KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.
On Tuesday, February 28th ahead of his first address in a Joint Session of Congress, Donald Trump signed an Executive Order asking the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review an Obama Administration role that expanded the number of Federally protected waterways.
In his speech to Congress Trump also said that his Administration wants to work with members of both parties to “promote clean and clear water”. On the reverse side, Senator Bernie Sanders, in a video response to the President’s speech in which he criticized Trump for “stirring up fear and hatred against immigrants and trying to divide our nation”. Sanders also said that it is not only important to look at what is said, but also what is not said. Let’s take a look.
BERNIE SANDERS: Perhaps most astoundingly at a time when the scientific community is virtually unanimous in telling us that climate change is real, that it is caused by human activity, that it is already causing devastating problems in our country and all over the world, I did not hear President Trump say one word, not one word, about the need to combat climate change, the greatest environmental threat facing our planet. Not only did he not mention climate change, he pledged to increase our dependency on fossil fuels.
KIM BROWN: As well, the Trump Administration is pushing for a 24% overall cut to the U.S. EPA’s budget, a source informed about the Administration’s plans said according to E&E news.
And to discuss all of this we’re joined by Tom Pelton, who is the Director of Communications for the Environmental Integrity Project, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan national organization based in Washington, D.C., that is dedicated to enforcing environmental laws and protecting public health. Tom is also a former national award-winning environmental reporter for the Baltimore Sun and he hosts a weekly public radio program called, “The Environment in Focus”. Tom, thank you so much for joining us.
TOM PELTON: Thanks for having me.
KIM BROWN: So, the President said in his address to Congress that his Administration wants to work with members in both parties to “promote clean air and clear water” on the same day that he signed an Executive Order against water protection and the waters of the U.S., or WOTUS rule. So, tell us about that rule and its significance.
TOM PELTON: Yeah, basically the Obama Administration clarified what kinds of waterways are protected by the Federal Clean Water Act. This regulation basically protects wetlands. It protects streams, and other small waterways that might be developed, for example, by real estate developers that want to build housing subdivisions on farmland. And by reversing this rule, what the Trump Administration is essentially doing is making it easier for real estate developers, like Donald Trump, to build sprawling subdivisions on our fields and forests, to destroy our wetlands, to destroy the habitats for our wildlife and to really destroy the filters that give us clean water that we all need to drink.
KIM BROWN: So, Scott Pruitt, who is Trump’s EPA Administrator, said recently that the EPA’s focus on combating climate change under former President Barack Obama had cost jobs and prevented economic growth leading many Americans to want to see the EPA eliminated completely. So, is there any truth to this?
TOM PELTON: It’s absolutely false. It’s like most things that come out of Trump’s mouth, no basis in reality. Trump has shown a disdain for science, calling climate change a hoax concocted by the Chinese when 97% of climate scientists around the world agree that it’s real and caused by humans. In fact, there is zero evidence that environmental regulations kill jobs. This is a talking point you often hear from Republicans but if you look at two decades of economic research, as we did, and if you look at the data from the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, you see that only 2/10ths of 1% of layoffs in the U.S. are caused by regulations of any kind, including environmental regulations.
Layoffs happen because of lower overseas labor costs, because of competition from other companies here, and often from corporate buy-outs. One company buys another company and wants to basically make more profit, by getting rid of its employees. Also, technological changes will lead to layoffs. More mechanization that’s what we’ve seen in the coal industry and oil and gas industry. Zero evidence, zero evidence that environmental regulations kill jobs. That’s a big lie that’s put out there to basically help the profitability of some of these big polluting companies.
KIM BROWN: So, President Trump also said in his address to Congress, that he would “stop regulations that threaten the livelihood of our great coal miners”. So, is it even possible to bring back the jobs, even if he kills regulations, given that both solar and natural gas is out-performing coal in the markets?
TOM PELTON: To bring back coal, Trump would have to stomp on his other priority, which is oil and gas. Right now the reason we are seeing coal companies go bankrupt is because hydraulic fracturing for natural gas has made natural gas so much cheaper that it is now more affordable as an energy source than coal. So, basically natural gas is out-competing coal, and some of the coal companies have gone bankrupt for that reason.
To really bring back coal, Trump would have to, say, stop drilling for oil and gas, which is the opposite of what he’s saying. He’s saying we want to drill for more oil and gas. Well, if you drill for more oil and gas, you’ll put more coal companies and more coal workers out of business. It makes no sense. It’s illogical, and it is not based in reality.
KIM BROWN: So, according to insider sources, Donald Trump is poised to gut federal regulations to protect clean air from greenhouse gases and other chemical pollutants, and clean water from industrial waste. With the argument that these regulations have negative impacts on business and the economy but, if one factors in the financial costs of the public health impacts, does that argument break down?
TOM PELTON: It breaks down even if you don’t add in the substantial positive public health impacts of cleaner air. The fact of the matter is that when clean air regulations are put into place, it creates jobs. Now, why is that — because it requires, for example, coal fire power plants to build filtration systems called scrubbers. Scrubbers are often billion dollar pieces of equipment that require American engineers, American construction workers, American Steelworkers, to assemble and create the material for.
So, when you create a clean air regulation, it often requires investments in the physical plant, which creates jobs, not kills jobs. It’s just a falsehood that’s put out there about regulations killing jobs. There’s no evidence that that’s true at all.
KIM BROWN: So, this week Donald Trump says that he is seeking what he called, “historic increase in military spending of more than 9%”, which is a huge rise, and will seek to boost the Pentagon’s spending in the next fiscal year by about $54 billion. In his first budget proposal, Trump also said that the defense increase would be financed partly by cuts to the State Department and the EPA and other non-defense programs. So, is there a terrible irony here in that climate change is acknowledged by the Pentagon as one of the key drivers of national and international insecurity?
TOM PELTON: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I was down at the Naval Station Norfolk, just a couple months ago, talking to some of the retired Admirals who have worked at that institution. And they tell me that the Navy is at threat from rising sea levels and the Navy acknowledges this because a lot of their bases need to have a certain level of sea level to operate correctly. So, the Pentagon full acknowledges that climate change is a major threat. And you know to have Trump saying this is not the case is ridiculous. He’s defying his own Pentagon’s conclusions.
The other thing that we have to understand is that the United States already spends more on its military than the next seven or eight nations combined. To raise that investment in the military while we’re cutting protections for American public health is not America first.
KIM BROWN: And of course, you know that we’ve had record-breaking temperatures being reported across North America this week as we’ve heard that Chicago didn’t get any snow in February. There was no snow here in the Baltimore metropolitan area. So, are we seeing a form of climate denialism, as Bernie Sanders said in the clip that we played earlier, with the complete absence of its mention while Trump did mention protecting clean air and water, but yet he spoke of increasing fossil fuel infrastructure throughout his approval of the Keystone Excel Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline? So, is this pure Orwellian doublespeak in your opinion?
TOM PELTON: It’s just lies. I mean when Trump says he’s for clean air and clean water, he appointed a man to run the EPA who, for example, opposed the Chesapeake Bay clean up. You know, he appointed a guy to run the EPA, Scott Pruitt, who is in the pocket of the oil and gas industry, and who’s filed a dozen lawsuits against the EPA basically to stop the EPA regulation of air pollution. So, Trump is not interested in clean air and clean water. His actions show that what he’s interested in is helping the oil and gas industry, the coal industry and other industries that are contributing to climate change and to public health problems.
KIM BROWN: So, talk more about the role of the EPA and how cutting its budget could negatively impact Americans’ health, as well as make bad fiscal sense. I mean, even progressives criticized President Obama’s EPA for a variety of things, including failing to address the expansion of fracking in some cases actually even promoting it. But the EPA did suffer some setbacks during the Obama Administration.
TOM PELTON: Sure.
KIM BROWN: So, what would it mean to see the budget cut under Donald Trump?
TOM PELTON: Well, people have to understand that EPA is an organization that actively protects Americans from premature death. One hundred and sixty thousand American lives are saved a year by the EPA’s enforcement of the Federal Clean Air Act, specifically by reducing the amount of fine soot particles that come out of coal-fired power plants that people inhale, it goes into their bloodstream, and stops your heart. And so, if you have less enforcement of the Federal Clean Act, you’ll have more people dying of asthma attacks, especially older people. More young people will miss school days because of asthma attacks.
With less enforcement from EPA, you’ll have more raw sewage going into waterways like the Chesapeake Bay, Lake Michigan, Mississippi River, so anyone enjoys swimming in the summer time, there will be more fecal bacteria in the waterways.
KIM BROWN: Indeed. Well, thank you for joining us. We’ve been speaking with Tom Pelton. He is the Director of Communications for the Environmental Integrity Project, which is a non-profit, non-partisan national organization based in Washington DC. He’s also a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun and an award-winning environmental reporter, and hosts the weekly public radio program called “The Environment in Focus”. Tom, we really appreciate you joining us, thank you.
TOM PELTON: Thanks for your time.
KIM BROWN: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.