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  • Washington Post: Opinion: Trump is aggressively pushing his anti-environment agenda amid a pandemic. It’s inexcusable.

    Washington Post: Opinion: Trump is aggressively pushing his anti-environment agenda amid a pandemic. It’s inexcusable.
    By David J. Hayes
    April 1, 2020

    David J. Hayes is executive director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at the NYU School of Law. He was deputy secretary and chief operating officer of the Interior Department during the Obama and Clinton administrations.

    The coronavirus pandemic has virtually shut down the U.S. economy. The lights remain on, however, at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department, where the Trump administration is working to push through its radical reordering of our nation’s environmental and conservation priorities — pandemic or no.

    For Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, the novel coronavirus outbreak has emerged at an opportune time. After many false starts and embarrassing court defeats, the administration has moved on from its efforts to put off regulatory deadlines or not enforce existing rules. Now, agencies are racing to roll back environmental standards and privatize public lands before the election-year clock runs out. Their strategy is to plow forward regardless of the public health threat, working at a breakneck pace, undistracted by careful scientific deliberation or feedback from the public, which has been largely sidelined by the virus.

    The coronavirus emergency exposes this cynical strategy. While using the virus as an excuse to scale back their already-light pollution enforcement activities, the EPA and the Interior Department insist on pushing forward their special interest agenda. They are doing so with the White House’s cooperation, even as courts, businesses, and other federal, state and local agencies push back nonessential deadlines.

    The March calendar tells the story. The White House set March 10 as the deadline for public comment on a massive rewrite and weakening put forth in January of National Environmental Policy Act rules. Those rules have guided all federal project approvals for more than 40 years. Pleas for an extension were ignored. Working out of their homes, lawyers in the office of Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson helped lead a heroic effort, joined by 18 states and the District of Columbia, to produce and file a highly critical 77-page comment letter. Recall that Washington state was an early U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak at that time.

    On March 18, as social distancing measures were implemented across the country, the EPA released a proposal that would give agency scientists license to discount or ignore well-designed, peer-reviewed human health studies. These studies provide the basis for many of our most important air pollution limits, requirements for toxic protection and cleanup, and standards for drinking water. No public hearing on the proposal has been scheduled (nor could it be amid the covid-19 threat). The EPA set a short, 30-day comment period — with no public hearing — that will preclude meaningful input from many in the scientific community. A particularly notable absence would be feedback from the presidents of the National Academies of Sciences, Medicine, and Engineering, who criticized an earlier, more narrow version of this proposal, and who are almost certainly consumed by our national health emergency.

    Meanwhile, the Interior Department refused to extend a March 19 comment deadline on a rule favored by the oil and gas industry that lifts migratory bird protections under a 100-year-old law, insulating companies from liability for reckless practices that they know would needlessly kill birds. Also in March, ignoring the global collapse in oil prices amid the coronavirus outbreak, the Interior Department held five poorly subscribed oil and gas sales in four Western states and the Gulf of Mexico. Concerned citizens had only 10 days to file protests before leases are consummated under draconian procedures that largely shut out public review and input. Already, one federal court has ruled illegal these constraints on public participation in connection with earlier oil and gas sales that were contested.

    The anti-environment efforts continue on other fronts. The administration is shelving auto mileage improvements and preparing to terminate obligations for oil and gas companies to control methane emissions — outcomes that are bad for the climate, asthma sufferers and other consumers. Also lurking is the Interior Department’s opening of the iconic Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a boneheaded move in any era but particularly now, when the agency cannot meet Congress’s prerequisites for opening the refuge — and when privatizing priceless public-owned lands for oil and gas development makes zero moral or economic sense.

    Standing alone, the administration’s anti-environment, anti-conservation and anti-science agenda is an outrage. Continuing to aggressively prosecute the agenda when our country is consumed by a major health emergency is inexcusable.

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    Trump signed a sweeping $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, H.R. 748 (116), last week. But lawmakers are already eyeing the next installment as a vehicle for priorities including clean energy tax credits and some sort of infrastructure package.

    The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that lawmakers, Trump administration officials, think tanks and lobbyists are already looking forward to the next package, with many expecting the debate to begin by late April. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi echoed on CNN on Sunday that there’s plenty more to do in the next measure. “We have to pass another bill that goes to meeting the need more substantially than we have,” she said. Washington’s eagerness to aid the economy is also creating a potential boom for lobbyists, who have begun a blitz on everything from coronavirus testing kits to pushing EPA to haste its regulatory processing of disinfectants, The New York Times reports.

    Infrastructure: Both the House and Senate have begun work on surface transportation bills ahead of a September deadline to act, but lawmakers haven’t been able to settle on how to pay for the legislation, Pro’s Sam Mintz reports. House Transportation Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) wants to “double down on an infrastructure package that repairs the breach left by years of neglect.” As for the pay-for, an infrastructure lobbyist told Sam that given the record low gas prices, debate about the gas tax “could re-enter the equation.”

    Clean energy: Renewable energy groups are also expected to push for green energy tax credits in the next package, as Pro’s Anthony Adragna, Zack Colman and Gavin Bade reported. The Coalition for Green Capital, a group advocating for a national climate infrastructure bank, put out new poll data today that found 71 percent of respondents said they’d support Congress including funding in a stimulus bill for the construction of clean energy and transportation infrastructure.

    Fossil fuels: There could also be another push to include money for the Energy Department to buy oil to store in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, after the last relief package omitted the funds requested by the department and the president. “Expect both low-carbon and fossil energy interests to press their case for support in coming weeks,” according to analysts at BloombergNEF in a note Friday.

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  • Press Release:Poll Finds Bipartisan Support for Funding Clean Transportation, Energy Projects to Put People Back to Work

    March 30, 2020

    Poll Finds Bipartisan Support for Funding Clean Transportation, Energy Projects to Put People Back to Work
    Investment could create millions of jobs

    WASHINGTON—After the United States beats the coronavirus, a strong bipartisan majority of voters support investing in clean transportation and energy projects to put people back to work, according to a new SurveyMonkey | Coalition for Green Capital poll. By a 71-to-16 margin, Americans support funding for such projects that would create jobs and combat climate change.

    “This poll shows that as soon as we win the Coronavirus War, people want to get America going again by building a clean and better country,” Coalition for Green Capital CEO Reed Hundt said. “That’s what the next stimulus bill needs to give us the tools to do: Create jobs and build a clean future.”

    Other key findings from the poll, include:
    Creating jobs:

    • 83% support funding for construction jobs to put people back to work. Only 8% oppose
    • 71% support funding for the construction of clean energy and transportation projects that will create new jobs while also addressing climate change. Only 16% oppose.

    Addressing the immediate health care crisis:

    • 89% believe that the first priority is to fund health care and medical supplies.
    • 91% support extending unemployment benefits and other social safety net measures.

    “If Congress funds a National Climate Bank in the next stimulus, we can create more than 5 million new jobs during the next five years in building the clean future with public-private money,” Coalition for Green Capital Executive Director Jeff Schub said.

    A nonprofit National Climate Bank, as outlined in H.R. 5416 and S. 2057, would use the proven “green bank” model, deploying public funds to finance clean energy and clean transportation projects. This could be direct or through new or existing state and local green banks. Across the country, there are hundreds of projects that are both ready to go and will need ongoing funding.

    This analysis is based on a SurveyMonkey online poll conducted among 627 likely 2020 voters ages 18 and older across the United States between March 23-26. The modeled error estimate for the full sample is ±4 percentage points.

    View the poll.


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