Trump’s Lat­est En­vi­ron­men­tal Roll­backs Boost Prof­its but Will Cost Us All

Trillions - - In This Issue -

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.

Photo by us­dagov, CC

Photo by Kristo­pher, CC

Photo by PROOLEG Ivanov, CC

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