As has been widely reported, the resignations, retirements, and constraints placed upon government scientists crimp the executive branch’s preparedness for what is to come. As just one example, geologists in the interior department are being systematically constrained from presenting their research at major conferences. Many more such reports make it apparent that blocking scientists from engaging with colleagues around the country and the world is not, as the EPA and interior department leaderships would have it, motivated by the need to save money. Not when those leaders have no problem spending lavishly on their own travel and office furniture.
It is almost beyond belief that at the very moment national and international action to combat climate change is most urgent, the Trump administration is not just backing away but actively contributing to the problem. Take oceans, for example:
We’re familiar with rising sea waters, but now there is a new finding: the volume of the oceans is expanding as glaciers and ice sheets melt. The extra load on oceans is pushing the bed down. What this means is that assessments of sea rise need to take account of both rising at the top and rising at the bottom.
Climate change, along with dumping of fertilizer and waste, are depriving oceans of oxygen, creating a deepening crisis for the creatures that dwell in them. As an analysis in Science reports, “Ocean dead zones with zero oxygen have quadrupled in size since 1950,… while the number of very low oxygen sites near coasts have multiplied tenfold [in all, from 50 to 500 dead zones]. Most sea creatures cannot survive in these zones and current trends would lead to mass extinction in the long run, risking dire consequences for the hundreds of millions of people who depend on the sea.”
Denise Breitburg at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in the US, who led the analysis, said: “Under the current trajectory that is where we would be headed. But the consequences to humans of staying on that trajectory are so dire that it is hard to imagine we would go quite that far down that path.” Such problems are irrelevant to the oil and gas industries. The Trump administration announced in January 2018 that virtually all offshore waters protected from drilling by an Obama executive order – about 100 million acres on both coasts, including 77 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico – would be opened to exploitation. “A new plan for energy dominance,” the interior secretary chortled.
The department’s secret strategic plan, leaked to The Nation, calls for speeding up approval of drilling applications and permits. ‘Burdensome’ offshore drilling safety regulations that were imposed following the Deepwater Horizon disaster are being eliminated. The document makes no mention of climate change or renewable energy. Science is virtually out of the picture. The interior department has killed a half-million dollar study that was underway to make drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico safer. It has also eliminated the Oil Spill Compensation Fund, a half-billion dollar insurance program for victims of oil spills.
Some regulatory rollbacks that profit industry are barely reported but have enormous consequences for environmental and human health. In defiance of scientific conclusions, the EPA is removing restrictions on a particular type of neonicotinoids, a powerful class of insecticides, that would harm the already badly depleted bee population. The move would specifically benefit Syngenta, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of agricultural chemicals. In a similar move, the EPA has loosened regulations on storage of toxic coal ash waste. The waste is from coal-fired plants that generate electricity.
The new regulations allow companies to essentially make their own rules – it’s called ‘flexibility’ – rather than give priority to the public health consequences.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Ignorance and Greed: Trump’s War on the Environment’.