A Good Question–And Some Dispiriting Answers

A recent article in the New Yorker raised a troubling question: How is it that an Administration as disorganized as Donald Trump’s has been so methodical when it comes to attacking the environment?

Next week, millions of Americans will celebrate Earth Day, even though, three months into Donald Trump’s Presidency, there sure isn’t much to celebrate. A White House characterized by flaming incompetence has nevertheless managed to do one thing effectively: it has trashed years’ worth of work to protect the planet. As David Horsey put it recently, in the Los Angeles Times, “Donald Trump’s foreign policy and legislative agenda may be a confused mess,” but “his administration’s attack on the environment is operating with the focus and zeal of the Spanish Inquisition.”

The list of steps that the Trump Administration has already taken to make America polluted again is so long that fully cataloguing them in this space would be impossible.

The author did follow that disclaimer with a long list of actions that were increasingly depressing as I read them. And she pointed out that the Administration’s horrendous budget proposal would  slash the E.P.A.’s budget by thirty-one per cent–more than it proposes reducing the State Department’s budget (twenty-nine per cent) or the Labor Department’s (twenty-one per cent).

The proposed cuts would entail firing a quarter of the agency’s workforce and eliminating many programs entirely, including the radiation-protection program, which does what its name suggests, and the Energy Star program, which establishes voluntary efficiency standards for electronics and appliances.

These initiatives are, of course, insane. But so much of Trump and his Keystone Kop Administration is insane. What is particularly worrisome is that in this one area, the Administration appears to be moving effectively to accomplish its goals. (I’ve been counting on the disarray and incompetence of the Trump White House to blunt the effect of his actions.)

How is it that a group as disorganized as the Trump Administration has been so methodical when it comes to the (anti) environment? The simplest answer is that money focusses the mind. Lots of corporations stand to profit from Trump’s regulatory rollback, even as American consumers suffer. …

But, while money is clearly key, it doesn’t seem entirely sufficient as an explanation. There’s arguably more money, in the long run, to be made from imposing the regulations—from investing in solar and wind power, for example, and updating the country’s electrical grid. Writing recently in the Washington Post, Amanda Erickson proposed an alternative, or at least complementary, explanation. Combatting a global environmental problem like climate change would seem to require global coöperation. If you don’t believe in global coöperation because “America comes first,” then you’re faced with a dilemma. You can either come up with an alternative approach—tough to do—or simply pretend that the problem doesn’t exist.

We evidently live in a world where significant numbers of people would rather make the planet unlivable for their children and grandchildren than face unpleasant realities or co-operate with Others.

I find this incomprehensible. And deeply worrisome.


  1. This was an issue we all struggled with as various members of the (small) renewable energy community. It takes sacrifice, for one thing. It also takes a willingness to stretch our minds to find ways to motivate people to do what’s right.
    George W. Bush wanted to make clean power generation voluntary. Guess how many utilities voluntarily cleaned their coal- burning plants? One. They had to be made to do what was right.
    It caused a lot of pain for the actual utilities too. They had to turn most of their previously protected employees into independent contractors. One segment took care of transmission. Another took care of of generation…and so on. Big companies sold themselves to larger dirty companies. We worked at it endlessly from every angle we could. People have no idea. And that’s a rough sketch. But Trump and the Koch brothers have one thing right. They stay focused–and so must we.

  2. Another aspect that is puzzling, many industries have been living with environmental regulations for 50 years. Many resisted the regulations until regulators began levying fines and negotiating agreed orders for resolution of the problems. Now there are many industries who use their environmental records as marketing tools, demonstrating to the consuming public that they have become environmental stewards. Why try to undo that progress?

  3. “We evidently live in a world where significant numbers of people would rather make the planet unlivable for their children and grandchildren than face unpleasant realities or co-operate with Others.”

    Thinking about those who “would rather make the plant unlivable” during this chaotic less than “first 100 days of Trump”, coupled with my concerns regarding consequences of North Korea’s nuclear testing (other than the obvious inevitable war and loss of lives if it continues), I asked my best friend since 1953 who has been a political activist almost that long, what destruction is happening to the ocean life where Kim Jong Un’s bombs are landing? We have much more at stake than the destruction of our national lands and waterways, destroying our environment to save big businesses from proper disposal (IF there is proper disposal) of their hazardous wastes into the atmosphere, the ground and our country’s waterways. My friend has been actively battling to save the atmosphere from destruction for decades; below I copied and pasted her response to my question regarding those North Korean nuclear tests, this part of that issue hasn’t been addressed by any nation.

    “Of course exploding nuclear bombs in the ocean causes death and pollution of anything that happens to be swimming around. I don’t know whether these bombs are small, just to test the whole system or whether it is a nuke selected from their arsenal, but your suspicions are correct. No one really seems to notice it but the Pacific Ocean is dying, species by species. Some by starvation — that’s what killed this year’s King Salmon and another salmon, but Chum salmon is having a banner year. A resourceful scientist/fisherman “seeded” the ocean with dust. The dust is what feeds the plankton that the salmon live on. The dust has stopped blowing over the ocean since more rain due to climate warming means more plants growing and less dust blowing. Seems rather amazing and a hopeful sign. Then there’s the whole plastic thing that keeps killing sea life.

    One of the atolls in the Pacific where we tested during the 50s was so radioactive that when we stopped testing we covered it with a metal dome. I recently saw a picture of people standing on the dome, pointing our cracks where radiation has just cracked that thick metal dome in pieces. Radiation is escaping into the atmosphere. We need to recap it. But Trump would rather have a nuclear war with N. Korea.

    The highest priority of congress should be getting him out of there. Pence isn’t going to risk killing every human on the planet in a nuclear war, Trump is. Preemptive strikes are wrong.”

    The Trump/nuclear connection reminds me of one of Abraham Lincoln’s campaign stories about the man bragging about his great strength; to prove his point he began swinging a huge hog around and around by its tail. Realizing he was in an untenable situation he called out, “Can someone help me let go of this hog!”

    How the hell can we let go of (rid the government of) Trump?

  4. What we’re witnessing is not only the decline of the west, but ultimately the death of Planet Earth, all for the sake of racial superiority.

    One of my teammates at Penn was Gerry Mander who has been called the “Father of the Environmental Movement.” We had a couple of conversations three or four years ago. I was shocked to hear how ignorant he was on the issue of race.

    The Environment is defenseless… Defended by fools. What do think Trump, Pence, and Bannon are all about? Brotherly love?

  5. This group seems more determined than those running the agencies during the Reagan administration, but they can’t do what they want to do quickly. They can defund programs, but the cannot just undo regulations. Regulations take years to develop, partly because the science is complicated, and partly because they are challenged in court by the polluting industries. To undo them requires almost as much time – again, because courts will be involved.
    A problem not mentioned in the media is that some of these guys will be in career positions for years – until they decide to make more money by going back to the fossil-fuel companies where they used to work.

  6. Marv Kramer- “What we’re witnessing is not only the decline of the west, but ultimately the death of Planet Earth, all for the sake of racial superiority.”
    Yes and even more for the sake of filthy lucre.

  7. I thought when Trump talked of “tax reform” (aka a framing device giving more money to and reducing regulatory control of activities of the superrich) that such a plan would never sail through even a Republican Congress. Now I hear this morning that there is evidence of a McConnell-Ryan conversation in which the point for discussion was bringing laundered Russian money into our electoral process. If there is any truth to this and to the ongoing investigation of how Trump and his Commerce Secretary were involved in Russian laundering of hot money through the Bank of Cyprus, then I’m inclined to agree with Marv that Western civilization is on a tack of unimpeded decline and, that unless stopped soon, it’s over. Think 476 A.D.
    As I frequently blog, Rome did not fall to the Visigoths; it fell from internal rot and corruption. See any similarities to today? Marv apparently does. It appears we may have both in our present situation, i.e., internal rot and corruption AND Visigoths in charge. Our only hope is to discharge the Visigoths from office via impeachment and/or indictment and conviction and then go to work in eradication of the rot and corruption in our society, a daunting task for sure, but I see no alternative.

  8. Pat,

    While I agree that it takes time to make regulations, it takes no time at all to stop enforcing them. Anti-emvironmental legislation can be accomplished by executive order. Meanwhile, the Republican controlled Congress keeps passing bills that will effectively kill our streams and our air.

    The only real bright spot is in the auto industry. Not because 45 and company aren’t seeking to end limits to emissions, but because California still has stringent limits and car makers build all cars made in America to meet those standards.

  9. Mark my words. Behind all harmful legislative acts is koch bros model legislation.
    koch bros model legislation is designed to put korporate amerika first and all else is not worth talking about.

  10. Gerald,

    Mr. Prez, I agree 101% with your vision. We need to that thru creating a U.S.-European Ethical Front. Germans, thru the efforts of Hans Oster, 2nd in charge of the German Intelligence Service (Abwehr), attempted to create a similiar FRONT in 1938, but by then it was too late.

    We can’t handle Trump/Pence/Bannon by ourselves.

    We don’t have enough internal strength left to go it alone anymore.

  11. Is it possible we have a new game? Everybody seems to know that Fake President Trump will screw up absolutely everything he touches. And now it’s a matter of which thing will he screw up the most? The environment may have a lead today, but that’s only because tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. And North Korea’s in the wings.

    Is it against the law to send daily shipments of novocaine to the President’s office?

  12. Gerald @ 8:23 am: I’m inclined to agree with Marv that Western civilization is on a tack of unimpeded decline and, that unless stopped soon, it’s over. Think 476 A.D.

    I believe we need to go back further in history. I would suggest 216 BC. See Wikipedia for a fuller history of the following:

    The Battle of Cannae (/ˈkæni/ or /ˈkæneɪ/) was a major battle of the Second Punic War that took place on 2 August 216 BC in Apulia, in southeast Italy. The army of Carthage, under Hannibal, surrounded and decisively defeated a larger army of the Roman Republic under the consuls Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Gaius Terentius Varro. It is regarded both as one of the greatest tactical feats in military history and as one of the worst defeats in Roman history.

    Having recovered from their losses at Trebia (218 BC) and Lake Trasimene (217 BC), the Romans decided to engage Hannibal at Cannae, with roughly 86,000 Roman and allied troops. The Romans massed their heavy infantry in a deeper formation than usual, while Hannibal utilized the DOUBLE ENVELOPMENT [US/European] tactic. This was so successful that the Roman army was effectively destroyed as a fighting force. Following the defeat, Capua and several other Italian city-states defected from the Roman Republic to Carthage.

  13. Peggy: I agree that enforcement is the hey, but the courts can tweak the agency.

  14. Gerald,

    When you’re elected as our next president, I would like to be strongly considered for the newly created post of Secretary of War. I would gladly present my credentials for such a position.

    First on our agenda, I would strongly suggest, should be the creation of an honest and credible intelligence capability.

  15. The slashes that are being made to the cause of the environment is disheartening to the nth degree, but there is something else, another “fact” that some want to latch onto. Some congressional conservatives who don’t believe in the methods approved for reducing global warming by orthodox scientists and the EPA .

    In my experience they are rarely mentioned by environmentalists. Perhaps the reason environmentalists don’t mention this method is because the method has been outlawed by the UN, with all major nations except the US signing the prohibition.

    What the new technology is, called geotransmission or something similar, directs chemicals (I have read about three different chemical recipes, and there must be more) at the sun from the stratophere. Recently there was a study of this process at Yale. There were mixed reviews, depending on the ethics of the critics, it seems to me.

    Facts : It will cost only a few billion dollars a year.
    It will go on as long as necessary. (Some say one hundred years
    The elements causing warming can go on doing their thing without check.
    This process is thought to cause severe warming to the South in the Americas, to Asia, and to Africa .
    There is thought tb a legal problem with Mexico, because thre is no known way to keep these stratospheric effusions in US territory.

  16. There is only one way to fund neoliberal goals of isolation from the world (huge military, the Great Wall of Trump, lawless Wall St, theocracy, aristocracy, tax relief for the wealthy) and that is to not fund services to the people (health care, retirement, infrastructure, public health, safety and environment).

    Even Republicans know the truth about anthropogenic global warming and the future of energy from fuel and our unaffordable health care non-system.

    However they are in the way of neoliberal goals.

  17. Haven’t we all read that the Obama administration made frantic changes (in a rush) just before transfer of power, changes that they didn’t risk making during their administration? (think adding new monuments as example?). Didn’t the EPA have massive failures in Colorado and Flint just before Trump took over? Isn’t this like the divorced dad buying a pony for the kids and dumping it at the ex wives place? He becomes the Santa Dad and mom becomes the evil witch who has to take care of the pony and tell the kids they can’t keep it in mom’s apartment? ALSO: problems in linking the 3 national electric grids (including putting large scale solar facilities on line) and EMP protection (which may not be EPA) seem to be blocked BY the government, and have been for years.

  18. It’s a really Fascist worldview to believe that mankind can dominate nature instead of adapting to it.

    Nobody likes to be called a fascist but, on the other hand, when a political movement attempts to compromise knowledge based living the comparison must be made to call out the ultimate dysfunction of living on faith rather than fact.

  19. It would be easy to dismantle the EPA and environmental regulations if a President hires professionals who have been fighting those laws and regulations for decades in court, legislation, and rule-writing. It’s doubtful the beleagured White House staff can keep up with the legion of billionaire polluters, lawyers, and think tanks who likely are giving ‘to do’ lists to the new EPA administrators every day on how to dismantle environmental safety standards.

  20. A political mentor from my youth listened patiently to my long rant about some situation in which various factions were spending more time fighting among themselves than they were working together to achieve what they all alleged was their ultimate goal. When I finally ran out of steam, and he saw I was ready to listen, we began to review the various actions and statements of the various groups and individuals. He looked at me and said “Most people would rather be king of their own dung hill, than share power in paradise.” I’ve never forgotten that moment, and I’ve seen the truth of that observation played out time after time. We do seem to be a pretty ornery species.

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