Outgoing Senate Approves at Least 4 Trump Environmental Nominees in Last-Minute Session
In an eleventh-hour move, the outgoing session of the Senate voted on Thursday to approve at least four of President Donald Trump's nominees to posts impacting the nation's environment, The Huffington Post reported.
The four nominees will step in to long-empty posts. They are just some of the 60 positions the Senate rushed to fill in the last hours of the 115th session of Congress so that the President would not have to restart the nomination process after the 116th Congress was sworn in. Here are the four newest Trump appointees who could help or harm the environment.
1. William Charles "Chad" McIntosh, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of International and Tribal Affairs
The Office of International and Tribal Affairs handles the EPA's relationship with foreign countries and Native American tribes, The Hill explained. The EPA was criticized by Democrats for hiring McIntosh to an advisory position before his nomination was confirmed. Now that it has been, he will replace career employee Jane Nishida, who has led the office on an interim basis since Trump took office.
Environmentalists have raised concerns about McIntosh because of his record, The Huffington Post reported. For 19 years, he was in charge of environmental compliance and policy at Ford, and, during that time, the company allowed degreasing chemicals at a plant in Livonia, Michigan to spill and break down into the carcinogenic vinyl chloride, which contaminated local groundwater.
"You can't ignore these kinds of toxic chemicals in such an enormous quantity on your property, so whoever was in charge of the environmental state of affairs at this plant did not do his job," Shawn Collins, an attorney representing homeowners whose groundwater was polluted, told The Huffington Post. "That's McIntosh."
2. Alexandra Dunn, EPA Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention
Dunn will be in charge of the EPA's chemical office, including implementation of the revised Toxic Substances Control Act, Environmental Working Group (EWG) reported. Dunn is seen by environmentalists as a better choice than previous nominee Michael Dourson, a chemical industry consultant had to drop out of the running after both Democrats and Republicans raised objections.
In contrast, Dunn earned "respect for protecting the environment" during her tenure as EPA's regional administrator for New England, according to a Boston Globe profile quoted by The Huffington Post.
"We're hopeful that Alex Dunn will fulfill her commitments to implement our toxic chemicals laws as Congress intended – and not as former industry lobbyists like [Deputy Assistant Administrator] Nancy Beck are pushing for," EWG Senior VP for Government Affairs Scott Faber said in a statement. "Americans should be confident that everyday products are not being made with chemicals linked to cancer. To meet those expectations, Alex Dunn will have to clean up the mess created by her predecessors."
3. Daniel Simmons, Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
Simmons is a former fossil fuel lobbyist and climate denier who once worked for an organization that called for the office he will now run to be eradicated. He was vice president of policy at the Institute for Energy Research, a coal-and-oil-funded think tank, and for the organization's lobbying branch, the American Energy Alliance, which is the branch that called for the abolition of the renewable energy office.
At the Institute for Energy Research, which argues against renewable energy subsidies, Simmons made misleading statements about the cost of wind and solar, PV Magazine reported. However, since his nomination he has changed his tune and said he "likes" zero carbon energy sources, Huffington Post reported.
4. Mary Neumayr, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality
The Council on Environmental Quality is responsible for implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to coordinate reviews of the impacts of federal projects on the environment and work with the White House on environmental initiatives, Bloomberg Environment reported. Neumayr is less controversial than Trump's first pick to head the office, climate denier Kathleen Hartnett White.
"I agree the climate is changing and human activity has a role," Neumayr told the Senate during her confirmation hearing, The Huffington Post reported.
However, sources close to her say she approves of Trump's deregulatory agenda. And she would have the chance to participate, given that the administration has asked the council to make the NEMA process cheaper and faster as part of its infrastructure plan. Neumayr has had a long career working for the government, including an eight-year stint as the chief counsel on energy and environmental issues for the Republican House. Before her confirmation, she had been serving as the council's chief of staff.
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The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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