Quantcast

Shutdown, Drilling and Coal: The Trump Administration’s Holiday Gifts to the World

The Paradise Fossil Plant in Kentucky. TVA

By Tara Lohan

President Trump didn't exactly lie low over the holidays.


The battle over border-wall funding and the announced departures of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stole most of the headlines, but they were hardly the only events of the Trump administration's Christmas.

We kept a close watch on news affecting the environment, health and wildlife, and there was plenty to keep us busy. From new developments on plans to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to attacks on air-pollution regulations, here's a blow-by-blow account of what you may have missed:

Dec. 14: Trump tapped his budget director and notorious climate-change denier Mick Mulvaney as his new chief of staff. The former South Carolina Congressman has a 6 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters, and when asked about funding for climate programs in 2017, he said, "We consider that to be a waste of your money."

Dec. 15: Trump announced that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is facing numerous investigations, would be out at the end of the year. Follow-up reporting reminded folks that Zinke will likely still be forced to account for his actions. And of course, the infrastructure of like-minded fossil fuel boosters that he put into place in Interior will live on long after he's gone.

Dec. 18: Thirteen species being considered for Endangered Species Act listing were all denied protection by the Trump administration. The ill-fated species include the Cedar Key mole skink, Florida sandhill crane, Fremont County rockcress, Frisco buckwheat, Ostler's peppergrass, Frisco clover, MacGillivray's seaside sparrow, Ozark pyrg, pale blue-eyed grass, San Joaquin Valley giant flower-loving fly, striped newt, Tinian monarch and Tippecanoe darter. (One of those species, the Ozark pyrg, won't get protected because it's been declared extinct—after waiting decades as a candidate species for the Endangered Species Act.)

Dec. 19: Trump's Department of Energy helped grease the wheels for the natural gas industry by speeding up the export-approval process for liquefied natural gas.

Dec. 19: The administration released a plan to reduce children's lead exposure, but it got mixed reviews, with many concluding it lacked teeth to make any significant difference. "This plan does not actually promise to take specific regulatory or enforcement action within any specific time," said a statement from Erik Olson, senior director of Health and Food for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Dec. 20: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced his resignation. In a rare exception to Trump administration denialism, Mattis spoke about the threats of climate change and their potential impacts on national security and global political stability.

Dec. 20: The Bureau of Land Management released its "draft environmental impact statement" for opening up the famed Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. Sticking to a rushed timeline, the agency said it intends to start lease sales later this year.

Dec. 21: The federal government is still fighting protection for grizzlies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service filed a notice that it will appeal a decision by a judge in Montana that reinstated Endangered Species Act protection to grizzly bears in the Yellowstone area after the agency moved to delist them in 2017.

Dec. 22: A partial government shutdown began after Trump refused to sign a continuing resolution over demands for funding for a border wall that would devastate wildlife, public lands and regional economies. The shutdown furloughed biologists from the Fish and Wildlife Service, climate-change researchers from NASA, rangers and other staff at national parks, weather forecasters and a host of other government employees working to protect and steward our public-trust resources.

Dec. 25: Within days of the shutdown, access to online information from various federal agencies was reported missing, including public documents from the Department of the Interior related to a controversial plan to change conservation rules that would threaten sage-grouse habitat. Online tools and information sites from the ENERGY STAR program and other government agencies were also shut off.

Dec. 26: As the shutdown continues, reports emerge about how it puts wildlife and public safety at risk at national parks and other federal lands. The problem only got worse by the end of the month, when the parks whose gates remained open—but whose staffs were not allowed to work—reported overflowing visitors' toilets and a rash of vandalism, fires and other damage to natural habitats.

Dec. 28: In a move that could affect future public-health rules, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a draft rule that would change the way the government determines the cost and benefit of harmful air pollutants. Critics point out this would hurt both humans and wildlife. "EPA's proposal to undermine the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards is one of its most dangerous efforts yet," said a statement from Harold P. Wimmer, chief executive of the American Lung Association.

Dec. 29: The impacts of the partial government shutdown reached the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which finally ran out of funds and furloughed staff whose jobs include, "answering Freedom of Information Act requests, inspection of power plants and reviews of toxic substances," Mother Jones reported.

What will January bring? We'll undoubtedly see more similar attacks on the environment, and the effects of the government shutdown will continue to build. But House Democrats are already planning to introduce a new spending bill that could, in theory, reopen the EPA and other agencies, and the new wave of recently elected pro-environment Democratic candidates is about to take office. Whether that leads to progress, or if we'll keep getting coal in our stockings, remains to be seen.

Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published byThe Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist,Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.

Sponsored
Prince William and British naturalist David Attenborough attend converse during the World Economic Forum annual meeting, on January 22 in Davos, Switzerland. Fabrice Cofferini /AFP / Getty Images

Britain's Prince William interviewed famed broadcaster David Attenborough on Tuesday at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Switzerland.

During the sit-down, the 92-year-old naturalist advised the world leaders and business elite gathered in Davos this week that we must respect and protect the natural world, adding that the future of its survival—as well as humanity's survival—is in our hands.

Read More Show Less
EV charging lot in Anaheim, California. dj venus / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Electric vehicle sales took off in 2018, with a record two million units sold around the world, according to a new Deloitte analysis.

What's more, the accounting firm predicts that another 21 million electric cars will be on the road globally over the next decade due to growing market demand for clean transportation, government subsidies, as well as bans on fossil fuel cars.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Teenager Alex Weber and friends collected nearly 40,000 golf balls hit into the ocean from a handful of California golf courses. Alex Weber / CC BY-ND

By Matthew Savoca

Plastic pollution in the world's oceans has become a global environmental crisis. Many people have seen images that seem to capture it, such as beaches carpeted with plastic trash or a seahorse gripping a cotton swab with its tail.

As a scientist researching marine plastic pollution, I thought I had seen a lot. Then, early in 2017, I heard from Alex Weber, a junior at Carmel High School in California.

Read More Show Less
Southwest Greenland had the most consistent ice loss from 2003 to 2012. Eqalugaarsuit, Ostgronland, Greenland on Aug. 1, 2018. Rob Oo / CC BY 2.0

Greenland is melting about four times faster than it was in 2003, a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found, a discovery with frightening implications for the pace and extent of future sea level rise.

"We're going to see faster and faster sea level rise for the foreseeable future," study lead author and Ohio State University geodynamics professor Dr. Michael Bevis said in a press release. "Once you hit that tipping point, the only question is: How severe does it get?"

Read More Show Less
Seismic tests are a precursor to offshore drilling for oil and gas. BSEE

Finally, some good news about the otherwise terrible partial government shutdown. A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration cannot issue permits to conduct seismic testing during the government impasse.

The Justice Department sought to delay—or stay—a motion filed by a range of coastal cities, businesses and conservation organizations that are suing the Trump administration over offshore oil drilling, Reuters reported. The department argued that it did not have the resources it needed to work on the case due to the shutdown.

Read More Show Less
Brazil, Pantanal, water lilies. Nat Photos / DigitalVision / Getty Images Plus

Most people have heard of the Amazon, South America's famed rainforest and hub of biological diversity. Less well known, though no less critical, is the Pantanal, the world's largest tropical wetland.

Like the Amazon, the Pantanal is ecologically important and imperiled. Located primarily in Brazil, it also stretches into neighboring Bolivia and Paraguay. Covering an area larger than England at more than 70,000 square miles, the massive wetland provides irreplaceable ecosystem services that include the regulation of floodwaters, nutrient renewal, river flow for navigability, groundwater recharge and carbon sequestration. The wetland also supports the economies of the four South American states it covers.

Read More Show Less
Demonstrators participate in a protest march over agricultural policy on Jan. 19 in Berlin, Germany. Carsten Koall / Getty Images Europe

By Andrea Germanos

Organizers said 35,000 people marched through the streets of the German capital on Saturday to say they're "fed up" with industrial agriculture and call for a transformation to a system that instead supports the welfare of the environment, animals and rural farmers.

Read More Show Less
MarioGuti / iStock / Getty Images

By Patrick Rogers

If you have ever considered making the switch to an environmentally friendly electric vehicle, don't drag your feet. Though EV prices are falling, and states are unveiling more and more public charging stations and plug-in-ready parking spots, the federal government is doing everything it can to slam the brakes on our progress away from gas-burning internal combustion engines. President Trump, likely pressured by his allies in the fossil fuel industry, has threatened to end the federal tax credits that have already helped put hundreds of thousands of EVs on the road—a move bound to harm not only our environment but our economy, too. After all, the manufacturing and sale of EVs, hybrids, and plug-in hybrids supported 197,000 jobs in 2017, according to the most recent U.S. Energy and Employment Report.

Read More Show Less