Scott Pruitt, Trump’s director of the Environmental Protection Agency, presents massive budget cuts to the agency, which will reorient the EPA’s purpose, explains Janet Redman of Oil Change International
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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. In Washington this week, Trump’s Cabinet members have been defending his 2018 budget in front of Congressional committees, including U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Senate Appropriations Committee on foreign operations. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt testified before the House Appropriations Interior Subcommittee defending Trump’s 2018 budget and its massive cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency. Let’s listen. SCOTT PRUITT: As I’ve indicated, clean air goes to the heart of human health, and we are focused on increasing air attainment through compliance and assistance and enforcement. We’ve made tremendous progress as a country through significant investment, regulations, and industry and citizens across this country working together. In fact, since 1980, total emissions of the six criteria pollutants that we regulate under the NAAQS program have dropped by almost 65%, and ozone levels, as you know, have dropped 33%. We should celebrate this program, but we should also recognize that there is work to do. Presently in this country, about 40% of our citizens live in non-attainment with respect to ozone, roughly 120 million people, so we have do have much work to do. SHARMINI PERIES: With us to discuss this is Janet Redman. Janet is the policy director at Oil Change International. Janet joins us from D.C. Thanks for joining us, Janet. JANET REDMAN: I’m very happy to be with you. SHARMINI PERIES: Janet, let’s start with your reaction to Pruitt’s statement about being able to manage the budget cuts. JANET REDMAN: I think it’s very clear that Pruitt has a really different idea about the purpose of the EPA than basically everyone else in the country, both citizens as well as many legislators, certainly a different idea than the many people who’ve been working in the EPA for years and years. His idea is that the EPA should get out of the way as much as possible. He talks about the EPA’s legacy as legislative and regulatory overreach, and says that he as an originalist view of what the EPA should do. That’s the bare minimum that has to happen federally. He really sees an EPA that shrinks, that loses many, many employees both to attrition and hiring freezes, and kicks out many of the most important programs that both American citizens and the people that represent them, as we saw yesterday in the hearing, think are critically important. SHARMINI PERIES: One of the things that the EPA does is watch for regulation safety features. For example, let’s remember the Gulf oil spill and the way in which it was explained to us was because of EPA cuts, they didn’t have enough so-called human power to make sure that the site was adhering to certain regulations, and these kinds of regulations need to be monitored, and the companies need to be held accountable. That’s one example. What other kinds of things do they manage at the EPA that would be at risk with these cuts? JANET REDMAN: There have been a couple of high-profile cases, you could say, that the EPA is responsible for managing the programs that they’re looking after. One, for example, is looking at chemicals, making sure that the chemicals that are entering into our economy and therefore into our lives and our houses and our bodies are safe for human consumption or for human interaction. One that was raised yesterday, particularly by Representative Lowey of New York, was endocrine disruptors. She really honed in on the fact that this is important for people in New York. Pruit agreed, yep, regulating endocrine disruptors is really important, and at the same time is cutting programs to make sure those kind of chemicals don’t enter our bodies. The same thing is true with looking at particular fertilizers, pesticides that are used in fields and food, fields that people work in and foods that we eat. He said, “Yes, of course this is important for public health,” and yet is cutting the programs that would regulate and oversee these kinds of chemicals. Many people actually, both on the Democratic and Republican side, raised programs particularly around protection of important water bodies like the Great Lakes or like the Puget Sound in Washington, and said that these are important job creators, economic drivers in people’s states and home regions. Pruitt said, “Yes, of course, these are important resources,” and yet cuts the programs and protections for those water bodies. Across the board, we saw a lot of doublespeak from Pruitt about the kinds of roles that the EPA has traditionally held and the kinds of management and oversight that we both as citizens and legislators expect the EPA to continue to play a role in as they’re being gutted from the inside. SHARMINI PERIES: Speaking of citizens, part of the president’s proposed EPA budget cuts the … He proposes to eliminate the popular Energy Star efficiency requirements for appliances, automobiles, and other energy-consuming applications, which according to a new report by Public Citizen would cost American families and consumers trillions of dollars over time. Why would Trump and Pruitt be attacking these kinds of programs that are already set up and are working? JANET REDMAN: I think this comes back to looking at where Trump and Pruitt get a large part of their support, and the answer to that of course is the fossil fuel industry. We should remember that Pruitt, before he took this job, was the attorney general in Oklahoma for many years. For two years, he led the Republican Attorney Generals Association, where he worked on organizing and coordinating attorneys-general to fight the Clean Power Plan. He has incredibly close ties to some of the most fossil fuel-grounded associations, including the Koch brothers, including something called Protecting America Now, which was organizing specifically to get Pruitt into this position on an anti-environmentalist, extremist agenda. Like Trump, Pruitt has incredible business ties, incredible ideological ties, and associations with the fossil fuel industry, who in some ways rightfully sees renewable energy and energy efficiency as a threat to their basic business model because it’s just a whole lot cheaper and people are much more interested in clean energy and energy efficiency than spending more money on dirty energy at this point. SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Janet, when President Trump pulled out of the Paris Accord, many, many corporations, including Exxon and others, lined up to criticize this move. One had to wonder what’s in it for them in the Paris Climate Accord. Why are they supporting? Are they really moved by the fact that the environment is changing beyond our control, or is there a vested interest for them in making sure we stay in the agreement? JANET REDMAN: Yeah, I think this has been a really interesting debate conversation within the environment community, within the climate community itself. I think part of the answer is that having a seat at the table at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which we will continue to do, but being members of the Paris Agreement meant that we had some negotiating power. I think in particular, when Trump came into office, when there was the threat of us walking away, there was some hope that we would have some leverage to insert some of the fossil fuel agenda into that global climate conversation. In particular what we were hearing, the Trump administration and those in his administration that wanted to stay in the climate accord, in the Paris Accord, talking about were things like, “Let’s push for technologies and support for the kinds of technologies that would keep fossil fuels running but [inaudible 00:08:17] a little bit cleaner.” We saw a conversation about carbon capture and sequestration as a way to continue doing fossil fuel extraction and production but make it a little bit cleaner to give it some life within the climate conversation. I think it’s really a way for many of the industries that are being called out, and whose moral license to function has been called out on both the national and the global stage, to say, “Hey, we’re being good actors. We’d like for the president to stay in.” There’s also potentially a business case that by being part of regulation they have some consistency globally about the way they can operate. These are of course many international companies that operate globally. I think we should certainly be very cautious and look behind what their statements are when they talk about wanting to be part of climate solutions. We’ve seen that for a long time. It’s part of what keeps them greenwashing their business model to keep themselves alive while they keep on continuing trashing the planet by extracting fossil fuels. SHARMINI PERIES: I imagine also why they want to stay in the discussion, in the climate agreement, and be a part of the process and the solution so that they can also be in control of that process as they are in terms of controlling all the arms of the government in Washington as well. JANET REDMAN: Absolutely. I think the real challenge, of course, is in the United States, there is a financial way in to influencing both Congress and the administration. Certainly in Congress we see both campaign contributions to members who are running and then millions of dollars spent in lobbying. The result that we see of that is billion dollars in fossil fuel subsidies across the board. That model has certainly worked domestically. I think you’re right that having a seat at the table means having influence in government delegations while negotiating climate deals moving forward and implementation of existing climate deals. SHARMINI PERIES: Janet, one of the most interesting things about all of this is that President Trump keeps selling the fact that he’s withdrawing from the climate agreement in order to create more jobs, because the agreement would take away jobs. If you talk to the economists we talked to here at the Real News, like Robert Pollin who’s written a book on greening the global economy, tells us quite the opposite, which is that this strategy of greening the economy is a job creator. He keeps ignoring that point. JANET REDMAN: Yeah, I think that’s right. We see it in a couple of different ways. Clearly, and many studies have been written about this, both from synapse economic modelers, Pollin of course is one, many non-profit organizations, think tanks, have shown that the renewable energy sector is more job-dense than the fossil fuel sector. It just has more jobs created in the manufacturing and implementation of renewable energy. Also, what we’re seeing is just enormous growth in the renewable energy sector. That sector is expanding, partly because it’s cheaper to do energy efficiency and renewable energy oftentimes than it is to do expensive fossil fuels. Of course, that’s competing with natural gas. The more we lock in subsidized fossil fuels, including really cheap natural gas, the more we’re actually getting ourself a disadvantage in job growth by artificially growing that sector and having it compete with the renewable energy sector both where there are more jobs. Both the kinds of jobs we associate with the fossil fuel buildout, construction jobs and manufacturing jobs, are needed for our renewable energy sector, but also a large swathe of jobs that are technical, that are white collar. We see that there’s an immense possibility. I think part of the challenge right now is to make sure that those jobs in the renewable energy sector are unionizable jobs, are jobs with good pay, are jobs with security. That’s part of our job I think as organizers but also partnering with the labor unions, to make sure that we’re advocating that those jobs are the kind of jobs that people want and make families secure. SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Janet. Always a pleasure to hear from you, and I hope to have you back real soon. JANET REDMAN: It’s great to be with you again. Thanks very much. SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.