Conservation Column: Administration Busy Weakening Our Environmental Protections

I prefer bird tweets to presidential tweets. It’s too easy to get distracted by the rhetoric and scandals, which may lead to the false impression that not much is getting done. However, while we are distracted, the current administration has sought to roll back many bedrock environmental protections. The vast scope of these changes and proposals makes it difficult for me to read or listen to the news. The following is a sampling of the more than 60 policy changes. Some are in the proposal stage, while others have been enacted.

  • The federal government is reversing a policy that would have increased vehicle mileage standards for cars made over the next decade. The standards that were to go into effect would have limited vehicle emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. They would have also lessened other forms of pollution, reduced the need for fossil fuels, and saved people money at the pump.

    Hard to believe, but the government cited “safety” as the reason for the reversal—owners of more efficient cars might drive more, putting them at greater risk of accidents.

  • The Clean Power Plan to regulate power-plant emissions has been stalled.
  • The administration moved to shrink several National Monuments. Two have already been altered. This month, documents about the decision process were released, and then retracted a day later. They revealed that Interior Department officials dismissed evidence that these public lands did indeed boost tourism and contribute to archaeological discoveries. Their correspondence, instead, emphasized the value of logging, ranching, mining, and energy development.
  • Several proposals to weaken the Endangered Species Act are being considered. The law was set up so that reviews of listed species would be based on scientific data, but the proposed changes allow economic impacts on corporations to be considered too. Species listed as threatened rather than endangered would lose protections. Critical habitat designation would be restricted, and consideration of climate change may be invalid as a factor determining the species “foreseeable future.” These are administrative changes that can happen without Congressional approval, but several bills to weaken the ESA have also been also proposed in Congress.
  • The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which has been protecting birds for 100 years, will no longer be enforced to prevent incidental “takes” (harm to birds) under an administrative directive, thereby allowing industrial hazards, such as oil pits, transmission lines, towers, and oil spills, to kill birds.
  • When considering the safety of chemicals, the EPA will exclude, in the name of “transparency,” most of the data that has typically been used to assess health impacts. For example, reviews of personal health information are an important source of evidence on chemical safety. However, they are not publicly available because of privacy laws. Therefore, the EPA no longer needs to consider these health reports on chemicals such as pesticides or water contaminants.
  • Despite the fact that EPA scientists concluded that the chemical insecticide, chlorpyrifos, was a health hazard, the administration rejected a call to ban the toxin. Additionally, the banning of other chemicals that have already been found to be harmful has been delayed.
  • Lead-risk reduction programs, mostly targeted to protect children, have been cut.
  • Another proposal would abolish the Waters of the United States rule, which gives the EPA authority to regulate pollution of wetlands and tributaries that run into larger waterways.The administration lifted the decades-old ban on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and proposes making more than 90 percent of the outer continental shelf of the United States available for such purposes.
  • The administration has blocked a rule that would have enabled the capture of methane during drilling activity on federal lands.
  • The Interior Department has overturned a rule that would have added regulations for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on federal and tribal lands.
  • The administration has weakened rules on coal ash operations to suspend groundwater monitoring. Now it is allowable for coal ash waste at risk of leaking into groundwater or wetlands to persist for a longer period. This was the first major rule signed by EPA acting administrator Andrew Wheeler. It doesn’t look like much will improve with Priutt’s departure.
  • The EPA has announced changes to the Clean Air Act, which will reverse the decades-old policy subjecting major sources of pollution to stricter control standards.
  • FEMA can no longer consider climate change in strategic planning. The NASA climate-monitoring program has been cut.

Please let your elected representatives know that you are paying attention and oppose the weakening of regulations designed to protect our health and that of the environment.