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Scott Pruitt Defends the Indefensible

The budget testimony from the EPA Administrator leaves us wondering who exactly is protecting our environment and health.

On the basis of congressional testimony Thursday from our nation’s top environmental steward, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, I can’t help but wonder: Who’s protecting our environment and health?

It certainly isn’t Scott Pruitt.

In nearly two hours of testimony before a House appropriations subcommittee, Pruitt offered not a single idea for protecting our air, water, and lands from pollution; defending the health of our children; or fighting the growing dangers of climate change.

He focused, instead, on plans to gut the budget and slash the staff of the EPA, roll back protections for clean air and water, and renege on our global commitments to reduce the carbon pollution that imperils the planet.

He never directly discussed climate change, beyond defending President Trump’s reckless decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and vowing to dismantle the single-most important measure we’ve taken at home to address the problem: the plan to clean up the dirty power plantsthat account for 40 percent of the nation’s carbon footprint.

Pruitt spent so much time talking about coal, gas, and oil, you might have thought he was the secretary of energy. But he pointedly refused to so much as acknowledge the clean, renewable wind and solar power that accounts for two-thirds of all the new electric generating capacity our country has installed over the past two years.

This is an agency head completely disconnected from the environmental threats of our time, the opportunities we have to address these ills, and the agency’s congressional mandate: to protect our environment and health.

On several occasions, Pruitt outright misled the public. Pruitt claimed, for example, that a Supreme Court stay on the Clean Power Plan suggests the plan is unlawful on its merits. The court has indicated no such thing. He also claimed the EPA lacks legal authority to regulate carbon pollution from power plants, factories, and oil refineries. The Supreme Court has ruled otherwise three times?in 2007, 2011, and 2014.

Pruitt repeatedly asserted his respect for the rule of law and process. The truth is, he respects those laws he supports?and challenges the rest. On Thursday, Pruitt directly attacked consent decrees, court-ordered directives that have the full force of law. And his purported fealty to process has not prevented him, in practice, from racing to withdraw or amend without meaningful public comment duly established rules and regulations that were years in the making.

Pruitt, in fairness, was sent to Capitol Hill to defend the indefensible.Subcommittee chairman Ken Calvert, a California Republican representative, was joined by several of his GOP colleagues in telling Pruitt they wouldn’t support the draconian cuts Trump has proposed for the EPA. In essence, they said, the budget threatens our environment, our health, and our economy.

Trump called for cutting the agency’s budget by about one-third, reducing funding to 1990 levels while slashing agency staff by nearly 3,800. That’s a 25 percent reduction in the scientists and experts we depend on to protect us from toxic pollution, contamination, and environmental harm that threatens the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.

A bipartisan consensus made clear that those cuts are a nonstarter in Congress, which holds the power of the purse. “We have a moral obligation to safeguard our planet and ensure that our children and grandchildren have a healthy future,” said New York representative Nita Lowey. “This budget would fall short of that obligation.”

As Ohio representative Marcy Kaptur, put it, “America really can’t afford to shortcut our environment and human health.” White House plans to end an EPA program to clean up industrial pollution, chemical contamination, and invasive species from the Great Lakes drew fire from Kaptur and her fellow Buckeye, Representative David Joyce. Great Lakes restoration is “creating new opportunities and a brighter future for our shoreline communities,” said Joyce. “I view it as a national treasure.”

There was similar criticism for the administration’s proposal to end EPA funding to clean up iconic waterways from the Chesapeake Bay to Puget Sound. “We can’t afford the EPA to check out on Puget Sound recovery,” said Washington representative Derek Kilmer, whose district includes the storied waterway, which he said supports more than 60,000 direct jobs and returns $24 in economic activity for every $1 invested in cleanup.

Calvert said he would work to restore agency funding for the EPA’s popular Energy Star program. Trump has proposed killing the program, which in 2015 cost taxpayers $50 million and saved consumers and businesses some $34 billion in energy costs by helping to identify energy-efficient appliances and equipment.

And on it went.

It’s reassuring, I suppose, that neither party supports Trump’s dark vision of gutting the EPA. After all, as Nevada representative Mark Amodei, put it, “Nobody’s standing on the rooftops begging for dirty air and dirty water and dirty soil.”

The larger question is, what’s the plan for protecting those resources, defending public health, and going after the central environmental challenge of our time? We didn’t get an answer Thursday from the man who’s supposed to be the nation’s top environmental steward. Even when Congress restores much of the EPA funding Trump seeks to end, the administration has told us what its priorities are: protecting big polluters, not our environment and health.

Pruitt affirmed those objectives, making clear that he’ll continue to try to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, move forward with efforts to revoke the Clean Water Rule?which protects the streams that feed drinking water sources for one in every three Americans, along with countless wetlands?and otherwise weaken or eviscerate the safeguards we all depend on to protect our environment and health.

The American people deserve better. Pruitt needs to stop trying to defend the indefensible and focus instead on defending our environment and health.

Rhea Suh is president of the NRDC Action Fund.

Paris Pullout: Fight Back at the Ballot Box

When the president and our elected representatives in Congress ignore reason, science and public opinion, the only way to get their attention is at the ballot box – our universal democratic right.

In pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Donald Trump certainly ignored the science. He didn’t listen to the American people. He didn’t listen to the business community. He ignored the leaders of nearly 200 other countries. He didn’t even listen to his own daughter.

Instead, Trump sided with a handful of narrow nationalists and fossil fuel extremists like Steve Bannon and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and now he’s put their fevered dreams of a walled-off and polluting America over the worldwide need to slow the devastating warming of our planet.

The time is now to commit to a strong political response to this outrage. We’re going to fight to make Donald Trump a one-term president, but until then we’ll do everything we can to block his deadly agenda in Congress.

Your elected representatives may pretend they don’t understand climate science or the need for American leadership on this global issue, but they will soon understand the political consequences. It’s time to make them pay a political price for siding with corporate polluters and fossil fuel extremists over American families.

Only a pro-climate majority in Congress can stop this ongoing assault on our future.

Donald Trump’s allies in Congress deserve to pay a harsh political price for supporting his polluter-driven climate agenda, so the NRDC Action Fund is building a political war chest to fight them from now until the mid-term elections. We won’t let them win. We can’t.

The NRDC Action Fund will be working hard to make sure your voice is heard – from the halls of Congress today to the voting booths next fall. With your support, we’ll send an unmistakable message about this colossal mistake.

Politics matters. We are in this dire situation because a relative handful of votes in three battleground states last fall tipped the election to Trump.  We can’t let that happen again. It’s time to prepare now for the fight of our lives.

Kevin Curtis is executive director of the NRDC Action Fund.

A Budget That Scorches the Planet

Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

President Trump opened a new front in his assault on our environment and health on Tuesday, releasing detailed budget proposals that amount to a scorched-earth campaign — literally and figuratively.

The budget calls for draconian cuts in programs that help clean up and protect our air, water, and lands from toxic pollution; support for energy efficient appliances that save families billions of dollars in energy costs each year; and the scientific research we depend on to grasp and confront emerging threats.

Generally, a president’s budget recommendations provide the starting point for debate in Congress, which has ultimate control over federal spending. This version falls short of that standard. Congress should ignore the president’s reckless recommendations and start from scratch with a budget that reflects our right to clean water and air and the long-standing American values around the need to leave our children a livable world.

Of every dollar the federal government spends, one-fifth of a penny goes to support the work of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — one-fifth of a penny to the agency charged with cleaning up our air and water and protecting us from dangerous pollution.

Trump wants to cut that by 31 percent, to reduce environmental protection resources next year by $2.6 billion — the same amount he wants taxpayers to spend to build a wall and otherwise buttress security along the U.S.-Mexico border. The cuts Trump has proposed would hobble the EPA so much that it would jeopardize the agency’s ability to do its job as required by law, exposing Americans to needless risk.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt calls this going “back to basics.” Going back — period — is more like it. The $5.7 billion Trump has proposed to fund the EPA next year would take the agency back to its lowest funding level since 1990. Adjusted for inflation, it’s the lowest level in 40 years, a period during which the U.S. economy has nearly tripled in size and the population has grown about 50 percent.

Our society has become larger and more complex, and so have the environmental hazards we face. We won’t build a more vibrant and prosperous nation by turning our back on those threats.


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Join us at the People’s Climate March

This Saturday in Washington and cities around the world many will be marching to demand climate action. NRDC Action Fund staff, donors and friends will be part of the NRDC presence at the People’s Climate March to send a clear message that we want a healthier world for future generations. Americans did not vote last November to empower coal, oil and gas lobbyists, and we will not be silent while they join the Trump administration and Congress to cripple the EPA and gut our nation’s environmental laws and safeguards.

Showing up is important, but not just at rallies and marches. Running for office is another way to protect the environment, so the NRDC Action Fund is partnering this weekend with other national 501c4 and political environmental groups and progressive organizations to hold a candidate training here in DC for marchers who might be interested in public service as elected officials.

While the Trump administration continues to weigh withdrawal from the landmark Paris Climate Agreement, the president is issuing executive orders aimed at reversing decades of environmental progress and more recent Obama-era actions that have made America a leading force in the global effort to address climate change. Some of the president’s allies in Congress want to go even further. Just this week in the Senate legislation was introduced that would make it much harder to enforce federal laws that safeguard human health, protect clean air and keep our water safe. It’s called the Regulatory Accountability Act, and we’re going to fight hard to stop it.

We hope you can join us this weekend, but you can still make your presence felt and your voice heard even if you can’t march on Washington or run for office. Your calls, letters and emails to lawmakers continue to be incredibly important as we work together to resist the Big Polluter agenda on Capitol Hill and in state capitals around the country.

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