The Frontal Assault on Environmental Laws

New Orleans    In Louisiana we’re losing coastal wetlands and acres of land every day.  A columnist in the Times-Picayune noted flatly, “…few states depend more on environmental regulations for survival than Louisiana.  We’ve only been able to slow the destruction of our remaining coastal wetlands thanks to regulations under the Clean Water Act.”  Talking to Rob Davidson, the Sheridan, Wyoming based executive director of Council for the Big Horn Range on Wade’s World, he repeatedly made the same point about NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act.

Scot Pruitt may be gone as director of the Environmental Protection Agency, but that doesn’t mean all will be well in the world, and we are once again in safe hands.  His replacement was a former lobbyist.  The style may be different and the sleight of hand subtler, but the substance will be the same, and it’s a frontal assault.

The Interior Department in its efforts to open up more federal lands and forests is being duplicitous.  Their claim is that the law needs to be “modernized” because it was passed almost fifty years ago.  What they are really saying is that they want the law to be commercialized, not modernized.  They want to make it easier for road building to access areas now off the grid.  They want to turn the red-light green for any and all extraction industries.  As Davidson argued on the radio, extraction from coal companies and the oil and gas industry is the critical issue in Wyoming.  This is especially true not only about land, but utilization and protection of the scarcest commodity in the west:  water.

Davidson could count some coups in the early work of the Council for the Big Horn Range.  They had managed to block an effort by the Interior bean counters to close one of the US Forest Service offices looking after the four million acres of the Big Horn Mountains’ footprint.

When he talked about the dangers in road building and confronting the extraction industry, which is famously powerful in Cheyenne especially when the legislature is in session, the task seemed not simply difficult but daunting.  Their main tactical advantage was what I have always referred to as the “volunteer army,” and in this case when it involves retired Forest Service workers and oil pros like himself, who know the language and where some of the bodies are buried, that can be powerful.  Nonetheless, they are often a rearguard force at odds with a phalanx of lawyers and high-priced experts and consultants hired by industry to run them through endless hearings, and that’s just trying to get the matter up to the point that there might be a NEPA challenge and a potential environmental impact statement.

Add all of that to the fact that for endangered species and other land utilization schemes by commercial interests, the Interior Department in its “modernization” effort want to introduce economics as a factor to consider.  In plain language that means they want to say that if it cost too much to save the sage grouse for example, then let it go extinct or if they can argue sufficient economic benefit, then forests and wilderness benefits to all the public can then be scrapped.

Against these long odds, we need to not only keep any restraining law and its regulations in place, but we also need to do what we can to support groups like the Council of the Big Horn Range and people like Rob Davidson, whose bodies and organizations are in the road trying to block environmental devastation for the rest of us nearby or a world away.

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Ten People Know Scott Pruitt

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP/REX/Shutterstock (9569074a)
A sign criticizing Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is seen posted on the base of a utility pole on the corner of H Street NW and 13 Street NW in Washington
Trump EPA, Washington, USA – 06 Apr 2018

Little Rock     The key architect of the Republicans efforts to maintain control of the House of Representatives is 37-year old Corry Bliss.  Times’ columnist, Frank Bruni, description puts him in the thick of the midterm campaign.  “Bliss serves as the executive director of the American Action Network and the Congressional Leadership Fund, a potent super PAC that raises money for, and directs it to, high-priority House races nationwide.”

His interview is interesting as a reminder to anyone who has forgotten how sure they were that Hillary Clinton would be seated as President in the election against Donald Trump, that the Republicans are alive and competing fiercely to hold onto Congress in the midterms, even if they are not completely well and carrying huge White House baggage around their necks.  Bliss scoffs at the notion of a “blue wave” sweeping Democrats into office.  He accurately notes the fact that Republicans in the critical, recent Ohio primaries outperformed the Democrats by 150,000 votes in turnout, challenging the notion that Democratic activism is red hot and can overwhelm predictions.

One of his comments that I found most interesting though was a throwaway line when he was asked about the constant scandals involving Trump secretaries and appointees like the eleven investigations at various levels involving Scott Pruitt, Trump’s head of the Environmental Protection Agency.  He scoffed that there aren’t “ten people in the country” who even know who Scott Pruitt is.

Scott Pruitt of the luxury flights and free housing, the special $30,000 phone booth, and the wildly expensive, multi-million-dollar security team probably winched at reading that line from a Republican super-organizer, but the more you think about it, there’s some frightening truth to the point.  So, sure, more than ten people do know who he is.  Maybe it’s a thousand or tens of thousands or even a million.  He was a rightwing footnote as Attorney General in Oklahoma who sued the EPA a lot representing the oil and gas industry and found himself nominated by another political unknown to gut the EPA.  But, no matter his mischief, the point Bliss makes powerfully, despite the exaggeration, is that people are not going to vote on whether to retain or unseat their local Congressperson based on whoever the heck Scott Pruitt might be.

When we think about it, we know why.  Every poll is clear that people are not paying attention in class.  They might vote for or against based on Trump and his antics but be warned that this is also a dangerous assumption.  The Republican base has moved across the spectrum on issues like free trade, taxes, and debt largely based on the seismic shifts directed by Trump.  His positions and personal characteristics may be appalling to many, but there is no denying that he is the leader of his band and holding them steady.  Even his general popularity is improving.

People vote for their local folks on local issues as well as holding their ears to the ground to hear which way the herd is running, but progressives can’t win by just running against Trump any more than they have a chance of winning with the hope that more people know Scott Pruitt and are appalled by him and his attempts to destroy the world we live in forever.

To win, they have to stand for something more.  And, everyone has to know where they stand. Standing against something doesn’t equal winning.

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Please enjoy Ana Egge’s Girls, Girls, Girls.

Thanks to KABF.

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