The hidden risks of Trump’s EPA cuts: Birth defects, bad air

Bloomberg reports: President Donald Trump pledged during the 2016 campaign that he would only “leave a little bit” of federal rules that protect human health and the environment. Now about 50 former officials of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are firing back in a lengthy analysis that details, program by program, what amounts to a starvation diet for the EPA.

Calling themselves the Environmental Protection Network, they worked through both Republican and Democratic administrations. The group’s members are putting aside their differences over policies and programs to stop what they say “appears to be nothing less than a full-throttle attack on the principle underlying all U.S. environmental laws—that protecting the health and environment of all Americans is a national priority.”

Even before formally registering as a nonprofit organization, the network has put together a 50-page analysis of the president’s proposed EPA budget, based partly on the White House’s fiscal 2018 budget blueprint. The blueprint, released on March 16, sketched out top-line cuts of 31 percent of the agency’s budget and 21 percent of its staff. The new administration’s targeting of the agency requires an independent, expert assessment of what’s happening there, the group says. [Continue reading…]

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U.S., in reversal, issues permit for Keystone oil pipeline

The New York Times reports: During his presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump repeatedly hailed the Keystone XL pipeline as a vital jobs program and one that sharply contrasted his vision for the economy with that of Hillary Clinton.

“Today we begin to make things right,” President Trump said Friday morning shortly after the State Department granted the pipeline giant TransCanada a permit for Keystone construction, a reversal of Obama administration policy.

The pipeline would link oil producers in Canada and North Dakota with refiners and export terminals on the Gulf Coast. It has long been an object of contention, with environmentalists saying it would contribute to climate change and the project’s proponents — Republicans, some labor unions and the oil industry — contending that it would help guarantee national energy security for decades to come.

When President Barack Obama rejected the project in late 2015, he said it would undermine American leadership in curbing reliance on carbon fuels. [Continue reading…]

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Trump expected to pick coal lobbyist as EPA deputy

Politico reports: President Donald Trump is expected to tap Andrew Wheeler, a coal lobbyist and former aide to Sen. Jim Inhofe, to be deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, sources familiar with the hiring process told POLITICO.

Sources cautioned that the decision has not yet been finalized, but they said Wheeler is expected to get the job. It’s unclear when Trump will make the announcement, but one source said it could be weeks before Wheeler is officially tapped.

Wheeler worked as an EPA staffer earlier in his career. He later joined Inhofe’s Senate office and then spent more than a decade as a Republican staffer on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where he worked on several major pieces of legislation, including the 2005 and 2007 energy bills.

He has worked at the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels since 2009. He now co-leads the firm’s energy and natural resources practice.

Wheeler is a registered lobbyist for Murray Energy, the nation’s largest privately owned coal company, which regularly filed lawsuits against the Obama administration over its environmental regulations.

As a lobbyist, Wheeler may need to obtain a waiver to serve at the EPA.

Trump signed an executive order in January that bars registered lobbyists from participating in “any particular matter” on which they lobbied in the past two years. Those lobbying restrictions last for two years from the time the person joins the administration. [Continue reading…]

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Even deeper cuts being discussed for EPA

Axios reports: The Environmental Protection Agency isn’t fighting the White House’s initial budget that proposes to cut the agency’s budget by about $2 billion — or roughly 25% — and reduce the agency’s workforce by roughly 3,000 employees.

Climate change programs would be gutted under the proposal and the workforce attached to these programs would be cleared out of the agency — in line with the aggressive vision of EPA transition head Myron Ebell.

The Trump Administration, in fact, is now discussing making even deeper cuts to the EPA, according to a source privy to the White House’s internal deliberations. Senior Trump officials consider the EPA the leading edge of the administration’s plans to deconstruct the administrative state. [Continue reading…]

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By 2030, half the world’s oceans could be reeling from climate change, scientists say

The Washington Post reports: More than half the world’s oceans could suffer multiple symptoms of climate change over the next 15 years, including rising temperatures, acidification, lower oxygen levels and decreasing food supplies, new research suggests. By midcentury, without significant efforts to reduce warming, more than 80 percent could be ailing — and the fragile Arctic, already among the most rapidly warming parts of the planet, may be one of the regions most severely hit.

The study, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications uses computer models to examine how oceans would fare over the next century under a business-as-usual trajectory and a more moderate scenario in which the mitigation efforts promised under the Paris Agreement come into effect. In both scenarios, large swaths of the ocean will be altered by climate change.

Nearly all of the open sea is acidifying because of greenhouse gas emissions. But the researchers found that cutting greenhouse gas emissions could significantly delay future changes, giving marine organisms more time to migrate or adapt. [Continue reading…]

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EPA head stacks agency with climate change skeptics; science office removes ‘science’ from its mission statement

The New York Times reports: Days after the Senate confirmed him as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference and was asked about addressing a group that probably wanted to eliminate his agency.

“I think it’s justified,” he responded, to cheers. “I think people across the country look at the E.P.A. the way they look at the I.R.S.”

In the days since, Mr. Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general who built a career out of suing the agency he now leads, has moved to stock the top offices of the agency with like-minded conservatives — many of them skeptics of climate change and all of them intent on rolling back environmental regulations that they see as overly intrusive and harmful to business.

Mr. Pruitt has drawn heavily from the staff of his friend and fellow Oklahoma Republican, Senator James Inhofe, long known as Congress’s most prominent skeptic of climate science. A former Inhofe chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, will be Mr. Pruitt’s chief of staff. Another former Inhofe staff member, Byron Brown, will serve as Mr. Jackson’s deputy. Andrew Wheeler, a fossil fuel lobbyist and a former Inhofe chief of staff, is a finalist to be Mr. Pruitt’s deputy, although he requires confirmation to the position by the Senate. [Continue reading…]

The New Republic reports: When President Donald Trump took office in late January, his administration began tweaking the language on government websites. Some of the more prominent changes occurred on Environmental Protection Agency pages — a mention of human-caused climate change was deleted, as was a description of international climate talks. The shifts were small, but meaningful; many said they signaled a new era for the EPA, one in which the agency would shy away from directly linking carbon emissions to global warming and strive to push Trump’s “America First” message.

Those initial tweaks were documented by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, a group of scientists and academics who spend their free time tracking changes to about 25,000 federal government webpages. On Tuesday, they shared their latest finding with the New Republic: The EPA’s Office of Science and Technology Policy no longer lists “science” in the paragraph describing what it does.

“This is probably the most important thing we’ve found so far,” said Gretchen Gehrke, who works on EDGI’s website tracking team. “The language changes here are not nuanced—they have really important regulatory implications.” [Continue reading…]

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The coming clean-air war between Trump and California

The Atlantic reports: In the weeks after the election of Donald Trump, friends and journalists called Deborah Sivas with roughly the same question: How bad could things get?

Sivas is a professor of environmental law at Stanford University, and she has decades of experience working as a litigator for environmental-rights groups. She knows how hostile new presidents can overturn green protections and she knows how lawsuits from friendly states and nonprofits can shore up those rules.

So when reporters asked about the fate of signature Obama-era issues—the Clean Power Plan, the Paris Agreement, the Dakota Access pipeline—she replied that they should focus on an issue with less name recognition. It seemed likely, she said, that the Trump administration and its allies in the car industry would attack California’s ability to regulate greenhouse-gas pollution from car tailpipes.

This may sound niche. But if Trump revoked the special federal waiver that gives California this power, it could hinder the ability of the United States to address climate change for decades to come, she said.

It now appears that her instincts were correct. On Saturday, The New York Times reported that Scott Pruitt, the new administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was exploring how to withdraw this waiver from California. The announcement could come later this week, when the Trump administration begins to roll back nationwide regulations on pollution from car tailpipes. [Continue reading…]

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Massive permafrost thaw documented in Canada, portends huge carbon release

InsideClimate News reports: Huge slabs of Arctic permafrost in northwest Canada are slumping and disintegrating, sending large amounts of carbon-rich mud and silt into streams and rivers. A new study that analyzed nearly a half-million square miles in northwest Canada found that this permafrost decay is affecting 52,000 square miles of that vast stretch of earth — an expanse the size of Alabama.

According to researchers with the Northwest Territories Geological Survey, the permafrost collapse is intensifying and causing landslides into rivers and lakes that can choke off life downstream, all the way to where the rivers discharge into the Arctic Ocean.

Similar large-scale landscape changes are evident across the Arctic including in Alaska, Siberia and Scandinavia, the researchers wrote in a paper published in the journal Geology in early February. The study didn’t address the issue of greenhouse gas releases from thawing permafrost. But its findings could help quantify the immense global scale of the thawing, which will contribute to more accurate estimates of carbon emissions.

Permafrost is land that has been frozen stretching back to the last ice age, 10,000 years ago. As the Arctic warms at twice the global rate, the long-frozen soils thaw and decompose, releasing the trapped greenhouse gases into the air. Scientists estimate that the world’s permafrost holds twice as much carbon as the atmosphere. [Continue reading…]

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The EPA used to enjoy bipartisan support

Kendra Pierre-Louis reports: The White House is preparing to reduce the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 25 percent, according to reports published earlier this week by Reuters and The Washington Post. In addition to targeting climate change related programs by 70 percent, the administration plans to eliminate 20 percent of EPA employees.

An agency whose total operating budget is .2 percent of the federal budget—and whose mandate is protecting human health and the environment—doesn’t seem like an obvious choice for fiscal reduction. After all, most Americans, regardless of political affiliation, tend to support environmental protections. Increasingly, Americans even agree on climate change, with 70 percent of Americans believing that climate change is real, according to Yale’s Program on Climate Change Communication. In fact, there are only two counties in the country—Grant County, West Virginia and Emery County, Utah—where less than half of residents believe in climate change.

But while the depths of the White House’s proposed cuts are unusual, that a Republican administration would move to curtail the EPA surprises no one who has paid even casual attention to 21st century American politics. Yes, the EPA was created by a Republican president, but bipartisan support of clean air and water proved to be a 20th century trend. Increasingly, the EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment has been bifurcated along political lines. So much so, in fact, that you might assume that support of the EPA has always been a liberal battlecry. But you’d be wrong.

“Under Reagan,” said former EPA employee Eric Schaeffer, “environmental issues were more regional than partisan. If you were John Dingell from Detroit, well, you were dragging your feet on car and truck standards. On the other hand, Dingell was great on enforcement and on hazardous waste legislation.”

“There was Guy Molonari, a Republican from Westchester,” Schaeffer added, “if you’ve ever seen pictures of Frankie Vallens and the Four Seasons, he looked like him. He always had this kind of satiny jacket, big white hair. He was very green—the environment was a big issue for him.”

Schaffer joined the EPA under George H.W. Bush and served through both of Clinton’s terms into George W. Bush’s administration. In 2001, Attorney John Ashcroft awarded Schaeffer, then the director of the EPA’s office of regulatory enforcement, the Justice Department’s John Marshall Award for public service for his work on settling oil refinery cases. And yet, this dedicated public servant only lasted a short time into George W. Bush’s administration. He wasn’t the only one. [Continue reading…]

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The green movement is talking about racism? It’s about time

Brentin Mock writes: Facing a new White House administration led by Donald Trump, environmental leaders recently signed an accord pledging their allegiance to civil rights and social justice. Among the signatories are several leaders of the Sierra Club, including its executive director, Michael Brune, who in recent years has steered the organization toward rather bold stances on a range of issues that aren’t traditionally recognized as “green.” In 2013, its board of directors voted that the organization should advocate for immigrant rights. The following year, the Sierra Club endorsed and defended the Black Lives Matter movement. Since President Trump came into office, the organization’s resolve has only strengthened, as Brune indicated in a November 18 blog post: “I’m proud of how the Sierra Club has begun to address the intersection of climate with inequality, race, class, and gender, and I guarantee that we’ll go even deeper.”

This shift toward racial justice matters has not been universally accepted among the Sierra Club’s ranks and may even have cost it a few members. Those who disapprove have often expressed sentiments amounting to “racism is not the environmental movement’s responsibility.” But Brune says the organization won’t be backing off anytime soon, a position he forcefully defended on the group’s blog. He will assure his members, he tells me, “that we are continuing to protect wildlife and wild places, and this is how we can best do that in the 21st century.”

What Brune is acknowledging is the darker legacy of the green movement. Some may believe that environmentalism has little to do with social justice issues, but the mission of the Sierra Club, and many conservation groups like it throughout the late-19th century and most of the 20th century, was anything but race neutral. In many ways, racial exclusivity actually shaped the environmental mission, which is what makes the Sierra Club’s leap toward civil rights advocacy such a radical move. It’s important not because a network like Black Lives Matter needs environmentalists, but because environmentalists need black lives. Given the history of conservationists elevating endangered plant life over endangered people of color, it is environmentalism’s soul that most needs saving. [Continue reading…]

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Biologists say half of all species could be extinct by end of century

The Observer reports: One in five species on Earth now faces extinction, and that will rise to 50% by the end of the century unless urgent action is taken. That is the stark view of the world’s leading biologists, ecologists and economists who will gather on Monday to determine the social and economic changes needed to save the planet’s biosphere.

“The living fabric of the world is slipping through our fingers without our showing much sign of caring,” say the organisers of the Biological Extinction conference held at the Vatican this week.

Threatened creatures such as the tiger or rhino may make occasional headlines, but little attention is paid to the eradication of most other life forms, they argue. But as the conference will hear, these animals and plants provide us with our food and medicine. They purify our water and air while also absorbing carbon emissions from our cars and factories, regenerating soil, and providing us with aesthetic inspiration.

“Rich western countries are now siphoning up the planet’s resources and destroying its ecosystems at an unprecedented rate,” said biologist Paul Ehrlich, of Stanford University in California. “We want to build highways across the Serengeti to get more rare earth minerals for our cellphones. We grab all the fish from the sea, wreck the coral reefs and put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We have triggered a major extinction event. The question is: how do we stop it?” [Continue reading…]

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Scott Pruitt vows to slash climate and water pollution regulations at CPAC

The Guardian reports: Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has vowed to roll back flagship regulations that tackle climate change and water pollution, telling a conservative audience in Maryland they would be “justified” in believing the environmental regulator should be completely disbanded.

The Trump appointee signalled that the president is set to start the work of dismantling climate and water rules as early as next week. Pruitt said the administration will “deal” with the Clean Power Plan, Barack Obama’s centrepiece policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the Waters of the United States rule, which gives the EPA wider latitude to reduce pollution of waterways.

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Pruitt said the EPA under Obama’s administration caused “regulatory uncertainty” for businesses and trampled on the rights of states and Congress. He promised to “restore federalism” by giving states more of a say in air and water protection and ensure that “regulations are reined in”. [Continue reading…]

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Deep sea life faces dark future due to warming and food shortage

The Guardian reports: The deep ocean and the creatures that live there are facing a desperate future due to food shortages and changing temperatures, according to research exploring the impact of climate change and human activity on the world’s seas.

The deep ocean plays a critical role in sustaining our fishing and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, as well as being home to a huge array of creatures. But the new study reveals that food supplies at the seafloor in the deepest regions of the ocean could fall by up to 55% by 2100, starving the animals and microbes that exist there, while changes in temperature, pH and oxygen levels are also predicted to take their toll on fragile ecosystems.

The situation, the authors note, is exacerbated by drilling for oil and gas, dumping of pollutants, fishing and the prospect of deep-sea mining.

“We need to wake up and start really realising that [with] the deep ocean, even though we can’t see it … we are going to be having a huge effect on the largest environment on the planet,” said Andrew Sweetman, the co-author of the research from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. “It is pretty scary.”

Published in the journal Elementa by an international group of scientists from 20 research institutes, the study describes how the team harnessed a number of climate models to explore how oceans around the world are set to change over the 21st century.

“We wanted to look at how all of these combined stressors – warming, enhanced acidification, reduced food supply to the sea floor, deoxygenation – would work together to impact the ocean,” said Sweetman.

The results reveal that the future for the deep sea is bleak. [Continue reading…]

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How I got arrested while reporting on the Dakota Access pipeline

Jenni Monet writes: The morning after I was bonded out of the Morton County jail, I took to Twitter and posted a detail that I only could have known from actually being on the inside.

“#MniWiconi is inscribed everywhere,” I tweeted. And it’s true.

The signature slogan of the movement to try and stop the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline has been scrawled, carved and etched throughout the jail  — on cinderblock walls, paint-chipped tabletops, cold metal doors. In Lakota, it loosely translates to “Water is Life.”

Since August, hundreds of protesters, known as water protectors, have passed through those cellblocks as a form of punishment for their unwavering commitment to protect the Missouri River from a potential oil spill. According to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, it has processed a total of 696 protest-related arrests.

On Wednesday, February 1, I became one of them. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s pipeline and America’s shame

Bill McKibben writes: The Trump Administration is breaking with tradition on so many fronts — renting out the family hotel to foreign diplomats, say, or imposing travel restrictions on the adherents of disfavored religions — that it seems noteworthy when it exhibits some continuity with American custom. And so let us focus for a moment, before the President’s next disorienting tweet, on yesterday’s news that construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline will be restarted, a development that fits in perfectly with one of this country’s oldest cultural practices, going back to the days of Plymouth Rock: repressing Native Americans.

Just to rehash the story briefly, this pipeline had originally been set to carry its freight of crude oil under the Missouri River, north of Bismarck. But the predominantly white citizens of that town objected, pointing out that a spill could foul their drinking water. So the pipeline’s parent company, Energy Transfer Partners, remapped the crossing for just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. This piece of blatant environmental racism elicited a remarkable reaction, eventually drawing representatives of more than two hundred Indian nations from around the continent to a great encampment at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers, near where the pipeline was set to go. They were joined, last summer and into the fall, by clergy groups, veterans groups, environmental groups — including 350.org, the climate-advocacy organization I co-founded — and private citizens, who felt that this was a chance to begin reversing four centuries of literally and figuratively dumping on Native Americans. And the protesters succeeded. Despite the German shepherds and pepper spray let loose by E.T.P.’s security guards, despite the fire hoses and rubber bullets employed by the various paramilitary police forces that assembled, they kept a nonviolent discipline that eventually persuaded the Obama Administration to agree to further study of the plan. [Continue reading…]

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Tribes and lawyers are vowing to fight Trump’s pipelines

BuzzFeed reports: President Trump resurrected two massive pipeline projects on Tuesday, drawing ire and threats of legal action from the movement that fought to keep them off US land.

“We will see his administration in court,” Trip Van Noppen, president of the non-profit group Earthjustice that represented the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in challenging the Dakota Access Pipeline, said in a statement. “[Trump] should brace himself to contend with the laws he is flouting, and the millions of Americans who are opposed to these dangerous and destructive projects.”

“We are opposed to reckless and politically motivated development projects, like DAPL, that ignore our treaty rights and risk our water,” the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Dave Archambault II, said in a statement. [Continue reading…]

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