(de)regulation nation, vol. 1, no. 6: "Money in politics, it’s not a left or right issue"

April 24, 2018 — A smidgeon of bipartisanship on environmental policies is emerging in Congress. But it's less about the substance of Trump's deregulatory agenda, and more about the character of his EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt.

Not long after reporters began revealing Pruitt's ethical lapses and massive overspending on security, travel, and salaries for favored aides (which have triggered several federal investigations), Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-lehtinen of Florida, as well as Elise Stefanik of New York, went on record calling for him to resign or be fired. This week, Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey joined them. 

Dozens of Democrats in the House have demanded the same.

In the Senate, meanwhile, Susan Collins of Maine has been the sole Republican calling for Pruitt's ouster. But this week some of the EPA chief's biggest Senate fans, like Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, have stated that they'd like Pruitt to answer questions about his improprieties. At the least, this could transform the EPA's next budget oversight hearing from a routine yawner to scandal-icious.  But it's also a sign of ebbing Republican support for Pruitt in the Senate, say some Washington reporters.

Despite President Trump's apparently satisfaction with Pruitt's efforts to dismantle environmental and human health protections, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency itself, the White House may be backing slowly away from him as well.

Why would Pruitt's allies flee his ship now? Possibly because two weeks ago the Senate confirmed Andrew Wheeler as deputy administrator of the EPA. A former lobbyist for Big Coal, and aide to Sen. Inhofe (who once carried a snowball to the Senate podium to prove it was too cold outside for climate change to be real), Wheeler combines Scott Pruitt's disdain for environmental protections with much deeper experience working effectively inside the Beltway. 

Wheeler's ascension to the EPA's number-two leadership role means that even if Pruitt succumbs to his self-inflicted political wounds, there will be no let-up in the deregulatory agenda. 

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Onward:

bad: Trump fast-tracks drilling in America's arctic wilderness

  • The Trump administration is moving fast to open the unspoiled coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.
  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ak.) told Anchorage businesspeople in February that the goal is to sell drilling leases before the 2020 election, "...because once you get those leases out into the hands of those who can then move forward, it's tougher to throw the roadblocks in place."
  • Last week the Interior Department opened a 60-day comment period to "scope," or get public input, on what it should include in an environmental impact study of drilling in the refuge.
  • Environmentalists and the Indigenous Gwich'in people have fought for decades to protect the coastal plain, which is a critical breeding ground for millions of migratory birds from nearly 200 species in summer, polar bears in winter, and the Porcupine caribou herd in spring.
  • Gwich'in culture, spiritual beliefs, and food security have centered on the Porcupine caribou herd for millennia.
  • “The administration has made my people a target [but] we will not stand down,” Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, told a reporter. "We will fight to protect the Porcupine caribou herd."
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  • June 19, 2018 is the deadline for public comment on which "scoping issues," meaning environmental impacts, the Bureau of Land Management should include in its pre-leasing assessment of the coastal plain.
  • Submit comments via:

better: Canada opposes U.S. drilling in Arctic Refuge 

  • Three tiers of Canadian government—territorial, federal, and Indigenous—say they oppose drilling in the Arctic Refuge, which borders fully protected Canadian national parks.
  • The U.S. and Canada have a treaty to protect the Porcupine caribou, which migrate between the Alaskan coastal plain and the Canadian Yukon.
  • Most Canadian caribou herds have declined dramatically as drilling, logging and other development has diminished and degraded their ranges.
  • But the Porcupine caribou population is at an all-time high, say Canadian scientists, because the herd's range is mostly undisturbed.
  • "Given the state of caribou worldwide right now, it's a positive, shining light in the caribou world," says one Canadian caribou biologist.
  • Read more:

good: Trump delay on automaker pollution fines is illegal

  • Last summer, the Department of Transportation announced that it would not enforce an Obama-era rule sharply raising fines for carmakers that failed to cut tailpipe emissions to legal limits.
  • A coalition of states and environmental groups took the Trump administration to court.
  • And they've won: A federal three-judge panel ruled this week that the delay is illegal.
  • Obama tightened tailpipe pollution standards, and hiked penalties for missing them by 150 percent (matching inflation), so that automakers would aggressively slash climate-heating carbon pollution from vehicles.
  • EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has promised that the agency will roll back those strict Obama-era standards.
  • States and anti-pollution groups will likely take that move to court as well.
  • Read more:

great: Montanans confront dark money flowing into state politics

  • Since the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, huge amounts of untraceable "dark money" have flooded into American politics.
  • An influx of dark money helped Trump win the presidency.
  • Documentary filmmaker Kimberley Reed uncovers how untraceable political contributions helped sway a Montana election, in her new film Dark Money.
  • Voters across the political spectrum in Montana, which has a unique history of fighting efforts to purchase political power, are paying attention and taking action.
  • Read more:

Image: Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with the Brooks Range as a backdrop. Photo: USFWS

Emily Gertz