Monday, July 3, 2017

Livin’ without Rules

Ever wonder what the world would be like if folks who hate the laws that apply to them were suddenly put in charge of interpreting and enforcing those laws… against themselves? Kind of like giving keys to the cellblocks to the inmates and asking them to make up and enforce the rules and the sentencing structure. Well, we have a new sheriff in town who hates laws that protect the little guy from the big guy. From occupational safety, healthcare to big banks with no rules when they deal with their customers, able to restrict consumers from even seeking redress against them.
The big guy wants to dump industrial effluents into the waterways (he makes a whole lot more money if he doesn’t have to pay for pollution controls) that seriously impact the little guy who might eat vegetables grown with that water or worse, bathe in it or drink/cook with it. Encouraging industries that foul our air, inflict breathing disorders across the land, and increase greenhouse gasses to accelerate the “officially denied” global warming – like coal-fired electrical power generation (there really is no such thing as commercially “clean coal,” by the way). Doing away with laws and regulations to the contrary… new policies are now reversing decades of progress. New Trump agency heads don’t even consult the droves of governmental experts within those regulatory agencies anymore. They are just baggage that will slow be let go over time.
For those who believe that public schools need to be replaced with private schools, living on a combination of vouchers, private tuition and donations from organizations with clear agendas (mostly fundamentalist religious doctrine, clearly squared against scientific fact), who really believe that teaching God will make America Great Again, now is the time to change America’s long-standing commitment to quality secular free public education. Now is the time to put local communities with agendas that veer deeply away from traditional learning in charge. So what if the rest of the competitive world is teaching their children hard skills, STEM subjects and basic educational values. God will provide for His faithful.
“As the Trump administration sets out to overhaul the federal government, a small group of Cabinet secretaries may have the most daunting task. They are running departments with missions they have sometimes disparaged, with employees who are secretly — and on occasion publicly — hostile.
“Across the agencies, these Cabinet members have made very public efforts to court their staff, yet frequently are crafting key initiatives in private. They are forming alliances where they can and skirmishing where they cannot. For the most part they have erected small, secluded citadels within each department, where they can advance policies that reflect the priorities of the ­president.
“At the Education Department, Secretary Betsy DeVos has been trying to build rapport with a leery staff, dining at times in the employee cafeteria and convening a group of LGBT employees to talk about hot-button issues relating to transgender students. But some employees complain they are being cut out of decision-making. The head of the financial aid division resigned in May, warning in a farewell email of severe constraints being placed on the ability of career officials to ‘make decisions and deliver on the organization’s mission.’
“Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has invited staffers to his grand office overlooking the Mall to imbibe IPA beer from his home state of Montana and has trumpeted a new policy of allowing employees’ dogs to roam the department’s hallways on selected days. But as soon as government rules allowed, he reassigned dozens of Senior Executive Service career staff members without consultation or notice, relocating some to other parts of the country.
“Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has braved rush-hour crowds at the L’Enfant Plaza Metro stop to greet employees and shake their hands. But when the agency decided to reconsider a controversial HUD policy granting transgender people access to sex-segregated shelters of their choice, Carson surprised the staffers who had crafted the policy by excluding them from the discussion.” Washington Post, July 2nd.
But nothing is as mercilessly efficient as the new Environmental Protection’s Agency’s eliminating a vast array of pretty reasonable environmental rules, regulations aimed at preventing such egregious environmental disasters like the litany of environmental disasters, rivers fouled beyond contemplation, perpetrated by North Carolina’s Duke Energy… as recently as 2014. “North Carolina regulators said Monday [3/3/14] that five power plants owned by Duke Energy have been cited for violating water pollution laws, three days after announcing a similar action against Duke’s plant in Eden, N.C., where 39,000 tons of coal ash fouled the Dan River last month [February 2014]., pictured above.
In the four months since he took office as the Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt has moved to undo, delay or otherwise block more than 30 environmental rules, a regulatory rollback larger in scope than any other over so short a time in the agency’s 47-year history, according to experts in environmental law.
“Mr. Pruitt’s supporters, including President Trump, have hailed his moves as an uprooting of the administrative state and a clearing of onerous regulations that have stymied American business. Environmental advocates have watched in horror as Mr. Pruitt has worked to disable the authority of the agency charged with protecting the nation’s air, water and public health…
“Since February, Mr. Pruitt has filed a proposal of intent to undo or weaken Mr. Obama’s climate change regulations, known as the Clean Power Plan. In late June, he filed a legal plan to repeal an Obama-era rule curbing pollution in the nation’s waterways. He delayed a rule that would require fossil fuel companies to rein in leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas wells. He delayed the date by which companies must comply with a rule to prevent explosions and spills at chemical plants. And he reversed a ban on the use of a pesticide that the E.P.A.’s own scientists have said is linked to damage of children’s nervous systems…
“And he is doing all this largely without the input of the 15,000 career employees at the agency he heads, according to interviews with over 20 current and former E.P.A. senior career staff members.
“‘I have been consistently informed by multiple career people at E.P.A. that Administrator Pruitt is not meeting with them ahead of making decisions like rolling back these major regulations,’ said James J. Jones, who had worked at the agency since the Reagan administration before retiring in January. Mr. Jones, an expert in chemical and pesticide pollution, was appointed by Mr. Obama as the E.P.A.’s assistant administrator for chemical safety in his final years at the agency.
“Instead, Mr. Pruitt has outsourced crucial work to a network of lawyers, lobbyists and other allies, especially Republican state attorneys general, a network he worked with closely as the head of the Republican Attorneys General Association. Since 2013, the group has collected $4.2 million from fossil fuel-related companies like Exxon Mobil, Koch Industries, Murray Energy and Southern Company, businesses that also worked closely with Mr. Pruitt in many of the 14 lawsuits he filed against the E.P.A.
“Within the agency, Mr. Pruitt relies on the counsel of a small network of political appointees, including a number of former lobbyists and senior industry officials. For example, he tapped Nancy Beck, previously a policy director for the American Chemistry Council, which lobbies on behalf of companies such as Dow and DuPont, to oversee the E.P.A. office charged with enforcing regulations on hazardous chemicals.
“‘It amounts to a corporate takeover of the agency, in its decision- and policy-making functions,’ said Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, a government watchdog group.” New York Times, July 1st.  
It gets worse. Those corporate interests, those special outside EPA advisors, see our rivers and streams as cheap garbage dumps/sewers for processing plants, effluent-generating manufacturing and mineral, oil and gas extraction. So… “The Environmental Protection Agency is poised to dismantle the federal clean water rule, which protects waterways that provide drinking water for about a third of the US population.
“The EPA, with the US army, has proposed scrapping the rule in order to conduct a ‘substantive re-evaluation’ of which rivers, streams, wetlands and other bodies of water should be protected by the federal government.
“‘We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses,’ said Scott Pruitt, administrator of the EPA.
“The EPA would swiftly redefine clean water regulations in a ‘thoughtful, transparent and collaborative’ way with other agencies and the public. [Just without consulting his own experts.]
“Green groups, however, said the move pandered to fossil fuel and farming interests and was part of an agenda to weaken clean water protections… ‘Once again, the Trump administration has agreed to do the bidding of the worst polluters in our country, and once again it’s putting the health of American families and communities at risk,’ said Michael Brune, executive director of Sierra Club. ‘We will fight this and every other attempt by polluters and the Trump administration to destroy our water resources.’” The Guardian, June 27th. Enjoy your next gulp of tap water! Prepare for a flood… of new alternative facts!
Nothing short term is going to change this downward plunge, this destruction of habitat, environment, perhaps towards the point of no return… that place where earth’s atmosphere spirals out of control dousing the lifeforms on its surface (as Stephen Hawking predicted in a speech given on his 75th birthday). Sure it will take a very long time to get there, but each step of the journey will be painful and deadly for too many. Donald Trump may have shoved the snowball down the delicate slope, but the GOP power base, from VP Mike Pence to House Speaker Paul Ryan, are equally committed to killing what were once perceived as necessary environmental regulations. Health and safety? Obviously overrated, right? Making money at all costs? Oh yeah?!
OK! Want a very tiny ray of hope? “An appeals court Monday [7/3] struck down the Environmental Protection Agency’s two-year suspension of new emission standards on oil and gas wells, a decision that could set back the Trump administration’s broad legal strategy for rolling back Obama-era rules…. In a 2-to-1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit concluded that the EPA had the right to reconsider a 2016 rule limiting methane and smog-forming pollutants emitted by oil and gas wells but could not delay the effective date for two years while it sought to rewrite the regulation.” Washington Post, July 3rd.
I’m Peter Dekom, and if any of this bothers you, as it well should, scream, yell and jump up and down at your elected representatives… or watch our average life expectancy continue to decline as those at the top of the economic ladder, insulated from the chaos, make more and more money.

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