Trump's First Two Weeks: the Bad, the Ugly and Yes, the Good
By Keith Gaby
It's been two chaotic, unsettling two weeks since Donald Trump was inaugurated. Whoever first offered the curse, "May you live in interesting times," knew what he was talking about.
For those who want progress toward a cleaner environment, it's been a challenging 14 days. Here are a few thoughts about developments we've seen so far.
Doomsday Clock Now Two and a Half Minutes to Midnight, Thanks to Trump https://t.co/yboK3r52ZT @Sierra_Magazine @EUEnvironment— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1485471623.0
President Trump's campaign was filled with anti-environmental rhetoric and since the election he's been making clear that he meant it.
Big oil lobby scored
The president began by nominating a cabinet that's radically imbalanced toward big energy interests: the chief executive of ExxonMobil for Secretary of State, oil-industry ally Rick Perry for the top job at the energy department, and Scott Pruitt to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—the agency he's sued 14 times to block clean air and water rules.
Like much about this president, there was nothing subtle about these picks. Big oil and gas lobbyists got what they wanted.
Groups Denounce GOP's Move to Force Through #Trump's @EPA Pick https://t.co/ybzROoRIoC @SierraClub @NRDC @greenpeaceusa @billmckibben @350— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1486062523.0
Rules being killed, arbitrarily
Next, the president issued a series of troubling executive orders, including one that requires two rules or safeguards to be withdrawn for every new one that's issued. It's a blunt instrument that ignores whether the rules are effective, or necessary for public health, or to make our economy function properly.
This arbitrary ratio is far more of a political statement than a real effort to make government work more efficiently. Its impacts could be serious.
Congress plays along
The administration's allies in Congress are on the same course.
The House has already passed bills to require that almost all significant federal regulations be approved by both houses of Congress before taking effect. It may sound reasonable until you consider that critical government rules on clean air, children's health and any other subject can be held up by a handful of senators.
Equally alarming: Such radical new policies replace expert analysis based on science and law with a highly political, unscientific process.
Yet another bill would sunset all existing regulations after 10 years, reopening long settled issues like child labor, food safety and financial security.
Maybe most self-defeating, the House endorsed a bill that allows leaks from natural gas wells to continue on federal and tribal laws. The gas belongs to the public so cancelling this rule will cost taxpayers up to $800 million in lost royalties over the next decade, while increasing air and climate pollution.
In their zeal to strip away anything labeled "regulation," lawmakers are busy rolling back common sense.
Yes, there has been some good in the Trump era.
We the People are standing up
Mostly importantly, there's been an enormous surge in citizen activism. The streets have been filled with protesters, demanding a return to government that serves the public first. At the women's marches the day after Trump's inauguration, many people also carried signs calling for environmental protection.
The surge in citizenship hasn't just been in the streets. Sen. Brian Schatz reports that the United States Capitol switchboard is busier than at any point in history, with almost double the call volume.
Activism is already paying off
As Americans join together, advocacy groups are gaining new supporters. In fact, Environmental Defense Fund just passed two million members and activists, with historic growth since the November elections. Americans are taking back their democracy.
Best of all, there are indications the activism is having an impact. After an outcry, the Trump administration paused plans to wipe away climate information on the EPA website—though stay tuned. Public pressure also forced EPA pick Scott Pruitt to claim a change in position on mercury pollution during his hearings.
And on the natural gas leak vote earlier today, 11 Republican members of the House broke with leadership.
But there are many ugly fights ahead.
Environmental rules on the chopping block
If and when Trump is able to push his cabinet through, these agency leaders will begin implementing his policies in earnest.
The Clean Power Plan, which reduces pollution and established American leadership on clean energy and climate, has been targeted for attack. The Paris international climate agreement, the first in history to join developed and developing nations in the effort to limit climate pollution, will be the subject of battles inside and outside the administration.
In a larger sense, the momentum toward clean energy and strong health protections is at risk. With an administration run entirely by industry allies and those ideologically opposed to the idea of government action, there will many battles to come.
So, 14 days in, we've seen an administration set on a dangerous course, and millions of citizens determined to turn them back. How it plays out will depend on who tires of the battle first.
Keith Gaby is the senior communications director for climate, health and political affairs at Environmental Defense Fund.
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.
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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>
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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.