Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Improper disposal of chemical wastes in rural Pennsylvania
I spent most of the day yesterday (Tuesday) at a trade conference for environmental restoration technologies, sponsored by the various vendors who provide the tools to clean up pollution and contamination of our planet's soil and groundwater.

It was basically a pretty nerdy affair, full of Power-point presentations on the effectiveness of each individual technology, but the opening speaker was a career (over 30 year) EPA employee, who tried to reassure us that Trump's recent freezing of the agency's grants and contracts, which effectively halts most of his agency's work, was just routine business-as-usual for a new administration.  We've been through this before, he said, adding that each new administration going all the way back to Bill Clinton's first term always halts the agency's work until their newly appointed leadership team is in place, and that soon the situation will revert back to normal and the work will go on as before.

I don't have the data to accept or reject that premise, but I don't feel that the current freeze is as un-menacing as prior stoppages.  First, Trump's nominee for the new EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, has previously sued the EPA 14 times as Oklahoma's Attorney General.  Pruitt has not only used litigation to fight environmental regulations, a 2014 investigation by the NY Times found that energy lobbyists had drafted letters outlining the economic hardship of various environmental rules that Pruitt sent, on state stationery, to the EPA, the Interior Department, the OMB, and even President Obama.  Indeed, the CEO of Continental Energy, an Oklahoma oil and gas company, was a co-chairman of Mr. Pruitt’s 2013 re-election campaign.

Yesterday, perhaps even while our EPA speaker was at the podium, Trump was signing an Executive Order expediting approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, both of which had previously been shut down by the Obama Administration.  And according to Bill McKibbon at The New Yorker, a leaked memo which surfaced on Monday indicates that the new Administration's top priorities at EPA would be to stop Obama's Clean Power Plan, which would regulated power plants under the Clean Air Act, to revise the rules that discourage development on wetlands, and to slow down efforts to halt pollution of Chesapeake Bay. So, no, I don't think that once the new leadership team is in place, it will be business-as-usual at the EPA, if by "usual" you mean protecting the environment.  The new "usual" will apparently be protecting the interests of the oil-and-gas lobby, something new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil, will undoubtedly help facilitate.

Also, for the record, a State Department report released last month on the Keystone XL pipeline found the project would create only 35 permanent jobs after the one or two years of construction jobs dried up.  “Pipelines do not require much labor to operate in the long term,” as CNBC put it.  So approval of the pipeline isn't for American workers and jobs, it's for the profit margins of oil and gas companies and their CEOs.

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