Apr. 13, 2017 05:34PM EST
By Ryan Schleeter
Donald Trump wants to slash the EPA's budget and defund public health programs—which could cost people like Heather Von St. James their lives. This is her story.
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By Ryan Schleeter
Donald Trump wants to slash the EPA's budget and defund public health programs—which could cost people like Heather Von St. James their lives. This is her story.
President Donald Trump, who signed an executive order in January to curtail lobbying influence in government, is expected to name a coal lobbyist as the new deputy administrator to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Murray Energy is the largest coal mining company in the nation and has sued the Obama administration multiple times over environmental regulations.
Wheeler has worked in government before. He was an EPA staffer and a Republican staff member at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where he "worked on every major piece of environmental and energy-related legislation over the last decade, including greenhouse gas emissions legislation, the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the Clear Skies Act and the Clean Air Interstate Rule," according to his bio at Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting, where Wheeler is a principal and co-leader of the firm's energy and natural resources practice.
If there's anything that indicates that he's pro-fossil fuels, Wheeler's bio lists him as the VP of the "Washington Coal Club."
Incidentally, Wheeler has also worked with many climate change deniers before. He was an advisor to Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma. The snowball-throwing senator thinks environmental regulations kill jobs and just said on Thursday that the EPA is "brainwashing" children.
Sources noted to POLITICO that the decision over Wheeler is not yet final and it could be weeks until a nominee is officially announced.
"We're gonna put the miners back to work," Trump said on the trail. "We're gonna put the miners back to work. We're gonna get those mines open."
The selection of Wheeler further cements the administration's hostility toward the EPA, which stands to lose about a third of its $8.1 billion budget under the president's 2018 budget proposal.
John Coequyt, the Sierra Club's Climate Policy director, has criticized the possible new hire.
"Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt would have picked a chunk of coal for this position if they could have, but Wheeler is the next most toxic option." Coequyt said.
Drilling has taken place on federal lands for years, with more than 100,000 wells in existence. In 2015, the Interior Dept. issued new standards aimed at making the process safer, including stricter and higher design standards for wells and waste fluid storage facilities to mitigate risks to air, water and wildlife. Companies would also be required to publicly disclose chemicals used in fracking.
However, U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl blocked the Obama rule in June after accepting the argument from energy companies and several states that federal regulators lack congressional authority to set rules for fracking.
The Obama administration appealed the decision to the 10th Circuit, but the rule could be killed for good. The Trump administration said in court filings Wednesday it is withdrawing from the lawsuit.
Justice Dept. lawyers representing Interior and the Bureau of Land Management asked the court to "continue the oral argument and hold these appeals in abeyance pending a new rulemaking" on the issue.
"As part of this process, the Department has begun reviewing the 2015 Final Rule (and all guidance issued pursuant thereto) for consistency with the policies and priorities of the new Administration," the motion reads. "This initial review has revealed that the 2015 Final Rule does not reflect those policies and priorities."
Neal Kirby of the Independent Petroleum Association of America praised the withdrawal of the rule, calling it "unnecessary, duplicative and would further drive away independent producers from federal lands."
"Every energy-producing area has different needs and requirements, which is why the states are far more effective at regulating hydraulic fracturing than the federal government," he said.
Many environmental advocates felt that the 2015 rule was already too lenient, but the Trump administration's latest action could be even more worrisome to fracking opponents.
"This disturbing decision highlights Trump's desire to leave our beautiful public lands utterly unprotected from oil industry exploitation," said Michael Saul, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Backing away from these modest rules is doubly dangerous given the administration's reckless plans to ramp up fracking and drilling on public lands across America."
Other environmental organizations spoke out against the announcement.
"Today's news demonstrates the degree to which Secretary Zinke and the Trump administration are in the pocket of the oil and gas industry," said Earthjustice attorney Mike Freeman.
Earthworks policy director Lauren Page said: "By moving to overturn these common-sense protections, the Trump administration is positioning itself against the disclosure of toxic chemicals, protecting clean water and preserving our public land."
Groundwater contamination is one of the biggest concerns about unconventional oil and natural gas production. While the industry maintains the safety of the process, in December the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its highly anticipated final report identifying cases of impacts on drinking water at each stage in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle.
"With [Wednesday's] decision, Trump is making it clear that he thinks we need more fracking operations contaminating our drinking water, causing earthquakes and polluting our environment, not less," Sierra Club Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign director Lena Moffitt said. "The Sierra Club will continue to defend this rule, ensuring that our publicly-owned lands remain protected from fracking and Donald Trump."
President Trump has plans to open up federal lands for more energy development. As a candidate, Trump campaigned on a promise to "unleash America's $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, plus hundreds of years in clean coal reserves."
He accused President Obama of "denying millions of Americans access to the energy wealth sitting under our feet" by restricting leasing and banning new coal extraction.
Incidentally, the actions of the current administration go against the sentiments of the majority of Americans, who are opposed to fracking and drilling of public lands, according to a new Gallup poll.
The poll, released on Tuesday, determined that 53 percent of Americans oppose fracking as a means of increasing the production of natural gas and oil in the U.S. Only 46 percent support for opening up federal lands for oil exploration, compared to 65 percent who favored it in 2014.
"Americans Tilt Toward Protecting Environment, Alternative Fuels"Gallup
The Gallup poll found that 72 percent of Americans support spending more government money on energy alternatives such as solar and wind power. About two-thirds of Americans favor more strongly enforcing federal environmental regulations and setting higher emissions standards for business and energy.
Public opposition to fracking has grown in recent years, as counties and cities across the country are passing resolutions and ordinances to ban the practice.
Even states are getting behind the action. The Maryland House of Delegates passed a milestone bill earlier this month that would ban fracking statewide.
Fracking opponents are now urging the Maryland Senate to pass the same legislation. On Thursday morning, a group of protesters‚ including including faith leaders and western Maryland residents, barred the entrance to the State House in a peaceful act of civil disobedience. Thirteen were arrested.
"As stewards of God's creation, United Methodists are opposed to hydraulic fracturing because of the serious consequences for the environment, including damage to water and geological stability," said Rev. Julie Wilson, chair for the Board of Church and Society for the Baltimore Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church. "We support a ban on fracking."
Garrett County in western Maryland is likely to be the first area targeted if fracking is allowed. The demonstrators say that fracking would threaten the area's local economy, which relies heavily on tourism and agriculture.
"Western Maryland would be targeted first by fracking, and western Marylanders overwhelmingly know that we can never allow it to take place," said Ann Bristow, Garrett County resident and member of Gov. O'Malley's Marcellus shale advisory commission.
"The more we learn about fracking, the more we know we need a ban. Our water, health and climate are far more important than short term gain for the natural gas industry. Once free of worrying about fracking in Maryland, we can all turn our attention to a renewable and sustainable future."
By James Wilt
But here's the thing: U.S. approval, while a great leap forward for TransCanada, doesn't guarantee the Keystone XL pipeline will ever be built.
New U.S. President Trump was elected with the explicit promise to get the 830,000 barrel per day pipeline from Alberta to Nebraska built, under the conditions that the U.S. would receive a "big, big chunk of the profits or even ownership rights" and it would be built with American steel; his administration has already flip-flopped on the latter pledge.
On Jan. 24, Trump signed an executive order, inviting TransCanada to reapply for a presidential permit, which the company did two days later. It's now in the hands of the State Department, which has to issue a verdict by the end of March.
Sounds like a slam dunk, right? Not so fast. Here are three key reasons why.
Even Enbridge CEO Al Monaco recently stated that Canada only needs two more export pipelines.
"If you look at the supply profile and you look at our expansion replacement capacity for Line 3 and one other pipeline, that should suffice based on the current supply outlook, out to at least mid-next decade," Monaco said on a fourth quarter earnings call last week.
Wood Mackenzie analyst Mark Oberstoetter seconded that: "There's not an evident need to get three or four pipelines built."
Add to that the rapidly declining long-term prospects in the tar sands.
"There will be no more greenfield projects if the price of oil stays at what it is," said David Hughes, expert on unconventional fuels and former scientist at the Geological Survey of Canada.
Hughes adds that Western Canadian Select already sells at a discount of around $15/barrel due to transportation and quality discounts.
Pipeline companies thrive on long-term contracts with producers, with lower rates for longer terms (such as 10 or 20 years).
Such contracts are huge financial gambles, especially given uncertainty about oil prices. In a low oil price scenario, tar sands take a hit because of the high cost of production.
"The economic case is not there for the three pipelines," said Amin Asadollahi, lead on climate change mitigation for North America at the International Institute for Sustainable Development. "And should the massive expansion happen, I don't think the financial benefits for the sector … would be there."
We've already seen what lawsuits and protests can do to proposed oil pipelines, including crippling Enbridge's Northern Gateway and seriously delaying Energy Transfer Partner's Dakota Access Pipeline.
Same goes for Keystone XL. Lawsuits have plagued the company for years. In 2015, more than 100 Nebraska landowners sued TransCanada over the proposed use of eminent domain; the company eventually withdrew from the case and its plans for eminent domain, but it appears such conflicts will reignite with the federal approval. Landowners have already started to meet to plot out how to resist the pipeline.
TransCanada requires a permit from Nebraska in order to proceed. Last week, two-thirds of Nebraska's senators signed a letter petitioning the state's Public Service Commission to okay the proposed route; the original route was altered in April 2012 due to public opposition.
Keith Stewart, climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Canada, said: "They'll probably get the federal approval, but state-level and other legal challenges will go ahead to try to stop it."
Adam Scott of Oil Change International noted that he expects a lot of resistance to the Keystone project on the ground in Nebraska, especially given that the project still doesn't have a legal route through the state.
There's also growing resistance from Indigenous people, especially in the wake of Standing Rock. Thousands of Indigenous people recently gathered in Washington, DC for a four-day protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
In 2014, the Cowboy Indian Alliance united potentially affected farmers and Indigenous people to protest against the Keystone XL project. The recently signed continent-wide Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion specifically identified Keystone XL as a proposed pipeline to be stopped.
3. Environment and Climate
Then there's the fight north of the border over greenhouse gas emissions and climate obligations.
The Canadian government's approvals of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain and Enbridge's Line 3 added a bit more than one million barrels per day in potential capacity to the tar sands network.
Unless there are significant breakthroughs in technology to cut per-barrel emissions, those two pipelines alone will allow for tar sands production and associated greenhouse gases to hit Alberta's 100 megatonne (Mt) cap; Stewart said companies have been talking about the possibility of emissions-cutting technologies such as solvents since 2007, but they still haven't materialized in a commercial setting.
Unconventional fuels expert David Hughes has calculated that if the 100 Mt cap is reached and a single LNG export terminal is built, Canada will need to cut non-oil and gas emissions by 47 percent cut in order to meet the 2030 target, which will be impossible "barring an economic collapse."
Adding an additional 830,000 bpd of export potential via the Keystone XL—allowing for the kind of expansion hoped for by the National Energy Board and Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers—could result in the breaching of Alberta's emissions cap and the country's climate targets.
Stewart points to Chevron's recent submission to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which acknowledged the increasing likelihood of climate-related litigation as a related sign of looming danger for companies.
It's a rapidly growing trend. Climate-based litigations are grounding fossil fuel projects around the world. A lawsuit based on constitutional rights to a healthy environment filed on behalf of 21 children during the Obama administration threatens to bring a similar precedent to the U.S.
"We're actually looking at a variety of ways to put pressure—including possible legal challenges—on companies that are basing their business model on the failure of the Paris agreement," Stewart said. "If you're telling your investors, 'We'll make money because the world will not act on climate change' are you actually engaging politically to try to produce that outcome? Are you lobbying against climate policy?'"
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmog Canada.
Environmental activists tore into President Donald Trump's luxury links in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, carving out the words, "NO MORE TIGERS. NO MORE WOODS," in six-foot-tall letters.
According to The Washington Post, a group called the "anonymous environmental activist collective" snuck onto the golf course on Sunday morning and even filmed the act. Four individuals are seen in the footage below using gardening tools to etch out the letters.
In a statement to The Post, the group said it carried out the act to protest President Trump's anti-environmental agenda.
"In response to the president's recent decision to gut our existing protection policies, direct action was conceived and executed on the green of his California golf course in the form of a simple message: NO MORE TIGERS. NO MORE WOODS," the statement said.
The group entered the course by scaling a fence and "walking down a steep hill laced with cacti," a member explained to The Post.
"Tearing up the golf course felt justified in many ways," the member said. "Repurposing what was once a beautiful stretch of land into a playground for the privileged is an environmental crime in its own right."
"We hope this sends a message to Trump and his corrupt administration that their actions will be met with action," the member added.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is now investigating the incident.
Neither the golf course nor the White House has responded to the incident yet. However, Donald Trump's son, Eric, sent out a tweet earlier today calling the matter a "criminal" act.
He also criticized The Post's earlier version of its story which initially praised the group's actions as "a daring act of defiance." The article has since been amended to say "an elaborate act of vandalism."
Incidentally, Bloomberg reported earlier this month that the president's U.S.-based golf courses would stand to benefit from his recent executive order to dismantle federal water regulations, once again highlighting the administration's conflicts of interests.
As Bloomberg explained, the directive "not only coincides with his conservative agenda but also could cut his costs as an owner of a dozen U.S. golf courses."
The Obama administration's 2015 Waters of the U.S. rule protects smaller creeks and wetlands from pollution and development under the Clean Water Act. Water features on golf courses are also included in the rule.
Trump's order to reconsider the rule was strongly supported by the golfing industry as the water rule forces golf course owners to pay costly fines for pollution violations.
"I would say this is a very high priority to us," Bob Helland, head lobbyist for the 17,000 member Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, told Bloomberg. "We are pleased to see that there is an effort to revisit the rule under this executive order."
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 years, Republican lawmakers have tried to scrap NASA's climate change research in favor of space exploration, but with President Trump and his cabinet of climate skeptics now in control, the space agency's earth sciences budget could finally be on the chopping block.