Apr. 14, 2017 11:32AM EST
The House Science Committee will hear testimony March 29 that will question whether climate change is a human induced phenomenon. The hearing, Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications and the Scientific Method, is a just another prong in the current effort to undo the environmental progress made during the Obama years.
It coincides with the efforts of the Trump administration, which has proposed to strip the federal budget of any monies that would be targeted to cutting carbon dioxide emissions. To that end, the president has signed executive orders to weaken Obama's Clean Power Plan, which would cut CO2 emissions by 32 percent by 2030, and eliminate rules to cut methane emissions from natural gas drilling.
By Alexandra Rosenmann
American astrophysicist, celebrated author and director of the Hayden Planetarium at New York's Natural History Museum, Neil deGrasse Tyson, joined Stephen Colbert on Tuesday night. DeGrasse Tyson weighed in on claims made by Trump's new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head.
"It's a greenhouse gas," deGrasse Tyson answered.
"People just talk," he continued. "I can't chase what people say because it flutters with the breeze."
DeGrasse Tyson warned that if Pruitt "puts down some legislation that requires that everyone [must go along with his beliefs], oh! Oh, my God! Hold me back!" he exclaimed.
"I'll hold you back," Colbert offered. "He's going to blow," he told the audience. "He's a crystal geyser!"
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.
The Trump administration filed a motion Tuesday seeking an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on a federal judge's Nov. 10, 2016 order in Juliana v. United States. The Trump administration also filed a motion to delay trial preparation until after its appeal is considered.
Further, the Trump administration asked for expedited review of both motions, arguing the plaintiffs' Jan. 24 letter requesting the government to retain records relating to climate change and communications between the government and the fossil fuel industry was overly burdensome. The excerpt from the government's stay motion said:
"Plaintiffs … intend to seek discovery relating to virtually all of the federal government's activities relating to control of CO2 emissions ... Compounding the United States' burdens, Plaintiffs have indicated that their intended discovery has a temporal scope of more than sixty years ... Absent relief, there will most certainly be depositions of federal government fact witnesses ... that will explore the extraordinarily broad topic of climate change and the federal government's putative knowledge over the past seven decades."
Yet, in another complex case regarding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and BP, the U.S. produced more than 17 million pages of documents from April to September of 2011. Plaintiffs maintain that their requests are limited, reasonable and aimed at getting to trial this fall.
Appeals typically do not occur until a trial court has issued final rulings following the presentation of evidence, but the Trump administration is asking federal Magistrate Judge Coffin to exercise his discretion to allow the case to proceed to the Court of Appeals before final judgment.
Attorneys representing fossil fuel industry defendants are expected to file papers supporting the government's motions on Friday.
"The Trump administration argues that this is a big case and so the burdens of preserving government documents warrant an expedited review," Julia Olson, plaintiffs' counsel and executive director of Our Children's Trust, said. "They're right. It is a big case. We have a classic example of the government's misplaced priorities: They prefer to minimize their procedural obligations of not destroying government documents over the urgency of not destroying our climate system for our youth plaintiffs and all future generations?"
In the government's answer to the youth plaintiffs' complaint, they admitted that "the use of fossil fuels is a major source of [carbon dioxide] emissions, placing our nation on an increasingly costly, insecure and environmentally dangerous path."
The case was brought by 21 young plaintiffs who argue that their constitutional and public trust rights are being violated by the government's creation of climate danger. Judge Ann Aiken's November order denied motions to dismiss brought by both the Obama administration and fossil fuel industry defendants.
"This request for appeal is an attempt to cover up the federal government's long-running collusion with the fossil fuel industry," Alex Loznak, 20-year-old plaintiff and Columbia University student, said. "My generation cannot wait for the truth to be revealed. These documents must be uncovered with all deliberate speed, so that our trial can force federal action on climate change."
Other pre-trial developments
Juliana v. United States is one of many related legal actions brought by youth in several states and countries, all supported by Our Children's Trust, seeking science-based action by governments to stabilize the climate system.
President Donald Trump has signed another executive order aimed at eliminating regulations that he claims are damaging to the U.S. economy, but some worry that the measure will roll back critical environmental protections.
The order, called "Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda," directs each government agency to create a task force to evaluate existing federal regulations and recommend whether they should be kept, repealed or modified.
A White House official told POLITICO that the task forces will "focus on eliminating costly and unnecessary regulations."
The new order also directs agency heads to appoint "regulatory reform officers" to ensure that agencies are carrying out the president's other executive orders, such as his recent 2-for-1 rule that requires federal agencies to repeal two old regulations for every new one.
"Excessive regulation is killing jobs," Trump said during the signing ceremony. "Every regulation should have to pass a simple test: Does it make life better or safer for American workers or consumers? If the answer is no, we will be getting rid of it."
"We will stop punishing companies for doing business in the United States," Trump added. "It's going to be absolutely just the opposite. They will be incentivized to doing business."
The president was flanked by leaders of major U.S. corporations, including Lockheed Martin, Johnson & Johnson, Dow Chemical Co. and Campbell Soup.
Dow Chemical Co. chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris, who leads Trump's advisory council on manufacturing and received the presidential signing pen. Just yesterday, Liveris praised the Trump administration for being "the most pro-business administration since the Founding Fathers."
Bloomberg Politics pointed out that The White House already has an entire agency, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, that reviews all government regulations before they are issued. It is unclear how the existing office will be working with the new officials.
Environmental groups have criticized Trump's latest executive order, saying that it is crafted to help the country's biggest polluters.
"The Trump administration wants less government, except when it wants more to carry out its oil and gas industry agenda," Greenpeace spokesperson Travis Nichols said in a statement. "This executive order will put Trump's unvetted corporate minions above experts at our federal agencies in charge of protecting our water, our land and our climate."
"We can only hope that the resistance inside these agencies will be strong enough to stop these destructive Trump toadies from dismantling protections for the American people," Nichols continued. "This administration and its deluded enforcers will never understand what it feels like to worry about the water their families are drinking, the food their families are eating or if their houses will survive the next superstorm. It's up to all of us outside the billionaire bubble to resist the ways in which the Trump administration is destroying this country."
Tiernan Sittenfeld of the League of Conservation Voters had similar sentiments.
"President Trump is rigging the system so corporate lobbyists can lower standards that protect the public health and safety of all people in this country," Sittenfeld told NPR . "These task forces will attempt to roll back common-sense protections for the air we breathe, the water we drink and the lands we cherish."
Waterkeeper Alliance said that Trump's latest order will only help destroy agencies and regulations that are designed to protect people and the environment. For instance, rules that ensure that tap water does not contain pollutants that cause cancer or brain damage could be on the chopping block.
"President Trump's action to slash regulation is more like a pollution prison sentence, subjecting our communities to increased exposure to polluted water, toxins, disease and economic burden for generations to come. There is no justification for this type of brazen policy that only benefits the richest and most powerful corporations in the world," said Waterkeeper Alliance Executive Director Marc Yaggi. "Americans and all world citizens want and deserve clean water and clean air. President Trump will face massive resistance to this misguided executive order."
The Waterkeeper Alliance pointed out that the assumption that regulations have a negative impact on job creation is false.
"The reality is that only two-tenths of one percent of layoffs are caused by all governmental regulations, including environmental ones," the organization said. "Earlier this month, job loss was cited as a major reason for overturning the Stream Protection Rule despite the fact that the Congressional Research Service found the rule would have created as many jobs as it eliminated. If implemented, the Stream Protection Rule would have protected an estimated 6,000 miles of streams over the next two decades from the devastating effects of mountaintop removal coal mining."
Earlier at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland on Friday, Trump promised to slash 75 percent of regulations all while claiming he wanted to "protect our environment."
"We're going to put the regulation industry out of work and out of business. And by the way, I want regulation. I want to protect our environment. I want regulations for safety," Trump said, according to CNBC. "I want all of the regulations that we need and I want them to be so strong and so tough. But we don't need 75 percent of the repetitive, horrible regulations that hurt companies, hurt jobs."
But Trump's first month in the White House has been a nightmare for environmentalists and the planet alike. He has appointed a cabinet full of polluters with ties to the fossil fuel industry, and signed executive orders to push through the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline and nullify Obama-era climate policies such as the Stream Protection Rule.
And as Scott Faber, Environmental Working Group's senior vice president for government affairs, put it, "President Trump is engineering the most hostile assault on public health, and mark my words, his administration's planned destruction of many rules will put the health of millions of hard-working Americans and their families in jeopardy."
Incidentally, it emerged Friday morning that his daughter, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner pushed the president to exclude language that criticized the Paris agreement from an upcoming executive order, the Wall Street Journal reported.
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.
The Trump administration is expected to begin attacks on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and climate science at the executive level now that the administration has a leader in place at the agency.
Multiple outlets have reported that President Trump may be planning a visit to EPA headquarters as early as this week, where he could sign executive orders targeting Obama administration climate policies and the agency's structure.
The Washington Post added additional details yesterday evening, reporting that two executive orders being prepared target the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the U.S rule for a revamp, while also lifting a moratorium on coal leasing on federal land. Congress is keeping busy with climate rollbacks too, as the Senate eyes a vote on methane regulations this week.
As the Washington Post noted:
One executive order—which the Trump administration will couch as reducing U.S. dependence on other countries for energy—will instruct the Environmental Protection Agency to begin rewriting the 2015 regulation that limits greenhouse-gas emissions from existing electric utilities. It also instructs the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing.
A second order will instruct the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to revamp a 2015 rule, known as the Waters of the United States rule, that applies to 60 percent of the water bodies in the country. That regulation was issued under the 1972 Clean Water Act, which gives the federal government authority over not only major water bodies but also the wetlands, rivers and streams that feed into them. It affects development as well as some farming operations on the grounds that these activities could pollute the smaller or intermittent bodies of water that flow into major ones.
For a deeper dive:
Commentary: Politico, Annie Snider analysis
By Ken Kimmell
Voting largely along party lines, Congress just confirmed Scott Pruitt as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—an attorney who has spent his professional career suing the EPA to stop the agency from performing its fundamental mission of ensuring clean air and water for all Americans. This confirmation marks a sharp break with precedent; most EPA administrators from both parties have come to the office with a demonstrated commitment to the EPA's mission.
One might even say that this vote signals the end of an era of bipartisan congressional support for a strong federal role in protecting our environment, as this newly confirmed administrator is likely to dismantle the safeguards that both parties have supported since the 1970s.
What that means for all of us who care about clean air and water and the protection of our environment is this: It is up to us to monitor carefully what happens next and to be prepared to spring into action as needed.
Here are some of the key developments I'm watching for:
Will Scott Pruitt Recuse Himself?
As repeatedly noted in his nomination hearing, Pruitt has represented the State of Oklahoma in numerous lawsuits against EPA. Many of these cases are still active today, directed at major EPA regulations, including the Clean Power Plan (which limits carbon emissions from power plants); national air quality standards; mercury emissions from coal plants; methane limits for the oil and natural gas excavation; and a Clean Water Act rule that clarifies federal jurisdiction over bodies of water.
During the nomination hearing, Pruitt did not commit to recusing himself from these cases, but he did say he would rely on advice from the EPA ethics counsel. Common sense tells us that he cannot possibly be impartial on these issues and conflicts of interest abound. For example, the state attorneys general who joined him in the suit against the Clean Power Plan have written a letter to the Trump administration, asking the president to issue an executive order declaring that the rule is unlawful. Responding to this request would, in the normal course of business, require EPA input, since it is an EPA regulation. How can Scott Pruitt possibly participate in any review of that request given that, just a few weeks ago, he himself was one of the attorneys general making this claim?
He must recuse himself, as 30 senators have made clear in a recent letter.
Will Scott Pruitt Cut Federal Law Enforcement?
As a candidate, Trump pledged to dismantle the EPA. He lacks a filibuster-proof majority to change the laws that created the EPA, such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Act. But he could cripple the EPA with budget cuts, which are much harder for a minority to stop.
By wide margins, most Americans favor enforcement of laws that protect our air and water. Cutting EPA enforcement will therefore be unpopular—but Scott Pruitt is likely to argue that we can rely on states to enforce environmental laws, so cutting the EPA's budget won't do any real harm.
This is a dangerous myth.
Having served as a state environmental commissioner, I know from personal experience that state environmental agencies are already strapped. They typically lack the technical experts employed at the EPA and stand in no position to take on additional enforcement responsibilities shed by the EPA.
In Massachusetts where I served, for example, my former agency's staff was cut nearly in half between 2002 and 2012 due to budget cuts, even as the agency's responsibilities grew. That occurred in a state well known for its strong commitment to environmental protection. As a result, my agency was forced to cut back on important and effective programs, such as water sampling to locate sources of bacteria that pollute rivers. If the EPA's budget is cut, it will mean even fewer resources for states, because states now receive a significant share of the EPA's budget to cover enforcement activities.
Second, state environmental agencies sometimes experience political pressure against enforcement that might harm a large employer or impose significant costs on residents. We saw some of this in play in Flint, Michigan, where a state agency did not enforce a law requiring corrosion treatment of pipes to reduce lead contamination; it took an EPA staffer and outside scientists, as well as the residents themselves, to blow the whistle on lax state enforcement.
Third, states are not equipped to deal with the widespread problem of interstate pollution. To cite one of the most egregious examples, the state of Maryland could shut down virtually all in-state sources of air pollution and yet still not be in compliance with health-based air quality standards due to pollution from neighboring "upwind" states. A strong federal law enforcement presence is needed to address the simple fact that air and water pollutants do not honor state boundary lines.
We and others stand prepared to fight crippling budget cuts at the EPA and explain that the protection of our air and water requires both federal and state environmental law enforcement.
The Oklahoma County Court on Thursday found Trump's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nominee Scott Pruitt in violation of the state's Open Records Act. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) filed a lawsuit against Pruitt for improperly withholding public records and the court ordered his office to release thousands of emails in a matter of days.
In her ruling, Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons slammed the Attorney General's office for its "abject failure" to abide by the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
The judge gave Pruitt's office until Tuesday, Feb. 21, to turn over more than 2,500 emails it withheld from CMD's January 2015 records request and just 10 days to turn over an undetermined number of documents responsive to CMD's five additional open records requests outstanding between November 2015 and August 2016.
Thursday's expedited hearing was granted after CMD, represented by Robert Nelon of Hall Estill and the ACLU of Oklahoma, filed a lawsuit that has driven unprecedented attention to Pruitt's failure to disclose his deep ties to fossil industry corporations. On Friday, Pruitt is expected to face a full Senate vote on his nomination to run the EPA.
On Feb. 10, Pruitt's office finally responded to the oldest of CMD's nine outstanding Open Records Act requests but provided just 411 of the more than 3,000 emails they had located, withholding thousands of emails relevant to the request and still failing to respond to CMD's eight other outstanding requests. On Feb. 14 CMD filed a status report with the judge detailing the scope of missing documents, including 27 emails that were previously turned over to The New York Times in 2014.
"Scott Pruitt broke the law and went to great lengths to avoid the questions many Americans have about his true motivations," said Nick Surgey, CMD's director of research. "Despite Pruitt's efforts to repeatedly obfuscate and withhold public documents, we're all wiser to his ways and the interests he really serves. The work doesn't stop here to make sure communities across the country have the information they need to hold him accountable to the health and safety of our families."
Ahead of Thursday's hearing, Senators Carper, Whitehouse, Merkley, Booker, Markey and Duckworth—all members of the EPW committee—weighed in on the case, urging the Oklahoma court to require the Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General to release documents relevant to CMD's open record requests as a matter of "federal importance." In a letter to the Oklahoma Court, the Senators stated:
"We are providing this information to the Court today because we have concluded [the] pending Open Records Act requests may be the only means by which the Senate and the general public can obtain in a timely manner critical information about Mr. Pruitt's ability to lead the EPA."
"We need to understand whether ... Mr. Pruitt engaged with the industries that he will be responsible for regulating if he is confirmed as administrator in ways that would compromise his ability to carry out his duties with the complete impartiality required."
Pruitt's continued lack of transparency extends from a difficult nomination process in which research from CMD demonstrated Pruitt's repeated pattern of obfuscating ties to deep-pocketed, corporate interests.
At his hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, Pruitt faced a series of questions about his private meetings with major fossil fuel companies while chair of the Republican Attorneys General Association and fundraising for the Rule of Law Defense Fund. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse concluded his questioning telling Pruitt his testimony "just doesn't add up." Despite failing to respond to any records requests for the past two years, Pruitt told U.S. Senators last week to file more open records requests with his office to answer 19 outstanding questions from his confirmation hearing.
After Democratic Senators twice boycotted the EPW Committee vote due to concerns over Pruitt's conflicts of interests and failure to fulfill open records requests, Republicans resorted to suspending Committee rules to advance his nomination.