The environmental rule changes that will impact us the most
Tuesday, September 04, 2018
Even the most diligent climate change policy trackers are having a hard time keeping abreast of recent changes at the federal level.
Apparently, the replacement of Scott Pruitt with former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not yielded new results when it comes to the big environmental picture.
From chemical safety, coal plants, and auto emissions standards, to water and wetlands protection, to the Endangered Species Act, the Trump administration is sabotaging decades of environmental rules incredibly quickly, and that has many of us taken aback.
While many environmentalists complain that the EPA is an outdated agency that has never done enough to protect nature, we can now appreciate past protections as swift changes are upon us.
Thankfully, The New York Times has done us a fine service in the form of a compiled and regularly updated list, "76 Environmental Rules on the Way Out with Trump." So far, 46 environmental rules have been overturned with another 30 proposed rollbacks waiting in the wings. The EPA itself is responsible for one-third of these changes.
The Times has conveniently categorized some of the changes. These rollbacks cover seven general categories: air pollutants and emissions; drilling and extraction; infrastructure and planning; animals; toxic substances and safety; water pollution; and "other."
This big environmental picture is something to take very seriously. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, these rollbacks could lead "to at least 80,000 extra deaths per decade and cause respiratory problems for more than one million people."
Under the air pollution and emissions category, Trump has proposed to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan (CPP) with an "Affordable Clean Energy" proposal. This proposal allows states to establish their own energy emissions goals, as opposed to the supposed federal-heavy Obama system that set national standards through the EPA.
This is an important change that shifts the burden of clean energy innovation to the states, but it’s not all bad news.
For example, California has just announced its goal to pursue 100 percent clean energy by 2045. The legislation is awaiting approval by the state senate and the governor, but it’s no small potatoes that the target goal is 100 percent renewable energy.
Under drilling and extraction, we already know that Trump’s general operating procedure is to pretend traditional fossil fuel extraction strengthens the economy. There’s the lifting of a freeze on new coal leases, the opening of coastal waters to offshore oil and gas drilling, the rescinding of water pollution standards on Indian and federal lands, and reversed decisions on the Keystone XL pipeline. He approved the Dakota Access pipeline, and controversially opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska to drilling.
It’s well-known that a big part of climate change preparation is infrastructure preparedness. But the Trump administration appears to be going in the opposite direction by revoking flood standards for federal infrastructure projects — like bridges and roads.
Other infrastructure changes include the general rollback of an Obama-era planning system that protects sensitive landscapes, such as national parks, from harmful oil and gas activity.
Drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) threatens the world-renowned Porcupine caribou, and there are many changes afoot for animals.
First, there’s the overturning of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) through a series of smaller legal maneuvers. These changes can impact animals, like wolves, whales, alligators, bald eagles, bears, falcons, and flying squirrels — to name a few.
In Alaska alone, we see bans lifted on hunting predators at wildlife refuges and using bait to hunt and kill grizzly bears. Fans of the greater sage grouse, which roams Alaska and other states, will be upset to hear that its protected habitat is now threatened by oil and mineral extraction projects. Protections have been lifted for migratory birds, marine mammals, sea turtles, and other animals.
We are awash with toxic substances due to liberal standards for things like dry cleaning solvents and paint strippers; the focus is not on air, water, and ground contamination anymore either.
And you know those train explosions causing fires? Well, those trains carrying flammable liquids are no longer required to undergo brake system upgrades. Be warned.
Ready to get really depressed? The New York Times summarized how water pollution standards are changing.
Coal mining companies are allowed to dump debris into streams, and uranium mines may not need groundwater protections if the EPA gets its way. Obama’s Clean Water Act placed protections on wetlands and tributaries, and now that rule has been suspended.
Last but not least is the Times article’s "other" category. This includes miscellaneous or difficult to categorize changes such as stopped payments to the "Green Climate Fund, a United Nations program to help poorer countries reduce carbon emissions."
This is a stark reminder that the whole world is closely watching what is happening with U.S. environmental politics, because we are all impacted.
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