Trump’s Latest Environmental Rollbacks Boost Profits but Will Cost Us All
The Trump administration is learning to do at least one thing right: Now, when they do something as damaging as their latest environmental regulatory rollbacks, they do it as quietly as possible.
The first of these was a decision by Scott Pruitt’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to delay an Obama administration rule that limited the amount of toxic metals in discharged waste water coming from steam-powered electricity plants. The news about this delay broke on September 13, 2017.
The second was – again from the EPA – to stop working on a formal standard to curtail aircraft carbon dioxide emissions. The timing of this decision is unclear, but the Center for Biological Diversity filed a Freedom of Information Act request on September 14, 2017, to find out when and how that decision was reached.
The delay on the rule on toxic metal content in discharged waste water is a serious one. Known as the Steam Electric Power Generating Effluent Guidelines (ELG) rule, it was to have been put into action starting in November 2018, a little over a year from now. Such waste water is considered some of the most toxic currently allowed in the United States. It includes heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic and lead. If ingested, these metals can cause cancer, lowered IQ among children and both deformities and reproductive harm in fish and wildlife. The rule had been proposed back in 2013, with the observation that steam electric power plants are responsible for the majority of the toxic pollution discharged into surface waters by all industries. It was finalized in 2015 and was going to take effect in 2018 .
Since then, the industry had been preparing to deal with the ruling taking effect. As soon as Trump and Pruitt were in place as of April 2017, however, multiple utilities and electric industry groups formally petitioned the EPA to reconsider the ruling.
As Howard Crystal, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said about Pruitt’s decision to delay the ELG rule, “It’s deeply disturbing to see the Trump administration giving power plants permission to keep dumping toxic metals like arsenic into our rivers and drinking water supplies.” He went on to say that “this mind-bogglingly dangerous decision threatens our children’s well-being and the survival of endangered wildlife.”
If the rule were enforced as planned, the amount of toxic heavy metals and other pollutants that might have entered waterways would have been cut back by 1.4 billion tons.
The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a comment letter on the ELG decision, saying that the EPA violated
both the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act by delaying the rule without either completing an environmental impact statement or consulting any federal wildlife agencies.
On the aircraft carbon emissions case, the “under the radar” decision by the EPA to stop work on developing a rule for that industry literally flies in the face of previous work done by the EPA. With aircraft being the thirdlargest source of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, there is no question of the importance of a possible rule just for environmental reasons alone.
As recently as July 2016, the same EPA issued a finding that aircraft greenhouse gas emissions drive climate change and endanger public health and welfare. That triggered a requirement for the government to set limitations on airplane pollution under the Clean Air Act.
Besides the current Pruitt-driven decision ignoring that finding and possibly having legal implications just for that reason alone, there are other complications. The UN, via its International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) group, has already agreed to mandate aircraft emissions standards that the United States may not be following. There is also the possibility that other regions, such as the European Community, may institute their own mandatory aircraft emissions standards for any aircraft flying, landing or taking off within their borders. If U.S. aircraft manufacturers – and the government – ignore such standards, they may do so at considerable economic peril.
The original aircraft rule proposals under consideration would have required carbon emissions reductions for jet engines on new plane models. Apparently, there will now be no such government mandate – at least for as long as Trump and Pruitt are in charge.
What both decisions demonstrate is a hard-headed commitment to protect corporate profits at the cost of the environment and all of us who live on this planet. These are bad decisions, based on playing politics with the lives of all of us and those of our children.