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Killing the EPA…and the Environment

January 18, 2017


Today two US agencies that compile data on climate change, NOAA and NASA, announced that 2016 was the hottest year on record worldwide.  This is  the third straight year that global temperatures have set a record.

In other news, Scott Pruitt–a climate change skeptic and ardent foe of the Environmental Protection Agency–is now having his hearings in the Senate to become [drumroll, please] the head of the Environmental Protection Agency!

Pruitt became the darling of anti-environmental forces as Attorney General of Oklahoma, where he built his reputation by suing the EPA to avoid compliance with its regulations. His mantra is that regulation should be left to state and local governments, not the federal government.  But his record in Oklahoma reveals little or no litigation to protect the state’s environment, but plenty to protect polluters and the oil and gas industry that dominates Oklahoma politics.

If you want to see the chapter and verse on his record, there are lots of places to look. You can start by clicking here or here.

The Republican dogma that regulation should be left to the states and localities is, of course, a ruse for doing nothing.  Many states, like Oklahoma, are dominated by industries that have a  vested interest in fighting regulation–take the coal industry which calls the shots in states like West Virginia, Wyoming, and Kentucky.  With a few exceptions like California, state governments lack either the resources or the inclination to oppose the interests of large corporations, whose annual revenues can equal or surpass the GNPs of entire countries.  State and local politicians are cheap dates for large corporations, and a few thousand or even a few hundred dollars in campaign contributions can insure favorable votes.

That leaves the federal government and, in particular, the EPA to fight the environmental battles. The flood of money from corporations and billionaires like the Kochs into national politics since Citizens United has already helped make any further legislation to protect the environment a near impossibility, which has meant that any action has had to be done through executive order.

Now Paul Ryan and his henchmen in the House have introduced three bills that would let Congress kill existing rules and block new ones.  These have received very little attention in the media and are exactly the kind of below-the-radar stealth attacks that have become the specialty of the Republican congressional Jacobins.  One would allow repeal of recent Obama administration regulations as a package rather than one by one.  The second says that a rule cannot become effective unless Congress votes to approve it, i.e., Congress could kill a rule by doing nothing. The third, the “Regulatory Accountability Act”, would impose dozens of new legal and procedural requirements on regulators and require them to adopt rules that are “least costly” to the industry being regulated, regardless of public benefits from stricter regulation.

And now we have an incoming administration that is aggressively hostile on environmental issues and which attacks the science that forms the basis for policies to address climate change. Trump has already stated his intention to rescind US implementation of the international Paris accords to reduce greenhouse gases.  If he follows through on that, the chances of stemming global warming and sea level rise drop to near zero.

If you think these issues don’t really affect you, think again.  For example, those of us who live in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro area are among the most threatened in the country by sea level rise.  Most of 6 million south Floridians live on land that is less than 10 feet above sea level, and we are already seeing increased flooding and sea water incursions during periodic “king tides”.  Miami Beach is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to raise streets and install pumps to deal with the problem.  Higher seas mean that the storm surge from a hurricane could be vastly more damaging. Salt water incursion threatens our drinking water that is drawn from the underlying aquifer.

And yet south Florida’s Republican representatives in Congress continue to deny that there is a problem, or if there is, that there is anything to be done about it.  Miami homeboy Marco Rubio still continues to profess ignorance about whether humans have brought about the sharp rise in global temperatures that NOAA and other climate scientists have definitively documented.

I think that is a betrayal of his constituents.  If you want to know why, you should probably follow the money.


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