The fix is to set commonsense limits that keep pollution out of our waters and then to enforce those limits. That means requiring cities and towns to do a better job treating sewage and keeping it from entering the watershed after heavy rains. It means stopping large, concentrated animal feeding operations from dumping massive amounts of waste into our waters. It means applying standards to prevent industrial agricultural operations from polluting our waters with fertilizer that runs off their fields. And it means fighting the climate change that is warming our waters, helping to turn modest seasonal algae growth into crisis-level blooms.
We just wrapped up the hottest June ever recorded in the contiguous U.S.—a blistering 3.3 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average. Last year was the hottest year globally since record keeping began in 1880 and this year's first five months have been even hotter. Nineteen of the hottest years on record have occurred in the past 20 years.
Turning this around means shifting away from the dirty fossil fuels that are driving global climate change and investing in cleaner, smarter ways to power our future without imperiling the planet. The algae blooms in Florida are a reminder of how much this matters and how urgently we must act.
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