Blowing the Cover off the 'Cleanest Air' Illusion of the Trump Administration
By Julie McNamara
Notably, the Trump administration is right there with them, repeatedly claiming to want clean air — the cleanest air—too:
- Like President Trump stating: "I want clean air. I want clean water. I want the cleanest air with the cleanest water. The environment is very important to me."
- Like U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Wheeler declaring: "Our foremost concern must be ensuring clean air for all Americans. That is our goal."
- Like Secretary of State Pompeo reiterating: "This administration's been very clear we're happy to work on all things that improve safe drinking water, clean air, all those things."
At least, the Trump administration is right there with them rhetorically.
More Like Clean Air Assault
If you look past the dazzling display of the cleanest superlative parade, the narrative takes a turn. In fact, in action, the Trump administration's clean air pursuit looks a whole lot more like clean air assault.
This administration cannot have it both ways.
Despite the rhetoric, the truth of their actions still stands, and they simply cannot obfuscate away the fact that with their policies, our nation's hard-fought clean air progress is ebbing, ebbing away.
Desperately Seeking That Clean-Air Sparkle
So how does the Trump administration actually pursue that clean-air sparkle its words so desperately seek?
It's a simple recipe, really; the no-knead bread of public-health blues. An administration favorite, offered on repeat.
- One part pollution
- One part lies
- One part cruelty
Pour into area air.
Sprinkle with comparisons to the 1970s, bedazzle with visions of a trillion trees.
And behold, black magic: the very "cleanest" air.
Here, a look at how the Trump administration cooks.
One Part Pollution
Over the past three years, the Trump administration has aggressively, repeatedly, profoundly attacked mainstay public health protections from harmful air pollutants.
It has undermined the processes that inform those standards. It has sidelined the science that improves those standards. It has manipulated math to justify its attacks. It has failed to conduct the assessments that would reveal those disproportionately affected by its actions. It has stifled public engagement. It has tried slashing budgets. It has weakened enforcement. It has lessened oversight.
It has done all these things — and more — again and again and again.
Without question, with this administration, clean air is under attack.
One Part Lies
When the Trump administration undertakes these attacks on public health protections, it does so stunningly boldly — except, that is, when it gets called out.
Then it's straight to the administration's one safe space, "from 1970 to today," where the administration attempts to cloak the devastating impacts of its actions behind the cover of the fact that, compared to the 1970s, compared to the start of the Clean Air Act, compared to the founding days of the EPA, our air is cleaner now than it was back then.
The utterly shameless audacity. Snatching accolades earned by the actions of others, successes advanced by prior Republican and Democratic administrations both, and insinuating they should be awarded to this administration's health-wrecking machine instead.
Our nation's incredible clean air gains have certainly not occurred because of this administration's actions or because of its rollbacks. No, these hard-earned clean-air benefits have not occurred because of them — they've occurred in spite of them.
And now? Still an estimated 100,000 people die prematurely each year, and thanks to this administration, continued progress on clean air is threatened, stalling, even entering reverse.
One Part Cruelty
There is a world in which, after the negative effects of an administration's proposal are made clear, after experts and the general public roar back, there is a world in which an administration changes course.
But not this administration. This administration persists.
It still knee-caps scientific studies supporting stronger health standards, it still erases benefits worth billions of dollars to make regulatory rollbacks pencil out, it still props up coal plants, it still rams through industry input while sidelining experts and the public, it still puts children's health at risk. It still sets attack, after attack, after attack.
It's just that now the administration is continuing its clean air attacks while looking people straight in the face and playing them for a fool.
Our air is cleaner than it's ever been! We'll plant a trillion trees!
Pollution, lies, cruelty.
Blowing Their Cover
Critically, the Trump administration's tragicomic reframing of its outright environmental warfare into, somehow (no-how), environmental gains, only works if their cover sticks.
So far, their cover has not stuck.
Public comments have denounced their attacks. Scientific experts have blasted their moves. And when the Trump administration's actions finally make it to the courts, the administration has lost overwhelmingly.
Yet those wins are small comfort when there's still so much progress left to be made. Clean air access to be broadened, technological innovations to be implemented, emerging science to be incorporated, air pollution burdens to be lifted.
But instead of redoubling a commitment toward progress, we get this: the Trump administration touting the incredible benefits our clean air protections have enabled to date while salting the earth where the very chance for that progress had been sown.
This administration cannot have it both ways.
Julie McNamara is an energy analyst with the Climate & Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Reposted with permission from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
- Trump Named 'Worst President for Our Environment in History' by ... ›
- Trump Administration Removes Federal Database That Tracked ... ›
- Scientists: We've Found the Cleanest Air on Earth - EcoWatch ›
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Trump Denies CDC Director's 2021 Timeline for Coronavirus Vaccine ›
- Trump Orders Hospitals to Stop Sending COVID-19 Data to CDC ... ›
- Two White House Staffers Test Positive for Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Trump Admin to Disband Coronavirus Task Force - EcoWatch ›
- Pence Offers 'Prayers' as Hurricane Laura Hits Gulf Coast While ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Every September for the past 11 years, non-profit the Climate Group has hosted Climate Week NYC, a chance for business, government, activist and community leaders to come together and discuss solutions to the climate crisis.
- Covering the 2020 Elections as a Climate Story - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Delays 2020 Earth Overshoot Day by Three Weeks ... ›
By Elliot Douglas
The coronavirus pandemic has altered economic priorities for governments around the world. But as wildfires tear up the west coast of the United States and Europe reels after one of its hottest summers on record, tackling climate change remains at the forefront of economic policy.
- German Business Leaders Call for Climate Action With COVID-19 ... ›
- Climate Activists Protest Germany's New Datteln 4 Coal Power Plant ... ›
By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.