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Environmental Train Wreck Ahead? Looks Like It…

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Those of us who care about the earth and the other species of life we share this planet with have reason to despair at the election of Donald Trump, a man who has shown absolutely no interest in environmental protection and no desire to learn about any issue. Indeed, he’s on record as saying ridiculously that global warming is a plot concocted by the Chinese to weaken America. Recent previous Republican administrations that have been dangerous for our air, water, and land were constrained by a Democratic Congress. This time, the GOP and its feckless leader have nothing to constrain their myopia or their greed. All we have to hope for is the filibuster in the Senate, but I wouldn’t put it past the Republicans to change Senate rules to get their way completely.

In trying to imagine just how bad the Trump administration can be for environmental protection, all we have to do is look back to another Republican president, the saint of the GOP, Ronald Reagan. Reagan named James Watt as Secretary of the Interior. Watt was the first president of the Mountain State Legal Foundation, a group opposed to federal environmental protection and for unlimited property rights for individuals. Compounding that horror was Reagan’s appointment of Ann Gorsuch as administrator in the EPA. Gorsuch believed that any environmental regulation should be a state, not federal, function.

In less that two years, Gorsuch cut the EPA budget by more than 20%, tried to gut the Clean Air Act through regulatory action (or inaction), brought few cases against polluters, approved wide-spread use of restricted pesticides, and worst of all, hired staff from industries being regulated to do the regulation of their industries. That last act was the one that had the most lasting effect. Those civil service jobs require pretty serious infractions for someone to get fired, so the “foxes in the henhouse” can stay for decades. Gorsuch’s overreach got her into trouble with Congress, so much so that when her agency was charged with mishandling the billion-dollar-plus Superfund meant to clean up toxic waste sites, her intransigence caused Congress to censure her. You’d think that would be the end of her career as a protector of polluters, but no. Reagan then named her as his as chair of the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere!

James Watt was so controversial that he finally resigned in 1983. He left a record of refusing to list endangered species, opening federal lands to more drilling for gas and oil, including the lease of wilderness land for commercial purposes, and appointing people to the agency who agreed with his extremist policies.

So far, Donald Trump seems to be following in the footsteps of the Gipper when it comes to the environment. Rumor has it that he will name a climate denier to head the EPA. All of us who oppose extremist environmental policies had better get ready for a fight. In Virginia right now, that means the opponents of the two planned 42-inch gas pipelines will have to redouble their efforts…and they still likely will lose.

It is absolutely incumbent upon the Democratic Party to pick itself, get serious about increasing its off-year election turnout, and trying to improve its numbers in the House and Senate. In two years, it will be the Democrats facing the problem of defending more Senate seats than the GOP. It’s crucial that the next chair of the DNC be someone who knows how to grow the party.