Published in The Delaware County Daily Times February 2, 2020
By Joseph Batory
We are experiencing a political onslaught fueled by corporate greed that is endangering the health and safety of present and future generations of Americans.
Just a few weeks ago, as reported by the Associated Press, the White House unveiled a plan to greatly reduce environmental oversight on a wide array of commercial projects. This proposal, which is now in the midst of a 60-day period for public input, will limit the review impacts of the National Environmental Policy Act, signed by Republican President Richard Nixon in 1970.
The existing legislation, in place for nearly 50 years, requires federal agencies to consider whether a project would harm the air, land, water or wildlife. It also gave the public, including people living in neighborhoods/areas around a proposed dam, pipeline or other big project, the right of review and input. Congress said at the time that the nation was moving to fulfill the responsibilities of each generation as trustee of the environment for succeeding generations.
So much for federal government promises! And it gets much worse. Since the election of 2016, with little publicity, that same government has been rejecting the worldwide scientific consensus re climate change and has also been restricting and prohibiting scientific research as well as the publication/use of scientific information.
An expose by The New York Times offered this summary: Political appointees have shut down government studies, reduced the influence of scientists over regulatory decisions and in some cases pressured researchers not to speak publicly. The administration has particularly challenged scientific findings related to the environment and public health which had been opposed by industries such as oil drilling and coal mining. It has also impeded research around human-caused climate change, which the president has dismissed despite a global scientific consensus.
“The disregard for scientific expertise by the federal government is worse than it’s ever been,” summarized Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, which has tracked more than 200 government efforts which have ignored or distorted scientific findings in the past two years.
Since 2016, many top government positions, including those at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Interior (DOI), have been headed up by former lobbyists connected to the industries that those federal agencies are supposed to regulate.
Scott Pruitt was appointed as EPA Director three years ago, ironically after building a long career of attacking the EPA. He has since resigned under a cloud of ethics violations but not until he had rolled back numerous regulations involving environmental protections for America’s citizenry. His replacement, Andrew Wheeler, the latest EPA director, is a former coal lobbyist closely aligned with
climate change deniers, who has been prioritizing more deregulation of EPA rules that govern environmental safety.
The Department of the Interior, which is charged with the management and conservation of federal lands, has been plagued with scandals. Former director Ryan Zinke, the initial Trump appointee, has now departed after a series of federal investigations. His replacement, David Bernhardt, is a former lobbyist for oil, gas, agri-business and mining interests. Are the interests of corporate greed now being served by government agencies?
There is a growing list of disturbing examples of these government actions which misrepresent/refute scientific reality. Here are just some examples:
- There are currently two major EPA efforts to weaken federal limits on water and air pollution. One of them lessens rules about mercury pollution from power plants and what sort of chemicals can be used near waterways. The other one cuts back fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks. Both measures are expected to be put in place in the next few months.
- The National Park Service’s principal climate change scientist, Dr. Patrick Gonzalez, received a “cease and desist” letter from supervisors after testifying to Congress about the risks that global warming posed to our national parks.
- Several months ago, the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to loosen federal rules on methane by allowing oil and gas operators to largely “police themselves” (not likely) when it comes to preventing this powerful greenhouse gas from leaking out of new wells, pipelines and other infrastructure.
- The federal government is scaling back its efforts to protect species nearing extinction, as world scientists warn that a biodiversity crisis will also soon put humanity at risk.
- Last April, the White House issued two executive orders that will smooth the path for companies to build oil and gas pipelines and limit the ability of States to block them.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has rejected the research of its own scientists that asbestos should be banned because the harm from this chemical substance far outweighs any benefits.
- Scientific analysis of the United States Depart of Agriculture’s 2020 dietary guidelines has been curtailed.
- Running counter to the research of hundreds of international scientists, the Bureau of Land Management has now concluded that there is no climate crisis. Additionally, 1.6 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge have now been opened for drilling.
- About a year ago, copper and cobalt mining formerly prohibited on 2.2 million acres of protected federal land in Utah is now permitted.
- Interior Department officials have cancelled an intensive study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on the health hazards of “mountaintop removal” coal mining in places like West Virginia.
- At the Economic Research Service, dozens of planned studies into topics like dairy industry consolidation and pesticide use have been delayed or disrupted.
This current political movement of the federal government, influenced by corporate money interests, is a dangerous and irresponsible pathway. Continuing to reduce and/or curtail environmental protection will have serious consequences and will impact the health and safety of our nation’s citizens now and into the future.
Joseph Batory is the author of three books and published numerous op-ed pieces.