The Trump campaign's efforts to attack President-elect Joe Biden and win Pennsylvania by claiming he would ban fracking failed, while Biden's climate message appears to have boosted turnout, according to reporting from multiple outlets.
Biden not only won Pennsylvania overall, but — while Trump still won in areas with significant fracking operations — Biden improved on Clinton's 2016 performance against Trump in eight of Pennsylvania's top-10 gas-producing counties.
"Climate change as a voting issue has soared in the past five years particularly among Democrats and among independents," Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale University Program on Climate Change Communication, told E&E.
"This absolutely was a crucial issue for constituencies he needed to carry him over the top: young people, Latino voters and suburban women, all of whom care more about climate change than other groups."
For a deeper dive:
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By Oliver Milman
Art Sullivan is considered something of a political heretic by other coal miners in south-western Pennsylvania, where a wave of support for Donald Trump based upon his flamboyant promises of a resurgence in coal helped propel the Republican to the U.S. presidency.
"Many of my coal miner friends voted for him," said Sullivan, who has spent 54 years as a coal miner and, more latterly, consultant to a struggling industry. "They were deceived. Trump had no plan, no concept of how to resurrect the coal industry. My friends were lied to."
Sullivan's friends may disagree with this assessment but the coal comeback promised by Trump in the 2016 election campaign has failed to materialize, with his first term studded with bankruptcies and closures of mines and coal-fired power plants.
There are now about 5,000 fewer miners than when Trump strode into the White House. The coronavirus pandemic has turbo-charged the decline – so far this year U.S. coal production has collapsed by more than 25% compared with the same period in 2019.
It has been a bruising few years rather than the glorious new dawn promised when Trump donned a miner's helmet, mimed digging coal and excoriated Barack Obama's "war on coal" on the campaign trail four years ago. One of Trump's first executive orders removed a ban on coal mining on federal land and dumped Obama's plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. "Come on, fellas," said Trump at the order's signing, where he was surrounded by beaming miners. "Basically, you know what this is? You know what it says, right? You're going back to work."
Such assurances were eagerly accepted by coal mining communities in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky who backed Trump and prepared for salvation. "When he came into office, it was like someone pulled their finger out of the dyke," said Thomas McLoughlin, a former mine inspector who trains new miners. "I was flooded with new mining students. It was overwhelming." McLoughlin said he would vote for the president again because Trump was the only candidate prepared to stand up for coal workers. "My business won't go under if he's re-elected," he added.
The Trump administration has set about weakening or scrapping a slew of environmental rules that bound the industry, such as requirements that new coal-fired power plants capture their carbon emissions and that coal firms do not release wastewater laced with dangerous pollutants, such as lead, selenium and arsenic, into rivers and streams.
Bob Murray, a major Trump donor and founder of the largest private coal company in the U.S., has boasted of an "action plan" he gave the administration to undo what he called "eight years of pure hell" under Obama. Much of Murray's three-and-a-half-page wishlist has been ticked off, including the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. A particular prize was a weakening of Obama-era standards to reduce mercury pollution from coal plants, a rollback undertaken after Andrew Wheeler, a former lobbyist for Murray Energy, became administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
"We are still feeling the effects of the damage from the Obama administration," said Jason Bostic, vice-president of the West Virginia Coal Association. "The social devastation in mining communities has been breathtaking. The support for Donald Trump is as strong if not stronger than in 2016. West Virginia is a Democratic state that has been dyed deep red because of the last administration."
But while Appalachia will largely stick with Trump in 2020, more coal capacity has been retired under Trump than during Obama's second term. "Coal's not back," as Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, glumly conceded last year. "Nobody saved the coal industry."
Coal production fell so sharply last year that renewable energy such as solar and wind overtook it in electricity generation for the first time since at least 1885, the year Mark Twain published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, America's first skyscraper was erected in Chicago and people were burning more wood than coal. Last year also saw Murray Energy file for bankruptcy, one of half a dozen coal companies to do so that year.
Cheap, abundant gas, retrieved via fracking, and the advance of renewables have been greater causes of coal's demise than any green regulation, experts say, rendering Trump's rollbacks simply environmentally destructive.
"The fall of coal is first and foremost a market story," said Daniel Kaffine, a University of Colorado economist who has researched the issue. "The days of coal supplying the majority of U.S. electricity production are not coming back." While metallurgical coal – needed for the making of steel – will hang on, the practice of burning thermal coal for energy is in "a death spiral," Kaffine said.
There are about 45,000 coal miners left in the U.S., half the number employed during Obama's first term. Plenty of political rhetoric surrounds a workforce that is actually quite small – there are double the number of flight attendants in the U.S. than coal miners, for example, and roughly the same number of chiropractors.
Whole communities sprang up around mining, however, meaning several dependent jobs are lost for each miner put out of work. The long decline of well-paying mining jobs, through machinery automation and now creeping obsolescence, has left deep scars in Appalachian towns now blighted by unemployment and opioid addiction.
"People drank Trump's Kool-Aid and he hasn't done it for them," said Blair Zimmerman, a former coal miner who is now commissioner of Greene county, Pennsylvania. "I'm very worried about the future because without mining, our tax base would go and we couldn't survive. People are leaving the area, it's tough. We should have looked at other options a long time ago."
Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, has outlined a $2tn plan to generate millions of jobs in renewable energy, potentially providing a new path for threatened coal workers. But coal mining has deep roots in communities that many are unwilling to relinquish. "It's a damned joke," said Bostic, of the West Virginia Coal Association. "It's an affront to a coal miner to say: 'We will take your job away for one that pays less well, and by the way, you have to pack your family up and move.'"
According to Sullivan, coal miners feel they have little choice. "The coal miner had no friends and was desperate," he said. "No one was speaking for us and then Trump was, so people backed him. Miners see him as their guy."
The externalities of coal reach far beyond mining communities, however. As the most carbon-intensive of fuels, coal is a key driver of the climate crisis, indirectly spurring the sorts of huge wildfires that have ravaged the U.S. west coast this year, as well as the continuing deterioration of the polar ice sheets that imperil coastal cities through sea level rise and storms.
Direct air pollution from the soot and chemicals given off by burned coal is also a major health burden. Not far from Sullivan and his friends, the Cheswick power plant, close to the banks of the Allegheny River, is close enough to people's homes that nearby residents have to wipe the coal soot from their houses. Five miles downstream towards Pittsburgh, in the suburb of Verona, Laura Jacko suspects emissions from the power plant could be behind her husband's asthma and the breathing problems suffered by her son, who was born prematurely.
"There is nothing more horrifying than holding down your small baby to shove a breathing machine into them," Jacko said. "It affects me personally and I get pretty angry about it."
Environmental groups have long pushed for the closure of Cheswick, which has previously been handed a civil penalty for breaching pollution limits. In Jacko's view, the era of coal needs to come to a managed but swift end. "My uncle was a coal worker and had black lung," a disease that develops from inhaling coal dust, she said. "I don't want their jobs to kill them. I want them to transition. These jobs are going away, it's just a matter of when. Pushing ahead with coal does everyone a disservice."
This story originally appeared in The Guardian and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Leanna First-Arai
In a push to capture the rural vote, 62 percent of which went to Trump in 2016, both the Trump and Biden campaigns are ramping up efforts to appeal to farmers and ranchers.
On September 22, the Biden campaign launched a new radio ad blitz in eight battleground states, in which Biden appeals to older voters whose families have lived in rural areas for generations. "No longer are we going to be faced with children or grandchildren believing that the only way they can make it is to leave home and go somewhere else to get that good job," Biden's voice assures. "There's no reason why it can't happen here."
In a contrasting approach, at a rally in North Carolina, just a few hours ahead of the opening of the Republican National Convention in August, Trump claimed that, under his administration, "The American farmer has done very well. I never hear any complaints from the American farmer." Remarks later that week during the convention followed suit. "The economy is coming up very rapidly, our farmers are doing well because I got China to give them $28 billion because they were targeted by China," Trump said on the first night of the convention.
But that assessment doesn't square with the hardship many U.S. farmers are facing — particularly small farmers. U.S. farm bankruptcies increased 20 percent in 2019, reaching an eight-year high, on account of factors like the trade war, increasing costs of production and crop loss related to the climate crisis.
Since April 2020, farmer support for the incumbent president has fallen from 89 percent to 71 percent, according to an August 2020 survey by DTN/The Progressive Farmer. A recent report by the Government Accountability Office revealed that under the Trump administration, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Market Facilitation Program payments to farmers harmed by the trade war went disproportionately to large-scale cotton and soybean farmers, ignoring the needs of small farmers who grow food. On account of Trump administration changes in payment maximums for the USDA's Market Facilitation Program, the top 1.3 percent of payment recipients received an additional $519 million, while the average individual farmer in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania got $11,829 and $8,661, respectively. The finding is in line with earlier analyses revealing Trump's disproportionate financial support for the largest capitalist farmers.
According to the USDA, more than half of the 2 million farms in the United States are "very small farms," grossing less than $10,000 annually. When asked what political capital this group could hold, Wingate University Assistant Professor of Political Science Chelsea Kaufman told Truthout that the increased pressure small farmers face from forces like the overlapping COVID-19 pandemic and climate crisis could make them a "relatively unique" political force, as has been the case with farmers experiencing economic shocks during past election cycles.
In 1932, incumbent President Herbert Hoover lost votes from normally Republican-voting northern farmers, and the same happened for Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956. Academics attribute this to low crop prices during election years. According to the Cook Political Report, many of what are expected to be key battleground states in 2020, like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, are also top agricultural producers.
The majority of the smaller farmers Truthout spoke with for this story want to see a federal government that tackles climate change head-on and restructures agriculture to be a solution by encouraging diversified farming that stores (rather than releases) carbon. Industrial agriculture is a major contributor to climate change, through its reliance on chemical fertilizers, the manufacturing of which releases carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, and depletes the soil of nutrients. It's a system that farmers are "stuck in," says Tom Rosenfeld, who grows apples, blueberries, strawberries and peaches on 120 acres of farmland in southwest Michigan. Rosenfeld purchased a conventional orchard in 2005 and has been converting it to organic ever since, which he says has been a challenge in a system that prioritizes conventional practices. Dealing with climate change has made it even more difficult, a sentiment that reflects a wider experience among farmers. In 2018, 75 percent of Farm Aid hotline calls were related to extreme weather and weather-related crises like wildfires.
Rosenfeld says more frequent late freezes due to climate change have been all but impossible to bounce back from. After temperatures dropped to 25 degrees Fahrenheit in May 2020, he lost 65 percent of his strawberries, 40 percent of his blueberries and all of his Red Delicious, Gala, Empire and McIntosh apples. On top of that, the changing climate has brought new pests to the region, like the apple flea weevil, which destroyed a full season's worth of crops when it first appeared in 2010. "Every year I keep thinking, is this it?" he tells Truthout. "I can't afford this financially; I can't afford the time and energy and it doesn't seem to be getting to any kind of manageable place."
In 2018, when President Trump signed the latest Farm Bill, he reauthorized the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which provides financial and technical assistance to farmers who implement certain conservation practices like mulching to protect soil, or "karst sinkhole treatment" to protect runoff from reaching groundwater supply.
But Rosenfeld, who is in the midst of transitioning all 110 acres from conventional to organic, says the program doesn't offer the kind of assistance he needs. When government representatives paid his farm a visit to assess what kind of EQIP program they might support, Rosenfeld says they proposed he build a retention wall near where he fills his sprayer, to help catch runoff. "But what good does that do?" he said, referring to his ultimate goal of moving away from using any kind of hazardous material on his land. "They're not offering the types of programs that are relevant to me as an organic grower."
Rosenfeld says he wants to shift away from using diesel and gas-fueled tractors and to have on-site renewable energy to power his farm. But no existing government programs make that financially feasible. When he considered investing in solar panels a few years ago, he found one program that would have cost him around $30,000, but with the kind of crop loss he has experienced, he couldn't afford it.
Two hours north of Rosenfeld's farm, in White Cloud, Michigan, Luke Eising is a farmer who uses silvopasture techniques, letting cows, pigs and chickens graze together amid integrated forest and plant landscapes. Rotating the animals to different pastures encourages plants to develop more robust root systems, which returns carbon to the soil and improves soil quality. In addition to producing food for his community, Eising says, being able to help sequester carbon and rebuild degraded soil is a major reason he chose to be a farmer. According to the 2018 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, sequestering carbon in the soil is the most cost-effective option for economic activity generating "negative emissions." "I very much see it as a solution for food systems," Eising told Truthout.
Eising would like to see subsidies for corn and soy cut, because he thinks regenerative practices like his would become competitive. "We're fighting an uphill battle when I can see chicken breasts or pork chops in the store for less than I pay to process [my product]," he says, referring to animals raised in confinement and fed monoculture corn and soy feed the federal government subsidizes. Another issue the current administration hasn't helped with, Eising says, is a major meat processing backlog. Whereas Eising can usually get a date within six to eight weeks at a meat processing plant, given meat plant shutdowns amid COVID-19, leading to short supply of meat processing facilities, it's been hard to find a date any time before 2022. "This is not okay. I have animals outside that are ready to process, I have customers lining up because they're hungry and I have a freezer that's empty," he says. Existing laws prohibit small, local butchers from processing meat headed for market.
Eising tends to vote for conservative or libertarian candidates in local and national elections. In 2016, he voted for libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. But Eising says he'll likely vote for Biden if polling remains close in Michigan. "Nobody else is at all interested in what regenerative farming could do for this country," he says. Biden has recently talked about paying farmers for "planting certain crops that in fact absorb carbon from the air," but his climate plan makes no mention of organic, diversified or regenerative farming. According to a report by Data For Progress, conventional farming practices that rely on pesticides and monoculture practices are linked to $44 billion in annual damage related to soil erosion in the United States, which is perhaps felt most acutely in areas where soil can no longer retain moisture in the advent of a heavy rain, leading to catastrophic flooding.
Ecologically minded farmers in swing states outside of Michigan similarly reflect a desire for leadership that addresses climate through agricultural reform. Kemper Burt began farming 40 years ago in California. He now lives in Arizona, where he grows lettuce and other produce on a 40-acre farm powered by solar energy. Burt points out that tackling climate change will entail decolonizing the way we produce food, in direct contrast with the "feed the world" mentality behind the so-called "Green Revolution" of the 1970s, which led to the fertilizer and pesticide-heavy monoculture farming he and other small-scale farmers want to break away from. "Let's just try feeding our community, then let's just try feeding our state, and then let's just try feeding other states," Burt says. Burt is registered as an independent, though he wouldn't say exactly how he'll vote in November. "I look to what people are doing to help protect nature, which then in turn protects you and I," he said.
Many small farmers say they've yet to see a presidential candidate or down-ballot candidate fully address their needs in this election cycle. President Trump's reelection campaign has not yet put out a climate plan. And Biden's climate plan does not yet spell out what small-scale farmers say they want, like a return to the New Deal-era concept of "parity," a supply-management strategy designed to prevent the kind of wasteful over-production of soybeans and corn that wipes the land of biodiversity and results in unstable prices. Rosenfeld wants to see a shift away from crop insurance, which comprised one-third of farmers' income in 2019, toward income insurance, which would provide financial support for people growing food, rather than cash crops.
As long as agriculture is considered a solution to the climate crisis, whether in a Green New Deal or as part of another climate plan, says Maine farmer Craig Hickman, he'd consider it a step forward, noting that he thinks his neighbors in Maine, many of whom are libertarians, would agree. "Investing in food infrastructure is as important as roads and bridges," he told Truthout.
In 2019, Maine, a "purple" state, passed the first state-level Green New Deal backed by labor unions. Facing increased pressure from forces like climate change, the potential "farm vote" could build swing power, "although it is not clear whether that would happen in 2020 or a later election year," Kaufman said. "We can look to the lessons of history: Farmers had quite unique behavior at points in time where they faced economic instability, which led them to support candidates and parties that addressed these issues."
This story originally appeared in Truthout and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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President Donald Trump’s Climate Change Record Has Been a Boon for Oil Companies, and a Threat to the Planet
By Vernon Loeb, Marianne Lavelle and Stacy Feldman
In the middle of his 44th month in office, two weeks before the start of the Republican convention in late August, President Trump rolled back Barack Obama's last major environmental regulation, restricting methane leaks.
The move represented an environmental trifecta of sorts for the president, who had handed the oil and gas industry another gift in his quest for "American energy dominance," thumbed his nose yet again at climate change and came close to fully dismantling his predecessor's environment and climate legacy.
It had been a busy four years, and a breakneck 2020, as Trump and the former industry executives and lobbyists he'd placed in control of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior raced to rollback auto emissions standards, weaken the nation's most important environmental law, open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and reject stronger air pollution standards, even as research showed a link between those pollutants and an increased risk of death from Covid-19.
"I applaud and strongly support President Trump's continued support for the oil and gas industry," Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said after the administration proposed its rollback of the Obama methane rules. "During these uncertain times, it makes no sense that we would be placing additional regulatory burdens on our vital industries which are not supported by sound science and do not consider economic impact."
Environmental lawyers and climate activists who've been battling Trump since day one are in agreement that Trump, beginning with his decision to lead the nation out of the Paris climate accord, has done more to roll back and weaken environmental laws and regulations than any president in history.
Trump extolled the accomplishment and put a different spin on the superlative during a White House speech in July, saying, "We have removed nearly 25,000 pages of job destroying regulations, more than any other president by far in the history of our country."
A few days earlier, as his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, unveiled a $2 trillion plan to combat climate change, Trump promoted what he called a "very dramatic" series of revisions to the National Environmental Policy Act, the foundation of environmental protection in the United States that had been signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon 50 years ago.
Environmentalists have used the law to block everything from pipelines to the destruction of natural habitats. Trump has now limited environmental reviews under the act to between one and two years and relieved federal agencies from having to consider a project's impact on climate change during the review and permitting process.
"While our world is burning, President Trump is adding fuel to the fire by taking away our right to be informed and to protect ourselves from irreparable harm," Gina McCarthy, Obama's EPA administrator who now serves as president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said of weakening the act.
By late summer, Columbia University's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law had counted 159 actions since Trump took office "to scale back or wholly eliminate climate mitigation and adaptation measures." Many have been slowed or blocked by the courts.
Trump's Long Focus on 'American Energy Dominance'
When Trump delivered his first major energy speech in the fracking fields of North Dakota as a candidate in May 2016, he called for American domination of global energy supplies.
"We are going to turn everything around," Trump declared. "And quickly, very quickly."
Once in office, Trump pursued a policy of unfettered support for fossil fuel development. He immediately signed memorandums to revive the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, projects blocked by Obama.
In early March 2017, his administration ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to stop gathering data from oil and gas companies needed to rein in leaks of methane, a potent short-lived climate pollutant. Fossil fuel infrastructure adds to greenhouse gas emissions, in part by leaking methane into the atmosphere.
He followed up, at the end of March, by issuing a sweeping executive order directing all federal agencies to target for elimination any rules that restrict U.S. production of energy. He set guidance to make it more difficult to put future regulations on fossil fuel industries and he moved to discard the use of a rigorous "social cost of carbon," a regulatory measurement that puts a price on the future damage society will pay for every ton of carbon dioxide emitted.
As his first year in office came to a close, Trump and Alaska's Republican senators inserted a provision into his signature tax cut legislation that called for opening the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling.
In 2018, domestic oil production hit a record high. The result of this, among other things, was the reversal of three consecutive years of declining U.S. carbon emissions.
Many of Trump's regulations have also been tailored to favor the coal industry, often at the expense of cheaper, cleaner energy. Robert Murray, founder of the now-bankrupt coal company Murray Energy and one of Trump's closest industry allies, gave the president a "wish list" early on that became a virtual template for the administration's rollback of regulations.
The administration swiftly lifted an Obama moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands, to no real benefit. The decline of coal continued unabated, but Trump remained an unapologetic champion of the dirtiest fossil fuel.
Trump's War on Science
When U.S. government scientists released their latest volume of the National Climate Assessment in November 2018, it revealed much about the robust, sobering scientific consensus on climate change.
It also revealed the striking disconnect between Trump and essentially every authoritative institution on the threat of global warming.
The president rejected the assessment's central findings—based on thousands of climate studies and involving 13 federal agencies—that emissions of carbon dioxide are caused by human activities, are already causing lasting economic damage and have to be brought rapidly to zero.
"I don't believe it. No, no, I don't believe it," Trump told a reporter after the assessment's release.
In almost every agency overseeing energy, the environment and health, people with little scientific background, or strong ties to industries they would be regulating, were appointed to scientific leadership positions.
One of the administration's first actions was to order scientists and other employees at EPA and other agencies to halt public communications. Several federal scientists working on climate change have said they were silenced, sidelined or demoted. The words "climate change" have been purged from government reports and other reports have been buried.
The administration's mistrust of scientists and its tendency toward science denialism would also become a prominent feature of its response to the coronavirus pandemic, when the president muzzled scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and chafed at the dire predictions of many epidemiological models for Covid-19 deaths.
With the nation in a state of emergency over the pandemic, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist who serves as Trump's administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, moved in late March to fast-track the "Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science" rule. Wheeler replaced Scott Pruitt, an Oklahoma Republican who served as Trump's first EPA administrator before resigning in 2018 amid an ethics scandal.
Critics call Wheeler's transparency proposal Orwellian and say it would actually limit the use of human health science in environmental decision-making, by eliminating studies that rely on patients' anonymous medical data.
While Trump and his conservative allies contend that the reliance on such studies amounts to "secret science," scientists and leading medical authorities respond that it is standard practice to honor patient confidentiality in peer-reviewed studies.
Numerous studies, including one based on health data from 60 million Medicare recipients, have shown that one of the signature pollutants from the burning of fossil fuels, microscopic particles less than 2.5 microns in width—known as PM 2.5—kill as many as 52,100 Americans prematurely each year.
Less than a month later, as much of the nation remained locked down to halt the spread of Covid-19, a respiratory disease, the Trump administration rejected a recommendation from government scientists to strengthen the national air quality standard for particulate matter. Trump chose instead to maintain the current PM 2.5 standard, handing the fossil fuel industry a major victory.
A 'Concerted Attack' on Alaska, Public Lands
The Trump administration knew no bounds for its fossil fuel agenda, pursuing drilling from the outset on pristine public lands in Alaska and the lower 48 states, where oil companies have long sought access.
Less than four months after taking office, Trump moved to lift Obama's offshore Arctic drilling ban and, then, in July 2017, gave Italian oil company Eni a quick green light to drill exploratory wells.
In March 2018, the Trump administration proposed a resumption of leasing in Alaska's Beaufort Sea. President Obama, shortly before leaving office, had "permanently" withdrawn from drilling there.
By then, Trump had also carved 2 million acres of land from the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments in southern Utah in what amounted to the most sweeping reductions in protections for public land in U.S. history.
In September 2018, the Interior Department finalized a rule that loosens methane requirements for oil and gas operations on federal lands. A month later, the administration proposed a regulation to streamline and expedite oil and gas permits on national forest lands.
The following summer, the administration proposed weakening protections under the Endangered Species Act for threatened species and critical habitat. Shortly thereafter, the Interior Department commenced the public comment period on its plan for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that had been included in the 2017 tax bill.
In early August 2020, the president signed the Great American Outdoors Act appropriating $900 million a year to the Land and Water Conservation Fund and $9.5 billion over five years to reduce maintenance backlogs in the national parks.
The bipartisan legislation was sponsored by a House Democrat, but Trump extolled its passage as the most significant act in support of parklands since Teddy Roosevelt.
Still, the administration was preparing, on the eve of the Republican convention, to start selling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The sale was one of six pending projects in which Trump was pursuing more drilling, logging and mining in Alaska.
One environmentalist called it the most "concerted attack" in 30 years on Alaska's natural resources.
All six of the Trump initiatives could still be blocked or rolled back in the courts, or undone by a new Biden administration working with a Democratic Congress. But for now, they are proceeding, with enormous consequences for Alaska's environment, and global climate change.
One by One, Obama's Main Climate Accomplishments Fell
The same could be said for President Obama's environment and climate legacy: Trump's relentless attacks could be wholly or partially undone by a new administration and Congress. But for now, Trump has accomplished his mission: a near total elimination of his predecessor's most significant measures.
After countless piecemeal rollbacks during Trump's first two and a half years in office, the administration in June 2019 launched its long-awaited attack on Obama's signature plan to tackle climate change. Designed to cut emissions from coal-fired power plants, Obama called it the Clean Power Plan.
While the plan was challenged by industry and 27 states and blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court before Obama even left office, it encouraged many states to begin a process of planning for a transition away from coal-fired electricity at a time when cheaper natural gas and renewable energy already were forcing coal plants to shut down.
Next came Trump's rollback of Obama's 2012 automobile fuel efficiency standards, the single largest step any nation had taken to address global warming by cutting carbon emissions from cars and trucks. The weakened Trump plan will allow automakers to deploy fleets that average just 40 miles per gallon by 2025, instead of 54 mpg.
If Trump's standard ultimately survives legal challenges, cars and trucks in the United States would emit nearly a billion tons more carbon dioxide during their lifetimes than they would have under the Obama standards.
Finally, in mid-August, Trump proposed the rollback of the methane rules, the last major Obama environmental regulation still standing. Methane, a super-pollutant, is 86 times more potent in warming the planet than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.
The Obama rule required oil and gas companies to monitor methane leaks and fix them. The Trump replacement weakens those requirements, allowing companies to release 4.5 million metric tons more pollution each year.
In the climate realm, Obama is best known, of course, as the driving force behind the 2015 Paris climate accord.
Trump first announced in a Rose Garden speech in June 2017 that the U.S. would withdraw from the accord in three years, as soon as the treaty allowed.
So, right on cue, two years later, on Nov. 4, 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified the United Nations of the formal exit of the United States, activating the final one-year waiting period.
The actual U.S. withdrawal is set for Nov. 4, 2020, one day after the presidential election.
This story originally appeared in Inside Climate News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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By Jake Johnson
President Donald Trump claimed in a newly aired Fox News interview Sunday that the United States is the "envy of the world" when it comes to Covid-19 testing capacity, a boast that came as state and local leaders continue to raise alarm about widespread test shortages and delays as coronavirus infections surge nationwide.
Pressed by Fox News' Chris Wallace on rising Covid-19 infections, shortages of testing kits and personal protective equipment for frontline workers, and rapidly dwindling hospital capacity, Trump — who is attempting to block billions of dollars in new funds for testing and contact tracing — said he takes responsibility for how the U.S. has handled the pandemic but added that "some governors have done poorly."
"They're supposed to have supplies ... I supplied everybody," the president said. "Now we have somewhat of a surge in certain areas. In other areas we're doing great. But we have a surge in certain areas. But you don't hear people complaining about ventilators, we've got all the ventilators we could use, we're supplying them to other countries."
"We have more tests by far than any country in the world," Trump said. When Wallace pointed out that the Covid-19 positivity rate is rising sharply even as more tests are conducted, Trump said dismissively: "Many of those cases are young people that would heal in a day. They have the sniffles and we put it down as a test."
"Cases are up because we have the best testing in the world," Trump said, once again falsely blaming the increase in testing for the growing number of positive coronavirus cases in the U.S., which now leads the world in confirmed infections. "No country has ever done what we've done in terms of testing. We are the envy of the world."
"Ready? Will you please get me the mortality rate? Kayleigh is right here... I heard we have the best mortality rat… https://t.co/x3bxd02OIT— Aaron Rupar (@Aaron Rupar)1595164434.0
As the Associated Press reported Saturday, Trump's portrayal of the U.S. coronavirus testing system as the "best in the world" is undermined by the realities numerous states are facing as Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations spike:
Here are some snapshots from what President Donald Trump describes as the nation with the "best testing in the world" for the coronavirus:
In Sun Belt states where the virus is surging, lines of cars with people seeking tests snake for hours in the beating sun, often yielding results so far after the fact that they're useless.
In Pittsburgh, adults who are afraid they've been exposed to the coronavirus are being asked to skip testing if they can quarantine at home for 14 days to help reduce delays and backlogs.
In Hawaii, the governor will wait another month to lift a two-week quarantine on visitors because of test supply shortages and delays that potential visitors are facing in getting results.
Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, told AP that "it's essentially worthless to have a test result that comes back after 48 hours."
"We are nowhere near being able to rein in this virus with the amount of testing we have available at the moment," said Wen. "Testing is the linchpin."
Is your state doing enough testing? Great to have @collinskeith use our @harvardgh approach Short answer: 39 stat… https://t.co/O7300KAqmO— Ashish "The pandemic is still with us" Jha (@Ashish "The pandemic is still with us" Jha)1594390880.0
Blair Holladay, CEO of the American Society for Clinical Pathology, told USA Today on Saturday that because the Trump administration has failed to implement a national testing strategy, "states are duking it out for supply chains."
"It's the Wild, Wild West," said Holladay.
In an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday morning, Colorado's Democratic Gov. Jared Polis said "the national testing scene is a complete disgrace."
"Every test we send out to private lab partners nationally, Quest, Labcorp, seven days, eight days, nine days — maybe six days if we're lucky," Polis said of the amount of time it typically takes to get test results back. "Almost useless from an epidemiological or even diagnostic perspective."
"Fortunately, our state lab has done yeoman's work," Polis continued. "We're running three shifts a day there, 24 hours a day. So while some are still sent out of state, and unfortunately that takes a long time and we can't count on it and our country needs to get testing right, we're trying to build that capacity in Colorado."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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The administration's changes would remove the blanket rule giving threatened species the same protections as endangered species, allow regulators to calculate the economic cost of protecting any given species and make it harder to protect species from the impacts of the climate crisis. They were announced months after a major UN biodiversity report warned that one million species could go extinct because of human activity.
#BREAKING— Democratic AGs (@DemocraticAGs) September 25, 2019
Democratic AGs across the country just took action to save the Endangered Species Act!
So far, Dem AGs have taken more than 250 actions to combat the ongoing climate crisis and stop the Trump admin's dangerous rollbacks in environmental policy! pic.twitter.com/haNg8INfQV
"As we face a climate emergency and global extinction crisis threatening more than a million species, the Trump Administration is gutting Endangered Species Act protections to pave the way for oil and gas developments," Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement reported by The Washington Post. "We are suing to defend federal law and protect our imperiled wildlife and environment."
Massachusetts was one of the states that led the suit filed Wednesday, along with Maryland and California. They were joined by Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington state, along with Washington, DC and New York City.
"We don't challenge these actions because we want to pick a fight," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a press conference announcing the suit. "We challenge these actions because it is necessary. We're coming out swinging to defend this consequential law. Humankind, and the species with whom we share this planet, depend on it."
In suing, the states are fulfilling a promise made in August, when the changes were first announced, according to The Washington Post. Their action follows on a similar lawsuit brought by environmental groups last month.
The Department of the Interior (DOI), for its part, defended the changes.
"These are long overdue and necessary regulatory changes that will recover more imperiled species facing extinction than previously accomplished over the span of this law," DOI spokesman Nick Goodwin said in a statement reported by HuffPost. "We will see them in court, and we will be steadfast in our implementation of this important act to improve conservation efforts across the country."
Privately, however, senior DOI officials have spoken distastefully of the entire 1973 law, calling it a "sword to tear down the American economy," HuffPost reported.
The states' suit came a day before the changes are scheduled to start taking effect, USA Today reported.
Since it was passed, the Endangered Species Act has saved 99 percent of the plants and animals under its protection from extinction. It has been linked to the recovery of iconic species like the bald eagle and gray wolf, and currently protects more than 1,600 species.
"As we face the unprecedented threat of a climate emergency, now is the time to strengthen our planet's biodiversity, not to destroy it," Becerra said in a statement reported by USA Today. "The only thing we want to see extinct are the beastly policies of the Trump administration putting our ecosystems in critical danger."
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The Department of Energy (DOE) announced Wednesday it would reverse a requirement that three-way, recessed can, candle-shaped and round bulbs switch from incandescent and halogen bulbs to more energy-efficient LED varieties. The requirement would have gone into effect in January 2020 and would have impacted bulbs that fill 2.7 billion U.S. sockets, nearly half the sockets in the country, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) explained.
The DOE also said it would not update standards for bulbs still included in a light-bulb efficiency regulation, like common pear-shaped bulbs. Together, the two decisions will add $14 billion to yearly U.S. energy bills up to 2025 and consume at least 25 power plants worth of energy annually, the NRDC calculated.
BREAKING: The Dept. of @Energy announced it will proceed with rolling back energy-saving standards for everyday lig… https://t.co/VuG9VJ4Lpg— NRDC 🌎 (@NRDC 🌎)1567611939.0
"The Energy Department flat out got it wrong today," Alliance to Save Energy President Jason Hartke said of the rollback, as CNBC reported. "Instead of moving us forward, this rule will keep more energy-wasting bulbs on store shelves and saddle the average American household with about $100 in unnecessary energy costs every year. Wasting energy with inefficient lightbulbs isn't just costly for homes and businesses, it's terrible for our climate."
The reversed regulation has its origins in a bill that passed Congress and was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007. That bill aimed to phase out incandescent and halogen bulbs by 2020, according to the NRDC. It was updated in 2017 to include the reflector, candle-shaped, three-way and round bulbs that the DOE is now excluding.
The NRDC claims the rollback is illegal because it violates the "anti-backsliding" provision that says the DOE cannot weaken standards once they are put in place.
"We will explore all options, including litigation, to stop this completely misguided and unlawful action," Noah Horowitz, director of the NRDC's Center for Energy Efficiency Standards, said in a statement reported by CNBC.
However, DOE spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes told The New York Times that the 2007 law only mandated the department issue standards when "economically justified." She argued that the reversed standards were not.
The rollback "will ensure that the choice of how to light homes and businesses is left to the American people, not the federal government," she said.
The National Electrical Manufacturers Association, the trade association for light bulb makers, praised the DOE's decision and said it "will not impact the market's continuing, rapid adoption of energy-saving lighting."
But Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, questioned the motives of the light bulb makers. He told NPR that a single LED light bulb can last a consumer 10 years or more, which means the companies have an interest in encouraging the continued use of shorter-lasting, less efficient bulbs.
But for everyone besides the light bulb makers, preserving inefficient bulbs is wrong-headed.
"The Trump administration is trying to protect technology that was first invented in the 1800s. It's like trying to protect the horse and buggy from the automobile technology. It makes no sense to go back to technology from two centuries ago, when we have new technology today which saves consumers money and helps protect the environment by reducing the amount of power that we need," deLaski told NPR.
By Elliott Negin
On July 19, President Trump hosted Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and their families, along with the family of their deceased colleague Neil Armstrong, at a White House event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first manned landing on the moon.
"Tomorrow will represent 50 years from the time we planted a beautiful American flag on the moon," Trump said. "And that was an achievement, possibly one of the great, considered one of the great achievements ever."
Trump's fractured syntax notwithstanding, the Apollo program was indeed a stunning triumph of federal science, involving more than 34,000 National Aeronautics and Space Administration employees and 375,000 industry and university contractors. It was one of many spectacular achievements by federal and federally funded scientists over the last half-century, such as the creation of the internet, fiber optics and magnetic resonance imaging technology, not to mention the role those scientists played in providing the technical underpinning for health and environmental standards that save lives and protect critical ecosystems and wildlife habitats.
Trump's lauding of the Apollo 11 mission rang a particularly discordant note given the lengths to which his administration has gone to destroy federal science by censoring scientific findings, gagging agency scientists and fostering a hostile working environment. Since taking office, the administration has launched more than 100 attacks on science, according to my organization, the Union of Concerned Scientists — more than the George W. Bush administration amassed over its two four-year terms.
Just a day before Trump's Apollo photo op, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it would reject scientific evidence and the recommendation of its own staff scientists by not banning chlorpyrifos, the widely used agricultural pesticide shown to hamper childhood brain development. It was the agency's second scientifically indefensible chemical-related decision of the year. In April, it overruled the advice of its own scientists who urged the agency to follow the example of 55 other countries in completely banning asbestos, a known carcinogen.
“By allowing chlorpyrifos to stay in our fruits and vegetables, Trump’s @EPA is breaking the law and neglecting the… https://t.co/DCZpzQKdi9— On Capitol Hill (@On Capitol Hill)1566388800.0
Today's EPA offers a stark example of the Trump administration's crusade to dismantle science-based agencies. Nearly 1,600 employees left the EPA during the first year and a half of the EPA administration, while only 400 were hired, according to data obtained by The Washington Post through a Freedom of Information Act request. Of 1,600 employees who left, at least 260 were scientists, 185 were "environmental protection specialists" and 106 were engineers. The total number of employees at the agency today — 14,172 — is the lowest in 30 years.
Besides chopping staff, the EPA has dramatically reduced the role of outside science advisers. Last fall, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, disbanded a 20-member scientific advisory committee on particulate matter, failed to convene a similar panel on ozone, and packed a seven-member advisory committee on air quality standards with industry-friendly participants.
The EPA is not the only agency pushing scientists out the door. The same day the EPA made its chlorpyrifos announcement, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that nearly two-thirds of 395 Washington, D.C.-based employees in its Economic Research Service, which provides analyses on a range of issues, and National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which oversees $1.7 billion in scientific funding, will quit rather than relocate to Kansas City.
The department's dubious rationale for moving the Research Service and National Institute is placing researchers closer to farmers and cutting costs, but its ulterior motive is to hollow out their staffs, hindering their ability to carry out their missions. Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, acknowledged as much during a speech he gave at an Aug. 2 Republican fundraiser in South Carolina.
"You've heard about 'drain the swamp.' What you probably haven't heard is what we are actually doing," he said. "I don't know if you saw the news the other day, but the USDA just tried to move, or did move, two offices out of Washington, D.C…. Guess what happened? More than half the people quit…. What a wonderful way to sort of streamline government, and do what we haven't been able to do for a long time."
Capitol Hill Science Defenders
Some members of Congress are fighting back. Late last month, for example, the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress — a temporary committee with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans — unanimously approved a recommendation to resurrect the Office of Technology Assessment, a congressional watchdog agency that then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich killed in the mid-1990s.
The select committee's recommendation comes on the heels of a draft House spending bill for the 2020 fiscal year that includes $6 million to jumpstart the agency, which provided Congress with analyses on a range of topics, from acid rain to climate change to renewable energy, from 1972 to 1995.
Meanwhile, House Democrats and Republicans alike voiced their support for protecting federal science during a recent Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing on scientific integrity. Two dozen federal agencies have adopted scientific integrity policies since 2010, but they are inconsistent and difficult to enforce, so some members of Congress want to codify protections in a law.
"Allowing political power or special interests to manipulate or suppress federal science hurts, and hurts all of us," said New York Rep. Paul Tonko at the July 17 hearing. "It leads to dirtier air, unsafe water, toxic products on our shelves, and chemicals in our homes and environment. And it has driven federal inaction in response to the growing climate crisis."
Earlier this year, Tonko introduced the Scientific Integrity Act, which would guarantee federal scientists the right to share their findings with the public, ensure the accuracy of government science-related communications, and protect scientific research from political interference.
Federal science has taken an unprecedented beating during the Trump administration and remains a long way from its glory days half a century ago when it landed men on the moon. Tonko recognizes that protecting scientific integrity is a critical first step to rebuilding American scientific enterprise and that it deserves bipartisan support.
"Scientific integrity is a longstanding concern that transcends any one party or political administration," Tonko said. "The abuses directed by this president and his top officials have brought a new urgency to the issue, but the fact remains whether a Democrat or Republican sits in the [House] speaker's chair or the Oval Office, we need strong scientific integrity policies."
Elliott Negin is a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
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By Jake Johnson
With more than a million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico facing devastating food stamp cuts as Congress fails to provide necessary hurricane relief funding, President Donald Trump reportedly complained to Republican senators on Tuesday that the island is receiving "too much" aid — a position that was decried as both false and cruel.
"The president continues to show his vindictive behavior towards Puerto Rico and he continues to make the humanitarian crisis worse," said San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. "He is ensuring that people don't have food to put on the table."
Trump's remarks came during a private lunch with Republicans Tuesday, during which — according to the Washington Post — the president inflated the amount of aid Puerto Rico has received since Hurricane Maria and pushed lawmakers to limit funding to the island.
"At the lunch Tuesday, Trump rattled off the amount of aid that had been designated for other disaster-hit states and compared it with the amount allocated for Puerto Rico following the 2017 hurricane, which he said was too high," the Post reported.
After claiming that Puerto Rico has received $91 billion in federal aid — it is unclear where he got this number — Trump reportedly said "one could buy Puerto Rico four times over for $91 billion."
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló responded with outrage to Trump's reported comments in a statement late Tuesday.
"People from all over the nation, and the world, have witnessed the inequalities Americans face on the island," Rosselló said. "The federal response and its treatment during these past months in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria is clear evidence of our second-class citizenship."
"Mr. President: Enough with the insults and demeaning characterizations," he added. "We are not asking for anything more than any other U.S. state has received. We are merely asking for equality."
Trump's complaint about aid to the storm-ravaged island comes as an estimated 1.3 million Puerto Ricans — including hundreds of thousands of children and elderly people — have had life-saving food aid cut amid inaction and obstruction from the White House and congressional Republicans.
"We just don't have the money right now," said Myrna Izquierdo, an administrator at a Puerto Rican health clinic that relies on food stamp funding. "It's very hard. It is so unfair. That cut is going to kill us."
The amount of reporting we have about the president's willful neglect of American citizens in Puerto Rico should be… https://t.co/W2zT6HhooN— Steadman™ (@Steadman™)1553602419.0
Late Tuesday afternoon, the Senate advanced a disaster relief bill that Democrats said is far from adequate to address the crises in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. According to one study, the storm may have killed nearly 6,000 people.
"The lack of leadership and coordination, combined with delays in meeting the basic needs of the island, more than 18 months after receiving a presidential disaster declaration, has left far too many children and elderly citizens in unhealthy and unsafe conditions, families in severely damaged homes and communities without adequate infrastructure to sustain a decent quality of life," Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote in a letter to the White House on Tuesday.
Despite the island's dire situation, Trump has reportedly said that he "doesn't want another single dollar going to the island."
"Puerto Rico is in dire need of increased food assistance funding," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wrote on Twitter this week. "It's unconscionable that we've allowed our fellow Americans to suffer for so long without the full resources of the U.S. government. We must act now to end this crisis."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
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With border wall construction imminent, the center posted a two-minute video featuring a bobcat living in the facility's southern 70 acres that will be cut off by the barrier once it's built.
"Little does this bobcat know," the center states in the video, "its ability to hunt, find shelter, find a mate and raise its young is about to be drastically affected by a concrete and steel wall it will never be able to get past."
What's more, the center noted, the floodlights that will be installed along the wall will "light up the entire area like a war zone all night long."
The underlying message of the clip is the U.S.-Mexico barrier's negative impact to native species and the surrounding environment.
The Trump administration waived 28 environmental laws including the Endangered Species Act in order to build 33 more miles of wall in the Rio Grande Valley, including a 5.5-mile concrete and steel barrier through the butterfly refuge. The project was funded by last year's congressional appropriations.
The National Butterfly Center Director Marianna Wright told the Guardian that the wall's construction would harm the butterflies as well as other species like the Texas tortoise, Texas indigo snake and Texas horned lizard that also find refuge on the center's land.
The butterfly sanctuary has filed an emergency restraining order on Monday to halt the construction, the Texas Observer reported. The center is also urging supporters to call their senators and representatives to stop any further border wall funding.
A 2017 study by the Center for Biological Diversity looking at the potential impact of the wall on 93 threatened or… https://t.co/wJzVEDBhA6— Center for Bio Div (@Center for Bio Div)1549994979.0
Meanwhile, the center wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday that trees were being taken down in their section of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Wildlife Conservation Corridor, "a remnant of native habitat set aside for species protection."
The post also included a Facebook live video from writer and conservation photographer Krista Schlyer, who went to the site to observe the construction work. Schlyer said in a later video that authorities escorted her away from the construction site.
"They really don't want me to see what's going on back there," she said.
Construction of #borderwall began this morning on the La Parida tract of the Lower Rio Grande Refuge. The forest is… https://t.co/F9CuOvfNhs— krista schlyer (@krista schlyer)1550153951.0
In a 2-1 decision (pdf), the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed an earlier district court ruling that determined the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has broad authority under the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 to waive statutes such as the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act and many more environmental rules to build border barriers.
"Because the projects are statutorily authorized and DHS has waived the environmental laws California and the environmental groups seek to enforce, we affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment to DHS," judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote in the majority opinion.
A Justice Department spokesperson told The Hill that the ruling was "a victory for the Trump administration, for the rule of law, and above all, for our border security."
The lawsuit was originally filed in 2017 by multiple conservation groups and the state of California in response to the federal government's waiver of 37 environmental regulations to build prototypes of the planned border wall in the Otay Mesa area of San Diego County, as well as a replacement for existing border infrastructure along a 15-mile stretch of the U.S.-Mexico boundary south of San Diego.
The Center for Biological Diversity, one of the litigants, was disappointed by Monday's court ruling, especially as the challengers tried to take the case to the Supreme Court but was rejected in December.
"Congress has ceded its authority to Trump, who has swept aside fundamental public safety and environmental laws to build walls that won't work," Brian Segee, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney, said in a statement to The Hill after the decision. "This lawlessness is destroying irreplaceable ecosystems and militarizing communities."
A 2017 study by the Center for Biological Diversity looking at the potential impact of the wall on 93 threatened or… https://t.co/wJzVEDBhA6— Center for Bio Div (@Center for Bio Div)1549994979.0
Environmental concerns about the controversial border wall are on full display in Texas, where construction is imminent at the National Butterfly Center—the most diverse butterfly sanctuary in the U.S.
A planned 5.5-mile section of concrete and steel border wall that was funded by the the 2018 Omnibus spending bill will cut off 70 percent of the 100-acre property.
Some 200 species of butterflies find a home there each year, including the Mexican bluewing, the black swallowtail and the increasingly imperiled monarch.
On Monday, the nonprofit filed a temporary restraining order against the federal government to halt construction until a lawsuit filed by the center has been resolved, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
The Trump administration also waived 28 environmental laws including the Endangered Species Act in order to build 33 more miles of wall in the lower Rio Grande Valley, including the section through the butterfly center.
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Construction equipment has arrived to build a border wall through the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, a protected habitat for more than 200 species of wild butterflies and other unique wildlife.
A planned 5.5 mile section of concrete and steel border wall that is already funded will cut off 70 percent of the 100-acre property. The barrier will be built on top of a levee of the Rio Grande that runs through the sanctuary.
An excavator and eight law enforcement units arrived around the center on Sunday, the National Butterfly Center wrote in a Facebook post.
"Effective Monday morning, it is all government land," a Mission police department officer said, according to the post.
Bulldozing for the wall, which is expected to be about three stories tall, will commence any day now, the center wrote in another post on Tuesday.
National Butterfly Center faces uncertainty as heavy equipment arrives www.youtube.com
On Monday, as the construction equipment was off-loaded, roughly 35 local tribal members marched to the center in protest of the project, the
San Antonio Express-News reported.
Juan Mancias, the tribal chair of Carrizo Comecrudo, told the publication he did not expect construction to begin "this soon."
"You come over here, you see the butterflies here, the animals here, and you also see gravesites that have been here since 1865," Mancias said.
In federal documents seen by the publication, the barrier's construction includes a 150-foot-wide "enforcement zone" that could negatively impact gravesites of Mancias' ancestors buried at a nearby cemetery.
Native American protesters marched to the National Butterfly Center in South Texas this morning to protest border w… https://t.co/VQsZIijpqP— Gus Bova (@Gus Bova)1549300146.0
The butterfly center's fate was sealed in December when the Supreme Court declined to hear a case brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Defenders of Wildlife to appeal a federal court decision that the Trump administration can waive 28 environmental laws including the Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, in order to build 33 more miles of wall, including the section that runs through the refuge.
The project was funded in the 2018 Omnibus spending bill in March.
In a recent Facebook Live with EcoWatch, Marianna Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center said morale on the ground was "pretty bad."
"The potential impacts are devastating," Wright continued. "Especially for animals like the ocelot where we have fewer than 80 known in existence."
If you'd like to help, the center has started a Go Fund Me to protect the site.
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