Dropping the A

Make America Great Again (MAGA) is a catchy phrase and one that if simply looking at the words seems like something everyone would want to support.  Like most things, the issue comes when you start looking at the specifics.  The word “Again” gives the impression of reverting to a previous time and opens itself up for numerous arguments about what timeline we are hoping to move back to and creates a natural issue of negating progress we as a country have made.  No matter the time in history that anyone would say is when America was best, there were large fundamental problems then which are improved now.  Was America great when women could not vote, when we had leaded gasoline and leaded paint, when no water and air protections existed, or when slavery existed?  No, it is better now in those and many other regards because of progress and innovation.  MAGA has its nostalgic merits, but when the conversation deepens most sane people would concede that the slogan should lose the A.  If our POTUS and his administration were to focus on just ‘Make America Great’, things would be a lot simpler and we could be moving forward to make more progress as opposed to moving backwards.

There are several ways that the “Again” is being implemented and reverting us, as opposed to moving us forward and helping us transform and modernize.  The Brooking Institute, Columbia, Harvard, and many others all track new, repealed, and modified rules and policies and I have leveraged some of their data to create a list of environmental changes and updates you might not even be aware of because we are too busy worrying about the countless scandals or offensive tweets of the day.

  • The social cost of carbon is an estimate of the monetized damages caused by a one-ton increase in greenhouse gas emissions in a given year. On March 28, 2017, POTUS issued an executive order which states that, when monetizing the value of changes in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from regulations, agencies should instead follow earlier guidance from September 2003.
  • In July 2015, the Department of the Interior (DoI) proposed the Stream Protection Rule, which required that land within 100 feet of a stream could not be disturbed by surface mining activities, including the dumping of mining waste.  Two days before that law was to take effect (1/19/2017), several coal producing states filed a lawsuit and shortly after resolution went through the house, senate, and was signed by POTUS nullifying the rule.
  • Among all industries regulated under the Clean Water Act, steam electric power plants contribute the greatest amount of toxic pollutants discharged to surface waters. The power plant water pollution rule establishes limits on the amount of toxic metals and other harmful pollutants that steam electric power plants are allowed to discharge into surface water. The rule was finalized in 2015 but new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced that the EPA would reconsider the rule and has delayed its implementation so they can revisit the impacts to industry.  Compliance dates for some of the more stringent portions of the rule dealing with flue-gas desulfurization wastewater and bottom ash transport waste, which both come from the burning of coal have been postponed.  The EPA is now being sued by several organizations regarding its lack of environmental protections.
  • A rule to improve the competency of certified pesticide applicators of restricted use pesticides was halted from going in to effect via executive order and the implementation delayed by Scott Pruitt as it did not promote agriculture and rural prosperity.
  • Corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards require vehicle manufacturers to achieve an average fuel efficiency over their fleet, or else pay a penalty. The rule was delayed indefinitely, pending reconsideration.
  • In February 2017, POTUS issued an executive order directing the Interior Secretary to review the oil and gas fracking rule, which requires disclosure of certain information by fracking companies to ensure adequate environmental protection. The Department of the Interior then proposed to rescind the rule, noting that it imposes burdensome reporting requirements and other unjustified costs on the oil and gas industry.
  • In March 2017, POTUS issued an executive order to reduce regulatory burdens related to energy production. In response to the order the DoI rescinded the oil, gas, and coal lease valuation rule, which sought to increase royalties paid to the federal government by companies extracting resources on public lands.
  • In June 2017 the EPA published a notice of its intent to extend their deadline for ensuring a portion of the Clean Air Act was being followed.  The specific rule is in regards to national ambient air quality standards for ozone and the EPA is supposed to identify areas of the country not meeting those standards in order to protect of public health.  In August of 2017, sixteen states filed lawsuits contesting the delay. In response, the EPA withdrew the extension.
  • The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act established a set of performance measures for state departments of transportation (DoTs) to use in assessing the performance of interstate highways in regard to, among other things, environmental sustainability. The greenhouse gas emissions measure requires state DoTs to establish targets and report on progress in reducing carbon dioxide emissions using this measure. In July 2017, several environmental groups sued the DoT for illegally suspending the greenhouse gas emissions measure, and in response, the DoT reinstated them.  A few days later, the DoT officially proposed to repeal the greenhouse gas measures.
  • Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable gas at room temperature that has a strong odor and is found in certain resins used in the manufacture of composite wood products, including plywood, fiberboard, and particleboard. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen that can cause cancer if inhaled. In September 2017, the EPA extended the compliance date for the formaldehyde emissions standards to December 2018.  The rule reduces exposure to formaldehyde during manufacture of certain wood products.
  • A rule requiring resource extraction issuers to disclose information about payments made to governments for the purposes of commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals was nullified in February 2017 by POTUS.  Advocates of the rule claimed that it prevented companies from bribing foreign governments and engaging in other forms of corruption. Detractors argued that the rule placed an excessive burden on companies.
  • A rule addressing mercury waste discharged from dental offices into publicly owned wastewater treatment plants was rescinded by the EPA in January 2017.  In February 2017, the National Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit, claiming the EPA could not rescind the rule absent a notice and comment period. In response to the suit, the EPA reinstated the rule in June 2017.
  • A rule to improve safety at facilities that use and distribute hazardous chemicals was put in place in response to an April 2013 explosion at the West Fertilizer facility in Texas.  In March 2017, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced he would delay the rule.  In July 2017, eleven states sued the EPA for delaying the rule.
  • The “Methane Rule” regulated the gas released into the atmosphere during oil and natural gas production through venting (the controlled release of gases into the atmosphere), flaring (the controlled burning of natural gas), and equipment leaks. In January 2017 House of Representatives passed a resolution to nullify the rule but it was then defeated in the Senate.  In March of 2017, POTUS signed an executive order and the department of Interior indefinitely suspending the requirements.
  • In August 2015, the EPA proposed new source performance standards (NSPS) for methane and volatile organic compounds to include several emission sources not covered by the current NSPS. These included fracking wells, which were required to use a process called “green completion” to recover natural gas during flowback. Oil and gas industry firms petitioned EPA and Scott Pruitt proposed extending the implementation of the standards for two more years.  Several environmental groups immediately sued and won and the updated NSPS standards are in place.
  • The goal of the Clean Power Plan (which was finalized in October of 2015) was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector, which is responsible for approximately 30 percent of America’s overall greenhouse gas emissions. In March 2017, POTUS issued an executive order directing the EPA to review the Clean Power Plan and the EPA has since proposed rescinding the plan.

The summary of the above detail is that if you want the EPA to enforce and protect your air, water, and land; you are likely going to have to sue them to get them to do so.  The second takeaway is that moving forward and progressing to a cleaner standard of living is up to us.  We cannot rely on our (U.S.) elected and appointed officials to do the right thing for humanity, they have prioritized profits over people and believe any environmental ‘ burdens’ on the most profitable industry in the world should be removed.    There has been a long existing myth that the only way to improve the environment is to negatively impact the economy and that is simply not true.  There are countless solutions, studies, and historic examples that say otherwise.  Having to decide if you want a sustainable planet or a strong economy is a false dilemma.

It is incredibly frustrating to see every other nation in the world moving forward while in the U.S. our leadership continues to promote, protect, and subsidize a dying industry with a finite amount of product that we know is doing us harm.  It is embarrassing to be represented by leaders who are so foolish and short sighted.  So, let’s remove the A.  Let’s Make America Great by transforming while economically flourishing.  The alternative is to fall behind and watch every other nation kick our asses on clean energy as their disdain for the U.S. grows.

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Today was a historically sad day as POTUS announced he is withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord.  I watched his speech announcing this with frustration and anger but am now residing myself that maybe it is for the best.  My frustration and anger stem from the flawed logic and false narrative that are being used to justify the exit.  The primary focus was about the agreement being a bad deal for the U.S., how it is a ‘massive redistribution of wealth to other countries’ and how if the U.S. remained it would ‘become the laughing stock of the world’.  He went on to boast about our existing “natural” (fossil fuel) energy sources and the value of using those to drive our energy needs.  He went on to paint a picture of ‘brown outs, black outs, and businesses coming to a halt if the U.S. were to remain in the agreement’.  Sometimes I think POTUS chooses to undo things his predecessor did or do the opposite of them just to stick it to him and then creates a narrative to support that, as opposed to critically thinking about what is truly best for our country.

In my opinion, if we were not already, we most definitely are now the laughing stock of the world.  We join Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations not to be signed on to the Paris Climate Accord.  Ironically, Nicaragua is not on board because they felt the goals were not aggressive enough and Syria has other priorities as you can imagine.  Scott Pruitt (EPA) got to follow on and mentioned how ‘America finally has a president who answers only to the American people and not to special interests’.  Which American people does he answer to when making such decisions?  It is not the hundreds of U.S. based companies who asked him to remain in the accord, it is not the leaders of organized religions, it is not the countless U.S. scientists, and it is not the majority of Americans who support remaining in the agreement.

Consider that in the U.S. the clean energy sector is growing at 10x the rest of the U.S. economy.  The idea of making America great again by reviving the coal industry, fracking, and drilling is short sighted and today marks the most irresponsible act of this president to date in my opinion.  The silver lining is that had the U.S. remained in the accord, we would have been a total PITA for the other nations under the current administration.  Now, they can forge ahead uninhibited as they have declared they will.  As other nations adopt a clean energy economy with a carbon fee and dividend policy, It is logical to assume that the U.S. will at some point in the future face tariffs, sanctions, and taxes on our exports to account for the cost of carbon used to create those.  If we follow the current MAGA mantra, the U.S. is certain to be left behind and let a huge opportunity to be world leader and innovator pass us by.  It is sad that we cannot count on our own government to protect the habitability of our beautiful planet, but perhaps we can get this done via cities, states, and businesses until such a time that we have a leader with common sense and courage.