This Week: Lawmakers, Environment and what you need to know
These last two weeks have made it hard for a person who cares about the environment to not sound like an apocalyptic-doomsayer. Frankly, it seems like grim times for public lands, wild places and animals, clean water, and environmental reform.
The hits just keep coming, and if you even glance at the news, the onslaught may seem chaotic, indecipherable, and hard to digest. It may also leave you unsure or unaware of what you can do to prevent some of the worst legislation the environment has seen in the last 40 years.
In order to rectify some this confusion, here is an as-accurate-as-I-can-tell account of what has happened so far, what is currently happening, and what is poised to happen regarding the environment and legislation in our nation and most importantly -- what we can do about it.
Presidential Executive Orders
You probably have heard more than enough on this, but it bears repeating. President Donald Trump signed executive memos Jan. 24. which push the advancement of construction of two oil pipeline projects that have been fiercely opposed by the American public, and had been either delayed or halted under the previous administration.
The memos were written in order to reopen the ability for TransCanada to construct the Keystone XL pipeline and to fast-track the approval for Energy Transfer Partners to finish the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Not much else needs to be said about this, excepting of course what you can do to help the situation. Admittedly, we can’t change or repeal the executive memos, however we can still effect change.
Firstly, the U.S. Army Corps is still deliberating on the feasibility of DAPL and a possible route for the pipeline. You can write to them and thank them for halting it in the first place, and ask them to keep performing their job and studying the viability of the pipeline. Huffington Post explained how to do so here.
You can also fill out an automated form against DAPL established by Sierra Club, which they will email out to the proper people.
To fight the KXL pipeline, the Sierra Club has a fairly large tweet campaign and petition you can be part of here.
While the country has been slammed with controversy after controversy stemming from the Oval Office, lawmakers have quietly been drafting up and working to pass laws which could have dire affects for the environment.
The Sneak Attack:
January 3, 2017, may just be a day recorded in our Nation’s history books as a day of infamy. That was the day House Republicans voted to change current Congressional Budget Office accounting regulations.
Currently CBO rules dictate that if federal lands are to be transferred, a review of all revenue that land generates must be processed and that this value needs to be accounted for. With the new provisions passed in the house, this calculation of value will not take place, and the value of the land won’t be considered in a transfer.
Meaning for all intents and purposes, according to our Congress, the official value of one of America’s most precious treasures, our public land, land that we all own equally, is zero.
While it’s not a new idea as it was first introduced in the Senate in 2011, the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act has not yet passed. However, it has passed in the house on Jan. 5, and may be just a matter of time before it is before President Trump for approval. While campaigning, Trump said he would approve the law as President given the chance.
The REINS act is touted by supporters as a long overdue way to cease governmental overreach.
The act would require both houses of Congress to approve any regulation from any federal agency that would cost $100 million or more to the economy. Should Congress not approve the regulation within 70 days, the regulation would simply fail to come about.
While this Act doesn’t specifically target only environmental regulation, it does raise some very specific concerns. Environmentalists feel this act is actually meant to fast track a path for the fossil fuel industries and Wall Street do whatever they want.
Congressional Review Act:
The CRA is a piece of legislation that was passed into law in the mid-1990s that essentially makes it possible for Congress to overturn any regulations finalized after June of last year. Previously it has only been used successfully once under the Bush administration as former President Obama vetoed any attempt to use it during his two terms.
While a lot of regulation is being looked at to be cut by House of Representative Republicans using the CRA, the environment is set to take an unusually big hit.
House Republicans have already approved a bill that cuts the Department of Interior's (DOI) Stream Protection Rule, a regulation aimed at preventing coal mining debris from being dumped into nearby streams.
The House also voted to repeal a Securities and Exchange Commission regulation that required corporations to make public records of payments made to foreign states in regards to mining and drilling.
The House will be deliberating Feb. 3, upon another DOI regulation, this one making it necessary for oil and gas companies to reduce methane emissions on federal lands.
So what can you do about all this? Don’t accept this! Tell your federal lawmakers as much. We can’t do much about Congresses’ devaluation of Public Lands at this point, however we can let them know we are not pleased with this decision, and that we are watching them to make sure public lands are not lost!
The good news is that this type of activism has already been seen to work. Last week Rep. Jason Chaffetz, proposed a bill to sell off 3.3 million acres of public land. However the public outcry was so great that he could not help but head it, and publicly said he would not pursue the bill any further!
So really as far as congressional laws, it seems that the challenge for us will be to pay very close attention, and make sure that we let them know when they’ve made a mistake in regards to environmental legislation.
You can find your member of Congress at 202-224-3121, and let them know that these laws and repeals are unwanted. If you reside in Connecticut, you can contact your senators directly at (202) 224-2823, and (202) 224-4041, and determine the correct House Representative you should contact based on district, here.
To put it bluntly, when it comes to the environment, most of President Trump’s cabinet picks may leave a person a little wanting. Here are the key players.
Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson
The U.S. Senate has confirmed Tillerson, who was the previous chairman of ExxonMobil and worked in the large oil company for more than 40 years. He is a climate change skeptic. With Tillerson, ExxonMobil has had a long list of criminal accusations like destruction of the environment, human rights abuses, and skirting US sanctions to do business with state sponsors of terror. Not to mention that the company knew of climate change just as early as anyone else, and decided to fund a massive misinformation campaign rather than inform the American public. On top of this, Tillerman still holds approximately $151m in ExxonMobil stock, a very large potential conflict of interest.
Tillerson also has one of the best relationships of any American with Putin, who awarded Tillerson the “Order of Friendship” in 2013. With no diplomatic experience yet (unless you count working for Corporate/Russian success good American diplomacy) Tillerman is someone to watch closely.
Energy: Rick Perry
The Senate Panel approved Rick Perry to lead the Energy Department. Perry is a former Texas governor and a two-time presidential candidate. Perry is also a climate change skeptic. Perry is widely known for telling the American people “oops” in 2011 presidential debate where he wanted to say that he would eliminate the department of energy, but he forgot the name of the department. That’s right, in 2011 he apparently wanted to eliminate the department he is nominated for, however at the time he seemed to be so unfamiliar with the department that he could not remember its name.
EPA: Scott Pruitt
The house majority has just stepped into controversy as it approved Pruitt’s nomination to go forward to the senate, Feb. 2. Legislation requires that to hold the vote, at least two members of the minority party have to be present. Democrats were boycotting the vote as they have some serious issues with him that they believe he has not alleviated during their questioning of him. The Republicans suspended the rules and voted anyways without democrats at all.
Issues with Pruitt abound. Pruitt is another climate change skeptic, and The New York Times uncovered that Pruitt sent letters to the EPA protesting the agency, that while on state department letter head, were written by private oil companies.
Pruitt has been part of 14 lawsuits against the E.P.A. and has had a history of putting cooperate donor’s interests over that of constituents.
In short, he is probably one of the last people in this country you’d want running the EPA if you value things like clean water more than Cooperate profit.
Interior: Ryan Zinke
Zinke is a Montana congressman and a decorated combat veteran. He seems to be a self-described conservationist who advocates for the protection of public lands and conservation while also voting in favor of oil and gas interests in using federal lands. Zinke has supported environmentally-controversial projects such as the #KeystoneXL pipeline. Tillerman has compared himself to Former President Theodore Roosevelt, though he doesn’t seem to always measure up to such comparison. The Wilderness Society has done what seems to be a pretty fair assessment of him.
What can you do? For some like Tillerman, who has already been confirmed, there is not much to be done but keep an eye on what he does and hold him accountable.
For others like Pruitt, he still has to be approved in the Senate. Again call your state reps and let them know that he is not fit for the job. The Sierra Club has a great automated page for this that you can use, found here.
What it all means
All in all, if you value the environment, if you think that clean water and clean air is important, if you recognize federal public lands as the treasure that it is, owned equally by every American, if you feel that people heading major federal departments in charge of environmental protection should at least recognize climate change for what it is, then these are certainly concerning times.
However, don’t despair! It could be easy to fall into despair and this administration seems to want that, because despair breads complacency. Instead, stand up, let people around you know what’s happening, and when it’s appropriate, let your lawmakers and government officials know you’re watching, and that we won’t tolerate the destruction of all we hold dear.
It is up to us now to let this administration and congress know that we the people will not tolerate the degradation of our land, and that we will fight for what we hold dear.