Trump’s Budget Assault on the Environment Packs a Wallop
<![CDATA[ by Harvey Wasserman
Originally published at The Progressive on March 17, 2017Donald Trump’s first budget makes his antipathy to the environment clear—and his love for fossil fuels and nuclear power even clearer. In addition to slashing funding to the Environmental Protection Agency, he also announced this week that he wants massive rollbacks in automotive fuel efficiency standards and billions in new investments in nuclear weapons and storage for commercial nuclear waste. The administration’s budget cuts $2.4 billion from the EPA’s operating funds—roughly 31 percent—taking the agency’s annual budget from $8.1 billion to $5.7 billion, the smallest since it was formed in 1970. These cuts will cripple regulation of air and water quality, strip oversight of a wide range of land management programs, and loosen restrictions on chemical emissions from industrial facilities. Much of this money would be shifted directly over to the military, which the Trump Administration wants to bolster with an additional $54 billion over the final Obama allocations. As Wenona Hauter, Executive Director of Food and Water Watch told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, the cuts would lower staff to about 11,800, in an agency that employed 17,000 in 2010 and, according to the Washington Post, about 15,000 today.“We should be clear that 90 percent of EPA programs are run by state agencies,” Hauter says.“Half that staff is located in regional offices. The cuts, says Hauter, would cripple the states’ ability to protect clean air and water across the country. Following through on his campaign promise to reduce the EPA to “little tidbits,” Trump’s budget defunds more than 50 programs. These include infrastructure improvement on Indian reservations, major projects to clean up Puget Sound, Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes, a wide range of renewable energy development and energy efficiency programs, numerous climate change research programs, national heritage sites, environmental justice programs, oceanographic research and preservation, and much more. Gina McCarthy, a former EPA official under Obama,described it as “a scorched earth budget that represents an all-out assault on clean air, water and land.” Some of the immediate opposition has crossed party lines. Ohio’s recently re-elected Republican Senator Rob Portman, a close associate of former President George W. Bush, strongly opposed cuts to the $300 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Bill Becker of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies warned, “if such cuts are realized, many more people will die prematurely and get sick unnecessarily due to air, water and waste pollution.” Among the programs affected will be popular Energy Star campaigns that set efficiency standards for household and other appliances. The program is well-established and popular among large manufacturers seeking marketing tools in a highly competitive global business. “It’s alarming and bewildering to see the Trump Administration propose cuts to critical government programs that support clean energy innovation, helped create thousands of new jobs, and saved Americans millions on their utility bills,” says Amit Ronen, Director of George Washington University’s Solar Institute. Scott Sklar, head of the Stella Group, a D.C.-based environmental consulting firm, and chair of the steering committee of the Sustainable Energy Coalition adds that the EPA cuts come in tandem with assaults on programs at the Department of Energy critical to advances in LED light bulbs, advanced batteries, electric trucks, biofuels and other cutting-edge green power projects. Overall, says Sklar, the cuts could cripple some seventeen national laboratories whose innovative technical work spans the horizon from windmills and solar panels to advanced batteries and accelerated efficiency. In addition, says Ronen, “Trump and his cronies can fundamentally change how EPA does its job by rolling back carbon and air regulations and not enforcing current law.” A deadly dose of that medicine is now being administered in Detroit, where Trump has moved to slash motor vehicle efficiency requirements and emissions standards. At the behest of auto company executives, Trump is exploiting a legal loophole in Obama-era requirements to gut fleet fuel-economy capabilities. Complaining about technical challenges, the industry may soon slouch back to lower emissions standards feeding higher short-term profits. Detroit will once again race to the bottom in a global transportation industry increasingly dominated by Germany, China, and Japan. The trends are being further exploited with shifts at the state as well as federal levels to slash tax breaks and incentives for electric cars and solar panels. Guided by handouts from the Koch brothers’ fossil fuel empire, “free market” legislators in states like Ohio, Oklahoma, and Arizona have partnered with the American Legislative Exchange Council to impose debilitating taxes and regulatory barriers against electric cars, green power production, advanced efficiency, mass transit and more. The trend has been underscored by Trump’s quick approval of the Keystone and Dakota pipelines, and relaxed rules governing fracking on public lands. Meanwhile, Illinois and New York are moving toward massive subsidies for uncompetitive, dangerously dilapidated old nuclear reactors in a marketplace where renewables are coming in far cheaper and creating thousands more jobs. In Ohio and other states, owners of money-losing reactors are advocating for massive handouts to block cheaper, job-creating renewables and efficiency from getting into the marketplace. Adding insult to injury, Trump wants to add $120 million to the long-dead Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump. Despite fierce local opposition, the Department of Energy has blown some $13.5 billion since 2002 digging a giant tunnel through the dormant volcano eighty miles outside Las Vegas to store radioactive waste. Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, got President Obama to cancel Yucca in 2011. Yucca could ultimately cost more than $90 billion by some estimates, and take decades. A $2 billion 2014 explosion shut America’s sole state-of-the-art radioactive-waste repository, at Carlsbad, New Mexico, casting a long shadow over underground burial.
Aside from the catastrophic impacts on public health and planetary survival, these Trump-Koch attacks on environmental protection and increased energy efficiency bode ill for a struggling U.S. economy. Germany, China and other global competitors are surging ahead with ecologically sound advanced technologies like high-speed rail, EV autos, PV cells, ultra-efficient wind turbines, solar farms, and highways guaranteed to leave America in the dust. The “tycoon” President who promised full employment and prosperity is instead bringing an ill wind, darkened sun, and scorched planet.