Friday, February 24, 2017

Did The Chaos President Just Axe CEQ? Is it goodbye to all that? ... by gimleteye

In just one month in office, President Trump has up-ended almost every metric of presidential performance. Bizarre behavior his critics warned about before the election is now dragging the 24/7 news cycle in his wake. Adults in the Trump Administration have scattered across the globe to reinforce a sense of normalcy in the behavior of the world's superpower.

For observers, it has become a difficult task to sift through the wreckage. In the process, lots of important stuff is being missed.

Yesterday, the White House took a big step towards drastically reducing and possibly eliminating the WH Council On Environmental Quality. According to an email circulated anonymously, all staff had been summarily dismissed. Here is the text:
This morning, the White House told the staff at the Council on Environmental Policy (CEQ) to pack their bags and move out.

CEQ was established in 1969 during the Nixon Administration and has served as the White House agency that coordinates environmental activity across federal agencies for nearly 50 years. Among other responsibilities, it ensures that federal agencies implement and manage a robust environmental impact assessment review as part of their program efforts, referees disagreements between agencies and writes the President’s annual report on the environment.

That may be coming to an end.

No transition team was assigned to CEQ and the CEQ staff were not asked to meet with any members of the transition team leadership.

No nominee to head the CEQ has been named.

The CEQ website was taken down after the inauguration and has not been replaced.

And now the central office is being closed. (It’s not clear where folks are supposed to go, although agency staff are scattered across several rowhouses near the White House and conceivably everyone could be accommodated in one of them.)

Eventually, no matter how much a leader obfuscates, what he or she really wants becomes clear by what they do. The Trump Administration has decided to dramatically reduce the importance of this agency. This is a small part of the larger effort to gut environmental regulation and oversight.

Ask your Representative about that at your next town hall.

The apparent shuttering of CEQ was scarcely noticed in the chaos of Trump's news day, but make no mistake: it is a watershed event for federal authority.

It has long been a Republican Party goal to eviscerate and otherwise hobble environmental rules and regulations that act as a drag on private profit. For example, although the US EPA commands scarcely one percent of discretionary spending in the federal budget, the elimination of the EPA has been a tent pole of the GOP platform for years. Trump has promised to slash the EPA budget and to revisit commitments to our national parks and public lands, pumping up support from traditional GOP stalwarts: fossil fuel producers, mineral extraction, Big Ag, and logging companies.

There is a reason that polluters like the Koch Brothers, who run the nation's largest private industrial conglomerate, turn up as lynchpins of campaign fundraising: they make more money -- billions, more -- if legislatures at the local, state and federal levels do their bidding.

CEQ, within the White House, acts as a traffic cop between the competing roles and interests of federal agencies charged with protecting our air, water, and public health. It provides a needed forum for the nation's non-profit environmental groups to express their priorities and goals to the White House.

Make no mistake: the relationship between environmentalists and federal environmental agencies, like the US DOI, EPA, US Army Corps of Engineers has often been adversarial. CEQ is often pushed and pulled by the political wing of the White House. But erasing the ability of the executive branch to mediate important environmental issues of national importance is part and parcel of the Trump Big Idea to get rid of environmental protection at the federal level altogether. That, in Trump's view, should be a problem of the states.

It doesn't matter to Trump that air pollution travels from one state to another without regulation, or, that federal laws ought to be consistent in protecting the nation's waters. In Trumpworld, the environment is all noise, all the time. Among the polluters who drive the GOP agenda, like the Koch Brothers, the applause is roaring.

For the nation, the knee-capping of CEQ is a dismal plot point in a malignant presidency.

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