Week 62: Ryan Zinke Thinks You Can’t Enjoy the Outdoors Without an Internal Combustion Engine

Week 62: Ryan Zinke Thinks You Can’t Enjoy the Outdoors Without an Internal Combustion Engine

Zinke’s council of ATV manufacturers, EPA’s giveaway to carbon black producers, and money for something that sounds an awful lot like climate change.

Made in (Corporate) America

U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has assembled a council to advise him on public lands management. He’s calling it the “Made in America” Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee, and according to documents obtained by the Washington Post, it’s made up almost entirely of industry representatives.

On its face, the committee doesn’t sound so terrible—a bunch of outdoorsy businessmen sitting around the ol’ campfire with Zinke, wearing his backwards cowboy hat. Unfortunately, that’s not what this is about. Zinke didn’t tap people like Yvon Chouinard or Peter Limmer to offer their wisdom on trail maintenance. In fact, old-fashioned outdoorsy types weren’t even welcome on the council, as the department rejected anyone who works in nonmotorized outdoor recreation. Instead, the members are mostly from the vroom-vroom school of outdoorsmanship.

Motorized off-road vehicles are widely regarded as a menace to public lands. During the George W. Bush administration, a coalition of former public lands managers pleaded with the Interior Department to enforce rules limiting the use of these vehicles, which were regularly straying off legal trails and damaging delicate habitat. The machines were also often used to ferry contraband like drugs and alcohol into wilderness areas. So it’s peculiar to pack a public lands advisory committee with people who have an interest in expanding the use of off-road vehicles.

In fact, some of the members of Zinke’s new committee were flagged by the department as having potential conflicts of interest, according to the story in the Post. Two of them, for example, have concessions contracts with the department, which suggests that their businesses could profit from the advice they give as members of the council. Their inclusion is especially odd when one considers that over at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, scientists who have received agency grant money to do research—a far more attenuated form of financial interest―have been prohibited from serving on advisory councils. Apparently, neither Zinke nor EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt totally understands what a conflict of interest is.

A Gift from the EPA to Carbon Black Producers

You’ve likely not heard of carbon black, but you use it. It’s in tires, inkjet toner, some cosmetics, and many other products. Manufacturers produce about 18 billion tons of the black powder annually. And with it, they produce an enormous amount of pollution, emitting clouds of particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide.

During the Obama administration, the Ponca tribe of north-central Oklahoma sued nearby Continental Carbon for the blanket of black dust that settled on everything that sat still. The company eventually settled with the tribe, and with the EPA, promising to upgrade pollution-control equipment by the end of 2019. This week, it emerged that the Trump administration has given Continental Carbon and Cabot Corp., another producer of carbon black, an extra two years to lower their emissions, and the EPA asked for nothing in return.

The Ponca tribe is livid, and rightfully so. They had no input into the extension, even though they’re the ones who will have to raise their children in a polluted environment for an additional two years. “It is outrageous that we have not been given any indications that there could be a delay in the implementation,” Casey Camp-Horinek, a Ponca tribe council member, wrote.

The EPA has, preposterously, tried to spin this gift to polluters as an act of justice. In December, the agency reached an agreement with other carbon black producers to update their emissions control by 2021, and the EPA argues that giving Continental Carbon and Cabot the same deadline, despite the earlier settlement, puts everyone on a level playing field.

A level playing field is good—except when it’s covered in black soot. The giveaway appears to be unprecedented. “That’s a new one,” said former EPA civil enforcement chief Eric Schaeffer of the decision to extend the deadline while getting nothing in return. “They are looking for ways on the regulatory side to let industry slide. I suspect we’re going to see some stuff that wouldn’t have passed muster in earlier administrations.”

The Risk That Dares Not Speak Its Name

Everyone knows that the frequency and intensity of weather disasters is on the rise. And everyone knows that we have to improve our preparedness for such extreme weather. However, roughly half of the politicians in Washington, D.C., refuse to acknowledge the root cause of these problems: climate change. And so Congress is engaged in a bizarre ritual of spending money to enhance our disaster preparedness while simultaneously refusing to explain why it’s forced to do so.

The $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill, begrudgingly signed into law last week by President Trump, includes a record amount of money dedicated to preparing cities for extreme weather events. Advocates for the funding are happy, but they’re afraid to mention the double-C word, lest the money mysteriously disappear into a political black hole.

“We talk about the need to prepare; we never talk about the reasons,” Andrew Huff, director of federal affairs for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, told E&E.

Notice how, even in a conversation with a reporter, Huff refers to climate change as “the reasons,” in the same way an aging man might refer to his heart attack as “the incident.”

Huff isn’t alone in his reluctance to mention that-thing-that-Al-Gore-is-always-talking-about. “Whether [disaster preparation is] climate related or not depends on your view of the world,” said Ryan Colker of the National Institute of Building Sciences.

True. Some people include scientific facts in their view of the world. Others don’t. To each his own.

Stay up-to-date on Trump’s environmental antics by visiting NRDC’s Trump Watch.