Eye on Washington

February, 2017

 

Workforce

Enforcing environmental regulations and managing public lands requires staff. As former President Ronald Reagan found, appointing naysayers as agency heads and cutting agency staff effectively tied the hands of conservation agencies. The new Congress and President have indicated they may freeze hiring, preventing agencies from filling of positions that enforce our laws. To add to that concern, Rep. Griffith (R-VA) unearthed a 100-year-old regulation which would allow President Trump and the GOP to target federal employees implementing policies they oppose such as climate change science, endangered species protection, and other environmental protections by reducing their pay to one dollar. A questionnaire sent to government scientists seeking to determine their professional stance on climate change, left scientists feeling targeted and uncertain.

Science

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) has renewed his push for the “Secret Science Reform Act.” The Act would require the EPA use only “transparent or reproducible” science when drafting regulations and that the scientific data would be posted online for scrutiny. Although supporters of the Act suggest it would lead to better transparency, many science organizations say the Act would have a crippling effect on large-scale research. “This bill, it’s not designed to promote good science; it’s really just crafted to prevent the use of independent science in developing public health and safety protections. If a version like this were to get into other areas of the federal government, it could bring the entire regulatory process to a grinding halt,” said Yogin Kothari of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Appointees

“Henhouse for Rent—Only Foxes Need Apply” stated Michael E. Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University and Director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center, regarding the line-up of new appointees under President Trump.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Scott Pruitt Attorney General, State of Oklahoma

Pruitt is expected to benefit from support from Climate Change “Denier-in-Chief” Senator Inhofe (R-OK). Sen. Inhofe is a member of two powerful Senate science committees, and said in endorsing Pruitt, “Pruitt has seen first-hand the abuses of power at the hands of this agency and has fought back to ensure environmental quality without sacrificing jobs.”

Attorney Pruitt is already fighting ethics accusations resulting from taking almost half a million dollars from groups tied to oil. The Sierra Club stated, “The fact that Scott Pruitt intends to take big cash from the very same big polluters he is supposed to be monitoring as EPA administrator is unprecedented and a clear danger to the health of our families.”

Interior: Ryan Zinke, U.S. Congressman (R-MT)

Rep. Zinke supports the Keystone XL pipeline and has expressed concerns about the Interior Department’s regulations to control dangerous wastes from oil and gas wells. He distinctly lacks a focus on climate change. In what might become a common refrain for many of Trump’s nominees, Zinke may also have some ethics problems. Rep. Zinke (R-MT) took hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from companies that drill for oil and gas on the vast public lands that he would oversee as Interior Secretary.

The League of Conservation Voters (which gave Zinke a minimal three percent lifetime score) and the Center for Biological Diversity say his voting record shows he may be in the pocket of the energy industry.

On a note of hope, outgoing Interior Sec. Jewell mentioned at a speech at Columbia University Zinke’s support of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and opposition to a Republican Party platform that included alarming disposal of public lands.

“I think those are good,” she said. “They are indicative of someone that does come from a state that understands the value of federal public lands, the benefits the state gets from those public lands and the importance of thoughtful, long-term management.”

Commerce: Wilbur Ross, Billionaire banker and investor

“Vulture’ or ‘Phoenix’?...” read the headline in the New York Times on Nov 25, 2016 regarding Ross.

Though he has been applauded for saving some industrial jobs, Ross is also known for the Sago Mine disaster in West Virginia, where 12 miners were killed. His company had bought the mine a few weeks earlier.

His many ties to many oil and gas companies—where he has invested millions of dollars—has resulted in concerns of a conflict of interest.

State: Rex Tillerson, former chairman and chief executive officer of ExxonMobil

Congressional hearings have highlighted concerns about Tillerson’s lobbying against U.S. sanctions and possible illegal dealings with Iran, Syria, Sudan and Russia. His ties with Russia in particular are related to his determination to drill for oil in the Arctic. Almost lost in those hearings, however, is the fact he also funded Manhattan Group which lobbied against climate change mitigation work.

Good News

There is some good news for the Northern California/Southern Oregon region. Before leaving office, President Obama added lands to the California Coastal National Monument and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, and protected the Smith River headwaters from mining. For more information, click here.

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