Fight Washington’s Attack on Environmental Enforcement

On the morning of January 9, 2014, residents near Charleston, West Virginia contacted local officials with reports of an unusual sweet smell in the air, the source of which would soon upend their daily lives. Some 7,500 gallons of a chemical foaming agent used in coal production had leaked from a faulty storage tank into the Elk River, contaminating the main source of drinking water for thousands of area families. Soon authorities warned residents not to drink, cook with or even bathe in water from their taps.

Officials collect a water sample near Charleston, West Virginia after a chemical spill contaminated the water supply.

The devastating and expensive contamination of the Elk River isn’t an isolated case. Non-existent, weak or unenforced safeguards at the state and federal level threaten the health and safety of families across America. But now, just three years later, the Trump White House and Republican Congress are teaming up to pass legislation that would weaken the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies to write and enforce rules that are based on sound science and designed to protect all Americans.

A series of bills already passed in the House and now being considered in the Senate would undermine the whole enforcement system and tip the balance of power away from independent scientists and toward politicians. These bills make it easier for members of Congress to block or void regulations that would protect public health, public safety and the environment. Congress has also begun to permanently erase common-sense environmental safeguards issued in the last year of the Obama administration, including a rule that protects waterways from the polluting impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining. Other rules on the chopping block include cost-saving energy efficiency standards for home appliances and protections for fragile public lands and ecologically sensitive areas from coal mining and oil drilling.

President Trump supports these rollbacks. What’s more, Mr. Trump recently signed an executive order declaring that any new regulations, even ones aimed at fighting pollution, must be accompanied by the elimination of at least two others, an arbitrary and absurd sop to corporate interests that ignores the vast economic upside of protecting American families from costly health problems caused by dirty air and water.

Mr. Trump has also vowed to block the Obama administration’s landmark efforts to fight climate change. He has promised to initiate a repeal of the Clean Power Plan’s carbon pollution limits and cancel popular cost-saving fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, undermining our nation’s most important contributions to the historic Paris Agreement that finally set the world on a path to reduce the emissions that are the chief cause of our rapidly warming planet.

Mr. Trump and the GOP are peddling the false narrative that lax enforcement of our environmental laws will help businesses, but the record shows we can have both a clean environment and a vibrant economy. US economic growth over the last 50 years has been the envy of the world, and that success came while we also built up a strong national environmental protection framework, including regulations that helped clear our cities and waterways of choking smog, dangerous pollutants and even raw sewage. Without the EPA’s enforcement of groundbreaking environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act, American cities today might look more like Beijing or New Delhi, where residents often have to stay indoors to avoid eye-watering and asthma-inducing air pollution.

Today, younger Americans are growing up in a much cleaner and safer country than did their parents and grandparents. They support environmental protections that are now in place, and they won’t stand for weakening the enforcement of those laws and threatening the standard of living for them and their children.

Americans did not vote for contaminated water or polluted air last November. We will not allow polluters and their friends on Capitol Hill to weaken the standards that keep our families safe, and we will hold this Congress and this White House accountable if they fail to enforce our laws and protect the common-sense environmental safeguards all American families depend on.

Our common sense regulatory system has made us a stronger, healthier and more prosperous nation. The Senate must reject any legislation that damages it.

Polluting Pruitt, After Record Opposition, Takes Over EPA

By Pete Altman

Today, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a “longtime adversary of the EPA,” as the Washington Post put it, takes over the US Environmental Protection Agency. But he takes it over under the shadow of unprecedented opposition from US Senators, EPA employees and public interest groups.

Forty-six senators voted against his confirmation, a significantly higher number of “no” votes than any other EPA Administrator has received (many of whom have been approved with unanimous consent.) That’s a big statement of concern about a president’s nominee to head an agency that does more than any other to protect Americans from pollution.

The opposition was bi-partisan – Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine voted against Pruitt, saying that Pruitt’s “…actions leave me with considerable doubts about whether his vision for the EPA is consistent with the agency’s critical mission to protect human health and the environment.”

Democrats also showed a remarkable unity in opposing Pruitt, with just Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) voting to approve Pruitt’s confirmation. Considering how many Democrats are in states that voted for Trump, the cohesiveness is strong testament to how deeply runs the sense that he is unfit for the job.

That said, the record opposition, its bi-partisan nature and the Democratic unity isn’t that surprising– because he’s by far the worst ever pick to lead EPA.

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Pruitt unfit to protect health, environment at EPA


Scott Pruitt at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2015 (Source: Gage Skidmore)

Big polluters want to help pick the next Environmental Protection Agency administrator, and that’s a big problem. This week we learned energy industry executives and at least one secretive group are raising millions of dollars to support the confirmation of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to become Donald Trump’s EPA administrator, which pretty much says it all. They’ve got to be ecstatic at the thought that someone with Pruitt’s extensive record of siding with polluting industries could gain control of the EPA and its mission to protect American families.

Pruitt’s nomination is part of Trump’s plan to prioritize the development of dirty energy sources, ignore the promise of the burgeoning clean energy economy, undermine our progress and reverse America’s global leadership on climate change. Pruitt is so close to the oil and gas industry that he was caught copying and pasting a letter written by their lobbyists onto his official state letterhead. And it gets worse; he sent the phony letter on behalf of fossil fuel companies to protest the environmental enforcement activities of…yes, the EPA.

That’s just the tip of the melting iceberg when it comes to Pruitt’s record of opposing common sense environmental safeguards. In his current role, and under the guise of states’ rights, he has even opposed the EPA’s efforts to ensure uniform environmental standards across America, as if dirty air and unsafe water somehow stay within state borders. And he’ll be the first EPA administrator in decades to ignore the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity – the burning of fossil fuels – is causing the rapid and dangerous warming of our planet. Could any of this be connected to the fact that he’s received at least $350,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry?

Over the next few weeks the U.S. Senate will hold hearings to question Pruitt and the rest of Donald Trump’s nominees to run key federal agencies – the ones tasked with protecting America’s environment and public health. These posts are far too important to hand over to men who owe their political careers to donors from the fossil fuel industry.

Pruitt is unfit to lead an agency whose mission he has so little regard for. He’s too cozy with the very polluters the EPA has held in check for nearly five decades. (Even the Trump transition team couldn’t find one pro-environment accomplishment to include in his official bio.)

Your senators need to hear from you. They need to know that you expect them to vote to protect you and your family, to defend  America’s waters, lands and air, and to oppose the takeover of the EPA by the fossil fuel industry and its preferred regulators. Tell your senators to vote NO on Pruitt.

Kevin Curtis is executive director of the NRDC Action Fund.

Will Trump ignore U.S. business leaders on clean energy?

solar-panel-installerTo hear him tell it, the president-elect isn’t a politician – he’s a businessman and an expert negotiator. But his ideas on energy policy run counter to the advice of some of America’s biggest and most successful companies.

In a new report out this week, some of Trump’s billionaire peers have a message for him: Clean energy development is necessary for the economic vitality of the United States, and moving away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources has a tremendous upside for business and investors, not to mention being good for the health of our planet.

The report from the Risky Business Project, co-founded by mega-successful business leaders Michael R. Bloomberg, Henry M. Paulson, Jr., and Thomas F. Steyer, finds tremendous opportunity in a clean energy economy. “Shifting the U.S. to a low-carbon, clean energy system presents not just long-term benefits but also immediate, near-term opportunities, particularly for those actors best positioned to capitalize on these trends,” the report states.

In November some 360 companies signed a letter to Trump urging him to maintain America’s leadership in fighting climate change. “Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk. But the right action now will create jobs and boost US competitiveness,” the group of companies said, among them DuPont, eBay, Nike, Unilever, Levi Strauss & Co., General Mills, and Starbucks.

Unfortunately, so far Trump seems to be ignoring such voices and to be listening solely to the fossil fuel industry and its Washington lobbyists. He regular tweets outdated and incorrect information about renewable energy, despite data that show wind and solar power have become cost-competitive with polluting energy sources such as coal and oil.

Even more alarming, Trump has now tapped a key opponent of renewable energy for a position the lobbyist probably never dreamed he’d get his hands on – leading the presidential transition at the U.S. Department of Energy.

A wide range of businesses recognize the gains – both for themselves and the nation – if the U.S. continues to build a clean energy economy.  Will Donald Trump heed their advice, or does he just want to turn back the clock and lock us into the dirty fuels of the past? That could bankrupt our future.

Kevin Curtis is executive director of the NRDC Action Fund.


The election is over. Our resolve isn’t.

The American people have spoken. They delivered a sweeping rejection of business as usual in Washington. They voted for change. They voted for something that, in all honesty, none of us has ever seen, or ever imagined we might see.

This campaign has tested our values. It has challenged our core beliefs. We vest faith, though, in our system of governance, even when we are disappointed in the outcome.

In our democracy, elections are definitive. The will of the people is inviolate. There is no higher authority in this land. Those are the stones this president stands on, as all of our presidents must.

Donald Trump is the president-elect. We will work with him every way we can.

This much, though, is equally clear. Whatever people voted for, it was not to turn back the clock on the foundational safeguards we’ve put in place over the course of two generations to protect the natural systems that support all life. It was not to return to the day when big polluters pillaged our natural resources for profits with impunity. It was not to walk away from needed progress to fight climate change, at home and abroad, by anchoring our future to the dirty fuels of the past. And it certainly was not to deny our fellow Americans their basic right to safe drinking water, clean air and healthy communities simply because of their income or skin color.

We know this because polls across the spectrum show us that eight Americans in every ten are worried about the quality of our waters and nearly that many are concerned about our air and the prospect of mass wildlife extinctions; that seven in ten are counting on our government to take real action to protect our children from the growing dangers of climate change; and that none of us believes a mother anywhere should have to worry that her tap water might pose a danger to her children’s health.

During a campaign largely devoted to denigration and demagoguery, Trump seldom touched on these vital issues. We have precious little from him in the way of policy guidelines. What he has said, though, in speeches, on his campaign website and in his official platform, amounts to a full-on assault against the common sense safeguards we depend on to protect the natural systems that support all life.

He’s vowed to roll back the progress we’re making in cleaning up the dirty power plants that account for 40 percent of the dangerous carbon pollution in this country that’s driving climate chaos. He said he would “cancel” the historic Paris accord, a signature achievement of U.S. diplomacy, that sets the United States, China, India and more than 180 other countries on the course to shift away from oil, gas and coal and toward cleaner, smarter ways to power our future. And he’s promised to slash away at the responsible public oversight we need to reduce the risks of fossil fuel production, shipment and consumption.

That’s a bankrupt agenda we will not countenance. It would set us back a generation in a fight for our future we can’t afford to lose. It’s not what anyone voted for, it’s the wrong direction for our country and we will fight it tooth, nail and hair.

Progress seldom occurs in a straight line?—?in this movement, or any other. We’ve faced setbacks before. We’ve faced White House opposition before. We’ll show up, stand up and speak up for our cause, just as we’ve always done. The stakes are too high for anything less.

And we’ll work to build on our base of support. Because, the truth is, it’s time for every American who cares about a livable world?—?Republican and Democrat alike?—?to do everything we can to defend our environment and health. If Donald Trump thinks he can unleash a big polluter assault on our air, waters, wildlife and lands, we’ll build a wall of opposition to stop him. Whatever else we may have done on Election Day, we haven’t turned away from generations of common sense environmental safeguards. And we’re not about to turn away now.

Rhea Suh is president of the NRDC Action Fund.