Federal Roundup: Trump’s First #100Days Edition

Federal Roundup: Trump’s First #100Days Edition

The news is a buzz this week with assessing President Trump’s first 100 days in office. NPR did a great Q&A with Cokie Roberts about this Presidential benchmark and its significance, if any. I have been doing my best to keep you all up to speed since day one of the new administration and how actions at the executive and federal level are affecting clean air and health. It has been a very busy first 100 days to track, sadly mostly not in a good way. Since I last blogged a couple of weeks ago, several new developments have cropped up and we have new updates.

NEW DEVELOPMENTS

  • April 27, 2017: S.987 “100 by 50” Bill. This bill is sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and co-sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). This bill would phase out fossil fuels and completely replace them with clean renewable energy by 2050. The bill would put in place a comprehensive plan to ramp up renewable energy and energy efficiency, the electrification of transportation and heating, while putting a halt to the development of fossil fuel infrastructure. It also includes provisions to train workers in the transition to clean energy to encourage the deployment of clean energy in disadvantaged communities.
  • April 27, 2017: D.C. Circuit Court suspends Litigation Over MATS. On April 18, 2017 the EPA, in an email, announced its plans to file a motion to the D.C. Circuit court to ask them to delay oral arguments set for May 18, 2017 in EPA’s defense of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule. In 2015, the D.C. Circuit Court did not throw out the MATS rule and instead instructed EPA to go back and consider costs (most plants subject to MATS have either complied or retired). On April 27, 2017, the D.C. Circuit Court granted EPA’s request to delay oral arguments.
  • April 28, 2017: President Trump signs Executive Order to expand offshore drilling. President Trump signed an Executive Order that calls for a “review of the locations available for offshore oil and gas exploration.” The order directs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review a five-year plan in which President Obama banned drilling in parts of the Pacific, Arctic, and Atlantic Oceans.
  • April 28, 2017: D.C. Circuit Court grants EPA’s request to pause litigation over Clean Power Plan. Last month, the White House requested a 60-day hold on litigation surrounding the Clean Power Plan. On April 28, 2017, the D.C. Circuit Court granted that request. This pause allows the parties (EPA, 24 states and cities, environmental and industry groups) to file briefs addressing the future of the rule.

UPDATES ON PREVIOUS ACTIONS

  • Congressional Review Act put into play by U.S. Congress. The CRA allows senators and representatives who disapprove of a regulation to enter a resolution eliminating it. The resolutions require the signature of the president. So far this year, the following rules protecting the environment and human health have been targeted under the CRA:
    • The Department of Interior’s Stream Protection Rule. UPDATE: On February 16, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the repeal of the Stream Protection Rule.
    • Department of the Interior Methane Flaring Rule. The House voted on February 3, 2017 with no action so far from the Senate as of the date of this post. UPDATE: on March 21, 2017, some Republican lawmakers came out against using the CRA to repeal this rule. Specifically, Sen. Lindsey Graham said he believed the rule could be subject to improvement, not just cancellation. “I think we can replace it with a better reg, rather than a CRA.”
    • Drilling and Mining on Public Lands. On January 31, 2017, the House introduced a joint resolution that would repeal the rules that allow the National Park Service to manage private drilling and mining in 40 parks across the country. UPDATE: on March 26, 2017, President Trump issued an Executive Order directing the Department of the Interior to review over 20 years of national monuments under the Antiquities Act. Specifically, President Trump has asked Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, to review 24 national monuments created since 1996 and to recommend ways for Congress to shrink or abolish them. The Order requires the department to make preliminary recommendations within 45 days and affects only those monuments that are not larger than 100,000 acres. Currently monuments are now closed to new oil and gas leasing and no new mining claims can be granted there. If monuments are downsized or abolished, they will no longer be protected from drilling or mining.
    • OMB Proposed Budget Cuts to EPA and NOAA. The proposed budget cuts would reduce EPA’s staff by one fifth in the first year and eliminate dozens of programs. Specifically, EPA’s staff would be slashed from 15,000 to 12,000. The proposed budget would also cut EPA’s grants to states, including air and water programs, by 30 percent and eliminate 38 separate programs in their entirety. Media outlets also discovered a four page budget memo that would slash NOAA’s budget by 17 percent, delivering steep cuts to research funding and satellite programs. Any such cuts would have to be codified through the congressional appropriations process. UPDATE: On April 28, 217 U.S. Congress passed a bill that would extend until May 5, 2017 the deadline for a deal on federal spending through September and head off a feared government shutdown at midnight on Friday, April 28, 2017.
    • Republicans Joint Resolution on Climate Change. A group of 17 Republican members of Congress signed a resolution vowing to seek “economically viable” ways to combat global warming. No update since last post.

Bills, Bills Bills

Bill NumberSponsorDescriptionStatus
HR 998Jason Smith, R-MOEstablishes a commission to identify obsolete and unnecessarily burdensome regulations to be repealed. It also sets goals for the commission to reduce costs by 15 percent and to prioritize major rules that are more than 15 years old and rules that can be eliminated without diminishing effectiveness.No action since the bill passed the House on 3/1/2017.
HR 1009Paul Mitchell, R-MIRequires independent agencies to submit rules to the Office of Management and Budget before they are published—essentially giving the president tight control of the rule-making processNo action since the bill passed the House on 3/1/2017.
HR 1004Tim Walberg, R-MIWould require agencies to publish more detail of forthcoming rules and regulationsNo action since the bill passed the House on 3/2/2017.
HR 637Gary Palmer, R-ALBlocks the EPA’s ability to address climate changeNo actions taken since the bill was introduced. You can read our analysis of the bill here.
HR 861Matt Gaetz, R-FLWould abolish the EPA effective December 31, 2018No actions taken since the bill was introduced.
HR 958Sam Johnson, R-TXWould leave EPA with a budget of less than $1 billion. This bill would eliminate EPA climate change programs and would also close all of the EPA’s regional offices, halt new regulations on ground-level ozone pollution and require the agency to lease unused propertyNo actions taken since the bill was introduced.
H.R. 1430Lamar Smith,

R-TX

The bill works “[t]o prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible.” This bill is an attempt to revise the EPA’s scientific review process that guides their rulemaking.No action since bill passed the House on 3/29/2017
H.R. 4775Pete Olson,This bill aims to update to the national ozone standards, with various provisions that would change the way the Environmental Protection Agency reviews standards for particulate matter, lead and other air pollutants.No action since it was introduced. You can read our blog post from last year when this bill was introduced and failed.
H.R. 1731Hal Rogers,

R-KY

This is a bipartisan bill called the RECLAIM Act that would release $1 billion to create economic development opportunities in coal communities affected by the energy industry’s transition away from dirty fossil fuels.No action since the bill was introduced.

 

We are keeping our ear to the ground on any and all developments that could affect clean air and health in Alabama. Be on the look out for regular updates from us about legislative and executive actions that could threaten your health and environment. We will also always provide ways for you to act on any development, whether it’s positive or negative.

Guest Post: Science Education as a Civil Right

Guest Post: Science Education as a Civil Right

Below is the text of a speech given by Kathryn Drago at the “Shelby, show up for science” march April 21. Ms. Drago is a science educator and curriculum developer. She has all but defended her Ph.D. in Science Education from University of Michigan and has M.A. in Research Methods from University of Michigan, an M.S. in Cancer Biology from Stanford University and a B.S. in Biochemistry from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.


 

Central High School Falcons, University of Alabama Tide, citizens of West Alabama, look around you. At this Rally for Science, we have students and teachers; citizen scientists and research scientists, beginners and experts. And we’ve all come together today.

No matter how you identify, I have an important message for you. Every single person in this crowd deserves a high quality science education– that is a solid base of science understanding upon which we can build our careers, support our communities, and enjoy our lives. Exceptional science education is guaranteed to us because it is a civil right. It is no less important than the right to free speech or assembly.

I draw my inspiration for this idea from Bob Moses, the great civil rights activist. In the 1960’s, he registered Mississippi sharecroppers to vote. Later, in the 1980’s, he saw that students in his daughter’s school were not provided with the math instruction in eighth grade that they needed to qualify for honors level math in high school.

Bob Moses asked himself the question: Why do students need to study Algebra? The answer was that mathematical literacy set students up for entrance into college, higher paying jobs, and personal success. And so the Algebra Project was born. Its mission was to grow the math abilities of students who had traditionally been underserved and overlooked. Algebra Project alumni had more possibilities open to them. In that way, access to vote is no different from access to math.

The same is true for science education. It is a civil right, yet it is being denied for far too many youth. Let’s take Tuscaloosa for example. In 2016, 15% of 10th graders scored proficient on the standardized science exam. This statistic shows that we are squandering the talents of untold youth. But even worse, this number is an average. The hard truth is that 42% of White 10th graders scored proficient while only 6% of Black 10th graders did so. These numbers are shocking. But what is even more shocking is the cause of these disparities–segregation in schools, unequal distribution of resources, and uneven support for Black students taking advanced classes have caused this. Systemic racism has caused this.

Like Bob Moses did, we ask ourselves the question: Why do students require science education? The answer is that every student deserves access to the highest paying jobs in America. Black and brown students should grow up to be laboratory managers, computer scientists, and doctors making six figures. They are also the ones whose communities are hardest hit by lead in the drinking water, cement dust in the air, and severe storms brought on by climate change. They must be able to raise the alarm and devise the solutions to these human-made problems. And they too should be able to experience the wonder and joy that learning about and participating in science can bring.

Again, I say top notch science education is a civil right, and as such, the government guarantees each of us that right. Algebra Project founder Bob Moses said that it’s time for us to take responsibility for our government. Not that we are asking the government to do something for us, but that in the end, we are the government. And if we do not take responsibility for the government, it will take us to places we don’t want to go.

This administration is taking science education where none of us want to go. Here’s an example: the White House’s budget cut funding to NASA’s Office of Education from $115 million dollars to zero dollars. And what does that cut save? A half of a percent of NASA’s budget.

But what does this cut cost us? Space camp, curricula for teachers, and scholarships for young scientists. In particular, the Minority University Research and Education Project, which helps fund students seeking STEM degrees at historically black colleges and universities, will be eliminated. So, we have a local system that has not provided equitable science learning opportunities, and our federal government has taken away some of the few precious programs that tried to equalize the playing field. This is a disgrace and a shame.

In the absence of elected leadership, let us be our own government. We will take science education where we want it to go. I’m going to challenge us to achieve three goals to that end.

First, let’s educate ourselves about science education. Investigate your area schools. Don’t be satisfied by averages–dig deep into the disparities. Then, give your time, talent, or treasure. If you have time, volunteer. If you have scientific talent, offer your expertise. If you have treasure, improve the school’s material resources.

Second, fight science education injustice whenever you find it. As a student, demand that you be placed in advanced classes, and then ask for the help you need to succeed there. Adults, stand with teachers in receiving the salary they deserve. Reject legislation that increases funding and zoning inequalities in schools.

Third, never give up on science learning. Don’t pay attention to what anyone has told you that you should do. Go to events you wouldn’t normally attend. Stop by a science demonstration at a tailgate. Watch a Nature TV show. Be curious, try things out, take risks. You can be your own science educator. Science education is your civil right, and you deserve it. Thank you all.


 

The “Shelby, Show Up for Science!” march in Tuscaloosa was organized by the Kudzu Coalition of West Alabama. They describe themselves as “a collection of progressive voices committed to transforming our community through collaborative, direct action.” Check them out on Facebook.

Guest Post: The Importance of Science

Guest Post: The Importance of Science

Below is the text of a speech given by Dr. Patrick R. LeClair at the “Shelby, show up for science” march April 21. Dr. LeClair is a professor of physics at the University of Alabama. He has a B.S. in Materials Science from MIT and a Ph.D. in Physics from the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands.

 


 

I first want to say that Senator Shelby has been very good for science at UA. You can see that from the beautiful science and engineering quad you marched from, right in front of Shelby Hall. And we are grateful. But right now, science is in trouble, and we need Shelby to stand up for us.

As soon as I say the words “science” or “scientist”, you already have an image in your head. Most likely that image involves a lab coat. What I want to convey to you is that science is far more than what happens in a lab, or what scientists do. And it is even more important than the fact that science has driven our remarkable technological development, and is therefore has some intrinsic value. Those aren’t bad arguments, but they are small arguments, and they undersell science. As important as technological progress has been, it is a minor side effect of science. What I want to convey to you is that science is a process, a way of looking at the world, one that is more valuable than the widgets it produces (as valuable as those widgets are).

The primary importance of science, as I see it, is in constructing an appropriate view of the world, one that is fair and based on evidence. The idea behind science is that we try to explain our observations of the world in the simplest way possible, and we try to be totally objective about it. Our observations must be dispassionate and impartial, scientists don’t play favorites. To do otherwise? You’re not objective!

Science requires an open mind, and, crucially, the ability to change your mind. If your ideology does not allow this, you are against science, and against all of the amazing advances science has provided. This leads to the problem we have with attempts to politicize science, for example, climate change. As soon you tie your beliefs about science to your political beliefs, you’re not really doing science anymore, because you’ve ceased to be objective about the outcome. Taking a side before the evidence is in is antithetical to science. It then goes without saying that, no, science cannot be politicized. As soon as you politicize it, it ceases to be science.

Science is an essential honesty about how you approach the world. It is a contract you make with yourself, which says that you will compare your beliefs with empirical evidence whenever possible. If you have solid evidence that repeatedly contradicts your beliefs, the contract says that you have to reconsider your beliefs. Observations of reality outweigh what you want to be true. And reality is harsh. Think about that for a second: when is the last time you changed one of your core beliefs? It is hard! And that’s what we’re asking ourselves to do all the time. More to the point: what common popular beliefs are at this point thoroughly discredited? Climate change is real. Vaccines do not cause autism. These are facts, and they are true whether you believe them or not. Full stop.

I should say that this is not just about science funding, though of course that is bleak at the moment. The attempted travel ban had real and chilling consequences on science programs. I had to tell some of our brightest and most productive students they cannot go home to see their families, because the might not be allowed back. Why would any new students from these countries want to come now?

As for science funding, these are dark and uncertain times. When you hear the president wants to cut the DOE budget severely, you’re probably thinking this is about de-regulating fossil fuel production or something. Well, DOE provides an enormous amount of research funding. They supply a huge fraction of our department’s research funding. That’s just one example, all the other science agencies are in similar trouble. The broad agency cuts are being made by people who only dimly understand what those agencies do, let alone what the scientists they fund do. I think Shelby does know what these agencies do very well, and we need him to show up and stand up for us. As Matt Taibbi from Rolling stone put it, “The Republicans understand this axiom: No politician in the Trump era is going to dive in a foxhole to save scientific research.” Well, unfortunately that’s where we are: someone is going to have to dive into a foxhole if the US wants to continue being a world leader in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. And this costs money.

It costs money, but we need to keep in mind science is not a business any more than the government is. Return on investment is hard to define let alone measure. Microwave ovens came about as an accidental discovery during RADAR research. The sensor in your hard disk is the result of esoteric low temperature physics research. No one paying for that research had any idea that’s what they would get out of it, and no one at the time had any inkling to look for those outcomes in the first place. Of course there should be scrutiny, and scientific proposals should have a stated objective and outcome, but there has to be room for the unexpected. That’s the whole point: we do science because we seek to understand something, and I can tell you that 90% of our initial ideas are wrong. But it works because of the essential honesty of science, that even when our beliefs are wrong, we follow where the evidence takes us. Even when our beliefs are wrong, by seeking the truth we learn something. It is big risk, big reward in many ways. We lose more often than we win, but when we win, we can win big. And in Tuscaloosa, we are accustom to winning.


 

The “Shelby, Show Up for Science!” march in Tuscaloosa was organized by the Kudzu Coalition of West Alabama. They describe themselves as “a collection of progressive voices committed to transforming our community through collaborative, direct action.” Check them out on Facebook.

 

Renew Alabama Conference to Shine a Light on Climate Change

Renew Alabama Conference to Shine a Light on Climate Change

Countering a national agenda which seeks to divide us will require us to discover our shared values. Renew Alabama is a new coalition united under a common banner of social, environmental, and climate justice. Grounded in our shared humanity, experiences and faith, we are calling on community leaders and elected officials throughout Alabama to shift the paradigm.

On May 6, 2017, partner organizations will come together to host the inaugural Renew Alabama Conference. The free, full-day workshop will take place at The Edge of Chaos on the University of Alabama Birmingham campus. Participants will explore the link between social and environmental justice, how climate change will exacerbate many of these historic wrongs, and what we can do to build a more just and sustainable future.

Organizers hope the conference will ignite a conversation about how to remove barriers to clean energy, to invest in sustainable infrastructure, to increase opportunities for green jobs, and to protect public health and our environment.

Whether we seek to ignore it or not, there’s no debate that climate change will adversely impact Alabama. From saltwater intrusion of our aquifers, to increasingly powerful hurricanes, we are already witnessing many of these impacts. At the same time, addressing climate change has the potential to create thousands of new jobs and ensure a more just and sustainable Alabama for us all.

Conference hosts include the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise, Alabama Environmental Council, Alabama Rivers Alliance, Center for Earth Ethics, Climate Speakers Network, Eagle Solar & Light, Energy Alabama, Gasp, Sierra Club Alabama Chapter, USGBC Alabama, UAB Sustainability, and Village Creek Human and Environmental Justice Society. This is an opportunity to right the many wrongs done to our communities and our earth, and to bring about a revitalization to historically disadvantaged communities.

Participants are asked to RSVP at renewalabama.com by May 2. For more information, contact Michael Hansen at 205-701-4270 or michael@gaspgroup.org.

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BREAKING NEWS: Alabama Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Gasp

BREAKING NEWS: Alabama Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Gasp

The Alabama Supreme Court today denied a petition from ABC Coke (a division of Drummond Company) and the Jefferson County Board of Health for writ of certiorari in ABC Coke and Jefferson County Board of Health v. Gasp, Inc. In other words, the Alabama Supreme Court has ruled in our favor, just as the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals and Jefferson County Circuit Court did.

They were seeking review of the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals decision affirming the Circuit Court’s decision reversing the Board of Health’s dismissal of our request for hearing on the ABC Coke air pollution permit.

Next, we will go to hearing before the Board of Health and its hearing officer to contest the permit issued by the Department of Health to ABC Coke. This tug-of-war has been going on since the Jefferson County Department of Health reissued the ABC Coke permit in 2014. Our goal is stronger public health protections for residents who live near the facility, which is one of the top sources of toxic air pollution in the Birmingham area.

The Board of Health should never have sided with Drummond and ABC Coke and against public health. Three courts have agreed that they should have granted us a hearing from the start rather than spending years on costly court costs and appeals. The communities who are affected by ABC Coke’s toxic emissions deserve a hearing, and we intend to make certain that happens.

Support our work by becoming a member today! We need your support now more than ever.

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