Under the cover of COVID-19, Trump administration goes after EPA regulations
By. Miles Bolton
As the coronavirus induced shutdown continues, one of the few bits of good news that has been circulating on social media have been stories of environmental recovery in countries where emissions have been reduced for the short term. Some of the headlines are false or exaggerated such as reports on “dolphins returning to Venice, Italy”(https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/03/coronavirus-pandemic-fake-animal-viral-social-media-posts/), while others are genuinely positive when looking at reports of smog reduction in China or Los Angeles, CA. However, behind the scenes as the fight against the virus rages on, numerous EPA regulations meant to hold industries culpable for excess emissions and waste disposal methods are being rolled back by the Trump administration. The proposed rollbacks are still in the process of being passed but if passed would allow for us to not only catch up but surpass pre-corona emissions while further endangering public health.
Changes in EPA policy and regulations are usually subject to a thorough public input process, where concerned citizens and environmental organizations are allowed to weigh in on EPA decisions on policy and regulations. This public discourse has been sidelined by social distancing guidelines for the time being, allowing for government agencies to move forward on rollbacks and other policy changes without being checked. Normally, agencies have to receive public comments, take them into consideration, and respond to them while incorporating the feedback into decision-making before making a final decision.
Environmental organizations and activists have noted this break in the feedback loop; more than 80 environmental organizations sent letters to the Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt, calling for the EPA to suspend major policy decisions, regulation changes, oil/gas lease sales, and public comment periods for the interim. Environmental organizations have also filed around a 100 lawsuits to protect EPA regulations on air quality, water quality, endangered species, etc. to keep the pressure on during the quarantine.
The Trump administration has pushed for a whopping 100 rollbacks (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/climate/trump-environment-rollbacks.html)
check the NY times link for the full list of proposed EPA rollbacks. The list also includes status updates on each rollback as well as links to the specific details on each policy change.
Replace Obama Clean Water Rule with a rule that removes federal water quality protections from streams and wetlands.
Replace Obama Clean Power Plan, which limited harmful emissions from power plants, with a rule that’s projected to significantly increase emissions.
Weaken Obama-era fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for passenger cars and light trucks.
Revoked California’s power to set stricter tailpipe emissions standards than the federal government.
Canceled a requirement for oil and gas companies to report methane emission
Amended rules that govern how refineries monitor pollution in the surrounding communities.
Lifted ban on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
If these rollbacks go through, all of the short term environmental gains during the Obama administration as well as the greenhouse emission drops during the lockdown, will all be for naught. Early estimates project that global emissions will decrease by 4%- a 7.6% decrease in emissions is needed to avoid the worst case scenario of climate change (+1.5 Celsius warming)-and China’s emissions have plummeted during the slowdown, with a 25% drop in February. Emissions have been ramping back up in China as they reopen the country after the lockdown.
In early May, the Trump administration issued an executive order to begin paving a way for the approval of large scale ocean aquaculture in federal waters. The executive order prioritizes expanding industrial scale finfish aquaculture, which has been shown in numerous studies to be a significant environmental stressor. Unlike shellfish or kelp based aquaculture, which in effect, filters the surrounding water, finfish aquaculture involves the uses of numerous chemicals, growth hormones, and antibiotics to maintain.
Finfish aquaculture in turn has a detrimental impact on surrounding ecosystems by reducing water quality, increasing nutrient pollution, and introducing harmful chemicals that can biomagnify within the food web. The accumulation of chemicals from finfish aquaculture can also build up in the sediment (ex: copper derived from uneaten fish waste or antifouling paint) and disrupt benthic (bottom-dwelling) communities of bacteria, shellfish, and a wide manner of marine life. These impacts from finfish aquaculture fundamentally alter nearby marine ecosystems and additionally undermine the fishing industry by further depleting wild fish stocks. Preserving marine habitat is essential for helping replenish fish stocks, to the benefit of both the ecosystem and the fishing industry.
While methods of protest are slightly more limited during the COVID-19 lockdown, one effective way to get involved in the process is to donate to the environmental groups involved in fighting back against these proposed rollbacks or you can send a letter to/or call EPA representatives using the information provided in the link below.
*And bear in mind in light of the George Floyd protests, fighting back against EPA rollbacks to protect public health is also a fight to protect POC communities that are often hit the hardest by exposure air/water pollution, chemicals, etc. Environmental and racial justice are more closely intertwined than many would lead you to believe.*
Stay safe everyone, care for one another, and stay vigilant.
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