Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Deadly Implications of Trump's Cuts to Environmental Protections

President Donald Trump's cuts to environmental protections are even more deadly in the era of COVID-19. The United States has reached the grim milestone of 100,000 coronavirus deaths, that is more than 33 times the number of people that died in 9/11 and more than the number of US troops killed in the Korean and Vietnam wars combined.

Trump's denial, slow response, and mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic made the situation far worse which is why he has been blamed for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans. According to research out of Columbia University, the Trump administration's failures have killed an additional 36,000 people. The number of deaths is also being inflated by Trump's rollbacks to the EPA and the Department of the Interior. Thus far, 64 environmental protections have been cut and 34 are in the process of being eradicated.

Cuts to clean air

This administration's environmental assaults include the overturning of 19 air pollution and emissions rules with another 8 that are slated for removal. Through his erosion of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Power Plan and cleaner cars Trump has increased climate change causing greenhouse gas emissions and directly contributed to the deaths of thousands of Americans.

Trump's assaults on clean air will lead to an increase of at least 867 million more metric tons of carbon emissions and increase respiratory diseases. Recent research published by PNAS revealed that 100,000 Americans die each year from heart attacks, strokes and other illnesses caused by air pollution. The same report indicated that these health costs amount to $886 billion a year.

Under the Trump administration, air quality has declined. A 2019 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that fine particulate pollution increased 5.5 percent between 2016 and 2018. This study suggests that the increase in pollution was responsible for 9,700 premature deaths in 2018 alone. Air pollution also increases the risks posed by the coronavirus. According to Harvard research, dirty air increases the risks of death or serious illness from COVID-19.

Even the Trump administration's own assessments acknowledge that their actions will kill Americans. According to a regulatory impact assessment from Trump's own EPA, Obama's Clean Power Plan alone could lead to the deaths of as many as 1,400 people by 2030 due to air pollution. Earlier this year, the EPA moved forward with a plan to roll back the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which protects people against pollution in their communities. As part of a new EPA policy, chemical plants, oil and gas operations, power plants, steel mills, coal plants, and other industrial facilities can stop monitoring and reporting air and water pollution. This follows the gutting of the EPA by Scott Pruitt, and his assaults on clean air are part of his murderous legacy

Fossil fuel powered administration

Pruitt is one of the first fossil fuel industry advocates that Trump hired. Another more recent example is oil industry defender Jeffrey Bossert Clark who was tapped to lead the Department of Justice's enforcement of environmental regulations.

Trump has overturned 11 rules related to drilling and extraction with another 8 in progress. He is taking advantage of the fact that people are distracted by the pandemic to provide billions in bailouts to the fossil fuel industry and he is attempting to expand drilling in the Arctic. His administration is working to clear the way for ConocoPhillips' Willow project which would allow up to 250 new drilling wells, a processing facility, hundreds of miles of ice roads and pipelines, airstrips, a gravel mine, an offshore gravel island and ice bridge.

Trump's fossil fuel powered politics is supported by Republicans. His Interior Department is full of fossil fuel insiders and they have opened up more land for oil and gas leasing by cutting back protected areas. Their efforts amount to a declaration of war on nature. They have overturned 9 wildlife protection rules with another 2 slated for removal. Their most egregious assault on nature may be their gutting of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Suppression of science

The Interior Department is at war with science. This is a direct reflection of Trump's disdain for science which is particularly concerning in the context of the coronavirus. To protect the health and safety of Americans, this pandemic requires the application of the best science. Yet, as this global health crisis kills hundreds of thousands, this administration continues to attack science.

The Trump administration recently announced restrictions that prevent the EPA from using the best available science when assessing environmental and public health protections like those that support clean air. The "Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science" proposal gives EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler the power to ignore information that cannot be made public by law. By ignoring medical studies, personal health data, and clinical reports, the EPA excludes important information that can be used to protect families. Even the EPA's own Scientific Advisory Board was not allowed to review the proposal before it was released to the public.

Simply the worst

Trump is making a bad situation worse in many ways. He refuses to advocate (or follow) the dictates of scientists, this includes refusing to wear masks (and deriding people who wear them). He haqs recommended that people take hydroxychloroquine despite the evidence that suggests there are no benefits and it may be harmful to people with COVID-19. He has even advocated drinking bleach or using "powerful lights" to kill the virus.

You don't need to be smart to be compassionate, but this may be his weakest attribute. His insensitivity is legendary. Rather than lead a national response to unite the country, Trump divides the nation, plays golf and attacks political opponents. As a result, there are one hundred thousand dead and 1.7 million Americans infected with the coronavirus. There has never been a crisis in the United States where a president has performed so poorly or this immorally.

Trump is making the situation worse by playing politics with the lives of Americans. He is sending crucial medical supplies like masks and respirators to states like Florida, which he needs to win reelection this fall. While denying support for states like New York where he has no chance of winning.

In 2018, it was already clear that the Trump presidency was the worst in American history. At the start of 2020 before the pandemic broke in the U.S., Trump earned the distinction of being the the worst ever president for our environment. More recently, Jeffrey D. Sachs, professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University concluded that Trump is, "the worst president in our history."

Trump recently signed an executive order that seeks more regulatory cuts in an effort to jump-start the economy, which he sees as essential for his reelection prospects. The death toll is staggering but it is far from over. Most epidemiologists expect it to get worse as the country opens without proper testing and amidst confusing and harmful messaging from the nation's commander-and-chief. Like almost every one of Trump's policies, his approach to reopening the economy will backfire in spectacular fashion. When Trump is finally escorted out of the White House, he will leave a legacy of failed policies and dead bodies.

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