Monday, March 13, 2017

Dead Fish, Bad Air, Trump and the EPA ... by gimleteye

Follow me on Twitter: @gimleteyemiami

In a recent Miami Herald OPED, Carl Hiaasen quoted Trump’s EPA chief Scott Pruitt, the former Attorney General of Oklahoma, “I think people across the country look at the EPA the way they look at the IRS”. When Pruitt made that statement a few weeks ago, my antennae caught the idiocy straight away.

Pruitt makes clear "the sort of people he’s listening to and aims to serve. Corporate polluters look at the EPA the same way corporate tax cheats look at the IRS — as the enemy”.  But I have some clarifying observations.

Most Americans have no idea what the EPA does — or is supposed to do — beyond right-wing talking points through media channels bought and paid for by polluters.  Every wage earner and family in the country knows the IRS, but for the most part it is the regulated community — and within the regulated community primarily polluters who comprise the largest share of campaign contributions across the politcial spectrum — who know the EPA.

Environmentalists on the other hand know the EPA. They know its mission has been steadily compromised by corporations more powerful than people.

EPA has never been “over-funded”; a key talking point of the extreme right. The agency just never did its job particularly well because it was hobbled by politics, irrespective of party controlling the White House. The phenomenon is a familiar in Florida: let the regulated community gradually weaken a regulatory system it despises then invest the masses in "outrage" against government.

Here, citizens relied for a quarter century on an agency called the Florida Department of Community Affairs. Like the federal Clean Water Act that provides citizens with an avenue to challenge the EPA in federal court, Florida law provided an avenue for citizens to sue the Florida DCA.

Simply put, the job of the DCA was to balance environmental and quality of life concerns with developers and Big Agriculture whose goal is maximum profit from whatever economic activity they can profitably finance. Florida corporations involved in land development hated the DCA.

Most Floridians were clueless about DCA. Most Floridians had forgotten that past generations of Florida leadership struggled to build bipartisan consensus to the most vexing problem facing one of the nation’s key electoral states.

Over time,  lobbyists, lawyers, and politicians drove nails into the feet of the state agency. Finally, Gov. Rick Scott and state legislators pulled the beast out of the water and shot it on the shore. Today, the EPA is facing the same fate.

Rick Scott is relevant for a reason. The governor of Florida is one of Donald Trump's few natural allies. Like Scott, Trump made a fortune playing the arbitrage between the intent of protective laws and profitable, regulated businesses. You can make more money if you have the power to force the spread wider, and even more money still if you eliminate “onerous” and “job killing” regulations. That, in a nutshell, is the plan.

Here is the crucial point about corporate polluters or those otherwise regulated by the EPA: if you want to make money, the lowest hanging fruit is through the reduction or elimination of costly regulations. It’s a whole lot harder to build a business or innovate a new product, bring it to market, and eventually reap the financial rewards than making existing products more profitable by eliminating the costs associated with regulatory compliance.

If you can reduce regulation by a dollar, that saved dollar goes straight to the bottom line, executives and shareholders. Polluters hate the EPA because regulations deny them profits. The public? Not so much.

If you ask Americans whether they value the air they breathe, the water they drink, the natural resources where they recreate, or the quality of food that they eat, the vast majority say, yes of course. If you ask Americans whether it is important to protect children against cancer and against disease, it would be hard to find a single person who objects to a vigorous federal role.

What most observers miss, in the tumult over the role of the EPA as the federal regulator of polluting corporations is this: to environmentalists, the EPA never fulfilled the promise of its mission. I know, because like Scott Pruitt, I also sued the EPA but not because it “over-reached” its authority, as Pruitt claimed, but because the EPA did too little.

Here are two examples. In the early 2000’s, the Bush EPA resolved — despite massive public opposition — to weaken the Safe Drinking Water Act. It turned out that fracking, and the entire natural gas industry depended on the injection of fluids that could fracture and move between geologic layers deep underground. Sierra Club (I was a volunteer leader at the time) sued the EPA under federal law. We objected to the fact that the state of Florida and Miami-Dade County was injecting partially treated sewage underground and it was leaking upward toward drinking water. We lost.

The second example is Florida's Everglades, which most Americans assume have been “saved”. Friends of the Everglades and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians sued the EPA because the federal agency failed to hold the state of Florida accountable for following legal, binding agreements it had made to resolve an earlier generation of lawsuits. We won, but the state of Florida is vigorously contesting — at the urging of Big Sugar — the federal court decision.

Although most readers are unaware of these cases, the same kinds of stories can be told in every region of the nation. The EPA and federal regulatory authority ought to be improved, not axed. The counter argument by polluters is that the best regulation is located in the states. If that were true, Florida wouldn’t be violating underground aquifers to accommodate cheap growth and the Everglades and Florida Bay would have been saved a long time ago.

Once upon a time, right wing think tanks made an effort to argue that economic activities should “internalize” all their costs. That is true conservatism. But GOP legislators are not loyal to principle. They paved the way for Trump who cares even less. Why? Because “externalizing” costs — that is to say, shifting costs to others — is how to make really big money.

Whether you agree or disagree, the American people now face the undoing of fifty years of hard-won progress on the environment. Federal authority provides a necessary and check and balance to powerful corporations who dominate state legislatures.

Miami Herald
MARCH 10, 2017 9:13 PM

Like phosphorus in your water? You’re in luck!

As far back as 1996, phosphorus has been blamed for damaging the Everglades. More than 20 years later, it’s still an issue.Jon Kral Miami Herald file

Soon after being confirmed as the new chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt said this to a conference of conservative activists:

“I think people across the country look at the EPA the way they look at the IRS.”

Pruitt’s remark makes clear the sort of people he’s listening to and aims to serve. Corporate polluters look at the EPA the same way corporate tax cheats look at the IRS — as the enemy.

Regulation can be burdensome even for good companies trying to do the right thing.

But for those dumping waste into rivers or spewing toxins in the sky, the slightest shadow of oversight is threatening and therefore despised, for obvious reasons.

The good people of Flint, Michigan, whose tap water turned undrinkable, likely hold a different view of the EPA than, say, coal lobbyists. If you live in Flint, you might wish the agency were stronger, not weaker.

As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt, in league with gas and oil companies, made a sport of suing the EPA. So far he seems content with the White House notion to whack the agency’s budget by 24 percent and fire 3,000 employees.

Polluters have been whining about the EPA since it was signed into existence 47 years ago by that radical environmentalist Richard Nixon. The idea was that the American families have a right to breathe clean air and drink clean water.

This concept lay at grave odds with the prevailing operating practices of copper mines, coal-burning power plants, plastics factories and industrial farms. Conflict was inevitable, and the EPA was regularly vilified for meddling in local matters.

Here in Florida, the agency became a key player in the complex, politically fraught effort to clean up the Everglades. Progress has been halting and uneven, but without the EPA — and the eye of the Justice Department — there would have been almost no progress at all.

The federal role in Everglades restoration was expanded by U.S. District Judge Alan Gold, now retired, who had become increasingly exasperated by the stall tactics of Florida officials and the weakening of pollution limits for farm runoff waters.

In a 2011 order, Gold irritably concluded that the state and the South Florida Water Management District, “have not been true stewards of protecting the Everglades in recent years.”

He was dead right.

Pruitt’s takeover of the EPA is happy news for Big Sugar and other industrial agricultural interests that have been trying for decades to shake free of federal scrutiny.

They eagerly await the day when anemic state agencies — not the EPA — are the ones in charge of regulating levels of phosphorus, mercury and other chemicals in the farm runoff that flows into public waterways.

The reason for that preference is simple. State politicians are much easier to manipulate than federal bureaucrats. All it takes is money.

Showered with campaign donations from Big Agriculture, Gov. Rick Scott and GOP lawmakers have obediently labored to deliver control of water policy to major landowners and user-groups, with the exception of ordinary Floridians.

Last year’s gift-wrapped water bill placed the state’s farming and ranching companies on a laughable honor system, allowing them to self-monitor their cleanup efforts with only occasional state inspections.

Of course, if the honor system worked and industries cleaned up their own mess, there would have been no need for an EPA all those years ago.

Recently, seeking to shed all federal oversight, Florida officials distributed maps intended to show that water quality throughout the Everglades has improved to the threshold of almost-clean.

This sunny report came from the South Florida Water Management District, whose board is stacked with the governor’s surrogates. The good news puzzled the Miccosukee Tribe, which says phosphorus levels in some reservation waters are seven to 10 times higher than legal limits.

The nutrient-loaded runoff comes from canals transporting farm effluent south to tribal wetlands bisected by Alligator Alley. A spokesman admitted the district has quit monitoring pollution in those canals, saying it was part of a research program that ended.

How convenient.

The state is now safe to shrug off those alarming phosphorus readings from the Miccosukees and promote its own selective, upbeat water data.

There’s a receptive new audience at the Justice Department, and the EPA. Scott Pruitt will probably be delighted to abandon future custodianship of the Everglades to Gov. Scott and Big Agriculture.

It’s true that water flowing off the vast farm fields below Lake Okeechobee is much less polluted than it was 20 years ago, but that’s because federal judges kept kicking the plan forward.

The feds haven’t been perfect partners in the restoration epic, but without that pressure the hacks in Tallahassee would have bailed a long, long time ago.

Read more here:


Unknown said...

This is simply terrifying -- I really doubt that Trump supporters had any idea that they were voting for thus -- when will they catch on? we can only hope it is sooner rather than later. thanks for all the work you do to educate all of us.

Anonymous said...

Carl also said Trump had no chance. Any other sore loser opinions you want to trot out?

Geniusofdespair said...


Anonymous said...

I look at the fish, and I substitute dead people, thousands upon thousands of them as far as the eye can see, if ACA is gone.