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A Bipartisan Group of Former EPA Heads Say the Agency Must Return to Its Mission
Former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) leaders from four different administrations testified before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee Tuesday, and all agreed on one thing: They don't like what the Trump administration has done with the place.
Officials who had led the EPA under Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush and Barack Obama urged Congress to use its authority to make sure the agency was doing its job of protecting the nation's environment and public health.
"EPA's success is measured in human lives," Gina McCarthy, who led the agency during the later years of the Obama administration, said, as Grist reported. "I find it disconcerting because this collection of past EPA Administrators feel obligated to testify together and individually to make the case that what is happening at EPA today is simply put, not normal and to solicit your help to get it on a more productive path."
The former administrators expressed concerns about the current leadership's regulatory rollbacks and disregard of science, arguing it was now prioritizing the needs of industry over human and environmental health.
The EPA, now led by former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, has sought to roll back Obama-era greenhouse gas regulations such as the Clean Power Plan and enhanced vehicle fuel efficiency standards. The testimony comes about two weeks after a New York Times story uncovered that the EPA might change how it conducts the next National Climate Assessment to rule out worst case scenario climate change predictions. It comes three weeks after the Times further reported the EPA might change how it calculates the risks posed by particulate matter air pollution in order to make its Clean Power Plan replacement seem less deadly.
McCarthy noted that, under Trump, the agency touted regulations based on how much they would save manufacturers, not how they would protect air, water and health.
Christine Todd Whitman, who led the agency under George W. Bush, agreed, as CNN reported. She raised an American Journal of Public Health study that found the current administration "has explicitly sought to reorient the EPA toward industrial and industry-friendly interest, often with little or no acknowledgment of the agency's health and environmental missions."
"This unprecedented attack on science-based regulations designed to protect the environment and public health represents the gravest threat to the effectiveness of the EPA—and to the federal government's overall ability to do the same—in the nation's history," Whitman said.
Her fellow Republicans also criticized the EPA's new approach to scientific research.
"Does the agency have adequate resources with the strong scientific capability it needs?" Lee Thomas, who led the EPA under Reagan, asked, as CNN reported. "Is it seeking input from key scientific advisory committees? Is it coordinating actively with the broad scientific community on research surrounding environmental issues? I don't think they do."
The bi-partisan support for a strong EPA that tackles the climate crisis was notable. In a pre-testimony interview with ABC News, three of the former Republican administrators shared their concerns about the agency's new direction.
Whitman said the agency was beginning to "backslide" on gains made in ensuring cleaner air and water.
William Reilly, who headed the agency under George H. W. Bush, said the EPA needed to act on climate.
"If we continue business as usual, it's catastrophic," Reilly told ABC News. "We're the number two emitter in the world after China."
The EPA did not return requests for comment from Grist or CNN, but Wheeler defended its work in a press release earlier this year.
"The Trump Administration has continued to deliver on its promise to provide greater regulatory certainty while protecting public health and the environment," he said, as Grist reported.
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By Tracy L. Barnett
Sources reviewed this article for accuracy.
For Sicangu Lakota water protector Cheryl Angel, Standing Rock helped her define what she stands against: an economy rooted in extraction of resources and exploitation of people and planet. It wasn't until she'd had some distance that the vision of what she stands for came into focus.
Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.