Every once in a while, I think about James Madison’s touching belief that Americans would elect “the best and brightest” to represent them in the halls of government. (He’s probably spinning so fast in his grave he may be in China by now.)
Anyone who reads or listens to the news can contribute their own preferred anecdote to the daily and dispiriting evidence of ideology, idiocy and/or corruption in Washington, so file this post under “what else is new?” I must say, however, the violation of previously respected norms and basic rational expectations is becoming more blatant by the day.
The New York Times first carried the story I’m sharing today.The title is the giveaway: “How $225,000 Can Help Secure a Pollution Loophole at Trump’s EPA.”
CROSSVILLE, Tenn. — The gravel parking lot at the Fitzgerald family’s truck dealership here in central Tennessee was packed last week with shiny new Peterbilt and Freightliner trucks, as well as a steady stream of buyers from across the country.
But there is something unusual about the big rigs sold by the Fitzgeralds: They are equipped with rebuilt diesel engines that do not need to comply with rules on modern emissions controls. That makes them cheaper to operate, but means that they spew 40 to 55 times the air pollution of other new trucks, according to federal estimates, including toxins blamed for asthma, lung cancer and a range of other ailments.
The special treatment for the Fitzgerald trucks is made possible by a loophole in federal law that the Obama administration tried to close, and the Trump administration is now championing. The trucks, originally intended as a way to reuse a relatively new engine and other parts after an accident, became attractive for their ability to evade modern emissions standards and other regulations.
The survival of this loophole is a story of money, politics and suspected academic misconduct, according to interviews and government and private documents, and has been facilitated by Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who has staked out positions in environmental fights that benefit the Trump administration’s corporate backers.
How, exactly, did this happen?
Representative Diane Black is a Republican running for Tennessee governor. Tennessee Technological University is a state university that had produced a study minimizing pollution problems associated with the trucks. Ms. Black introduced legislation in 2015 to protect the loophole when the Obama Administration wanted to eliminate it. That bill failed, but after Trump was elected, she turned to Mr. Pruitt to carve out an exemption to the rule — and presented him with the study from Tennessee Tech.
Surprise! Fitzgerald had paid for the study, and had offered to build a new research center for the university on land owned by the company. It further sweetened the deal by generating at least $225,000 in donations to Ms. Black’s campaign.
Both businesses and environmentalists have condemned the loophole. That includes major truck makers like Volvo and Navistar, as well as fleet owners like the United Parcel Service. Even pro-business, pro-corporate, big-clout lobbyists like the National Association of Manufacturers have weighed in against it, joining health and environmental groups like the American Lung Association and the Consumer Federation of America.
In any other administration, a roster of opponents like those would shame government officials into backing down and ensuring that the rules applied to everyone. But not this collection of Trump’s “best people.” They’re shameless.
Not only are the favors being dispensed manifestly unfair to Fitzgerald’s competitors, not only does a quid pro quo that can be seen from space undermine trust in government and the rule of law, but this particular “favor” adds to the pollution of the air we all breathe, and contributes to climate change. (I know–Scott Pruitt refuses to admit that climate change exists. I’m convinced he knows better; it’s just that it is in his personal, political and financial interest to say otherwise.)
The current Republican Party–especially as represented in Congress and the Administration– is what you get when you marry a cult (Pence, Evangelicals, gun nuts and anti-intellectuals) to the Mafia (Paul Ryan, the Koch brothers, Trump and his sleazy cronies.)
They all need to be soundly defeated in November and in 2020.