Advert

Environment protection agency in US under threat

President-elect Donald Trump has also vowed to dismantle the US Environmental Protection Agency although there is still a glimmer of hope that his campaign rhethoric regarding the agency may go the way of his climate flip. Photo: Reuters/Mike Segar

President-elect Donald Trump has also vowed to dismantle the US Environmental Protection Agency although there is still a glimmer of hope that his campaign rhethoric regarding the agency may go the way of his climate flip. Photo: Reuters/Mike Segar

“The sky was black as the water and you could choke on the breeze. The coal miner’s daughters they were shouting from the trees”.

The opening lyrics of West Virginian millennium band American Minor (2005) recall the deadly Buffalo Creek flood of 1972. Four days after being declared “satisfactory” by a federal mine inspector, a dam that was built from unstable dumped coal waste collapsed, killing 125 people. The engineering disaster left its mark on the US collective memory.

More recently – in 2015 a blow-out in an abandoned Colorado gold mine added to a long litany of incidents in America’s water pollution history. Local tap water in Durango was tainted with heavy metals, especially lead, at hundreds of times over the accepted limits.

Hopelessly out of date by the 1970s, the 1948 Federal Water Pollution Law was amended to regulate discharges into navigable waters of the United States, and wastewater standards for industry were set. But water regulations were in constant flux and it was unclear how far upstream regulators should go to protect the water downstream.

To clear up the confusion, a 2015 technical document pinpointed exactly which rivers, streams, lakes and marshes fall under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The rule was drawn up to identify whether anti-pollution laws are triggered when a farmer blocks a stream to make a pond for livestock, or real-estate developers fill in part of a wetland to build luxury houses… or where an oil pipeline might cross a creek.

Known as the ‘Rule of US waters’, this Obama-driven piece of legislation fell foul of the election campaign when Donald Trump vowed to rescind it.

He found favour with industries likely to engage in polluting activities that resent the arm of the EPA venturing too far upstream. Here they risked being caught dumping into backwater tributaries of major rivers and causing widespread pollution. The President-elect has also vowed to dismantle the EPA in almost every form.

A day after the November 8 election, the director of a libertarian advocacy group for industry was slated to head Trump’s transition plans for the EPA.

Myron Ebell has acted as environmental policy director for the Competitive Enterprises Institute (CEI), a right-wing think tank which postures as an advocate of “sound science” in the development of public policy.

We only have to look at the dismantling of our own Malta Environment and Planning Authority and doctoring of planning law to feel dismayed by the direction of these events

Yet according to financial blog The Business Insider, Ebell is not a scientist and has no degrees or qualifications in climate science. The CEI is known for its long-standing ties to tobacco disinformation campaigns. And, to the delight of the agri-chemical industry, a website run by the institute downplays the health and ecological impacts of pesticides. Director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a top Earth scientist at NASA, Gavin Schmidt, has said of Ebell: “He doesn’t really know anything about science.

“His technique is to point toward some little fact and use it to extrapolate some larger irrelevant and scientifically incorrect point.”

The self-declared CEI agenda is to challenge government regulations, push property rights as a solution to environmental problems and oppose fuel efficiency standards for US vehicles.

Although many fear the worst, it isn’t clear whether Ebell himself would become head of the US environment protection agency or merely appoint another industry sycophant.

Either way, we can expect some dramatic changes in US environmental policy.

Until Trump, every major piece of environmental legislation from the Clean Air Act of 1970 to the Toxic Chemicals Protection Bill (signed by President Obama last June) has been passed by bringing together ideas from Republicans and Democrats.

As former EPA official Diane Regas says: “It’s obvious that a cleaner environment and a safer climate aren’t part of a radical left-wing agenda but rather they are a core American value shared by a huge majority of citizens.”

Regas is currently director of the Environmental Defense Fund, a non-profit organisation described by The Economist as “America’s most economically literate green campaigners.” As an advisor to presidents from both sides of the political spectrum for 20 years, she based her approach on scientific, market-based and bi-partisan solutions.

The President-elect surprised the world two weeks after his election with a sudden “open mind” attitude towards climate change.

There is still a glimmer of hope in some quarters that Trump’s campaign rhethoric on the EPA may go the way of his climate flip.

Associate professor of Environmental Politics at the University of California, Sarah Anderson, believes the EPA is unlikely to disappear: “If the Trump administration makes too many Budget cuts then lawsuits and public pressure to keep environmental quality high are likely to limit the administration’s ability to decimate the agency.”

We only have to look at the dismantling of our own Malta Environment and Planning Authority and doctoring of planning law to feel dismayed by the direction of these events.

Comments not loading? We recommend using Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox with javascript turned on.
Comments powered by Disqus  
Advert
Advert