Monday, February 6, 2017

Ocean Watch - Week 2

Welcome to Ocean Watch; a weekly recap of federal and regional actions that impact the coastal and marine water quality and ecosystems of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. Clean Ocean Action will aggregate and analyze these actions, and signify the impact and threat level to the Mid-Atlantic using color coding – Red is a high level threat, orange is intermediate, yellow is a caution, and green would be a positive action. While many of these actions have taken place in Washington DC, and don’t affect the mid-Atlantic directly, the direction of national energy, climate, and regulatory policy will have implications and impacts for the mid-Atlantic region.

Mid-Atlantic Ocean Watch – Week 2

It has been a busy week for the Trump Administration, and Congress. In sum, it appears that the promises made during the campaign will be kept by President Trump, and supported by the House and Senate. An emphasis on deregulation, lack of transparency between Government agencies and with the public, and the nominations of industry friendly officials to important government positions continues.

A quick rundown for the week:

Deregulation in Action
Several actions in Congress and by President Trump have followed a disturbing trend of anti-regulatory actions that would weaken or outright remove protections on clean air, water, healthy oceans, and endangered species:
  • proposed bill by Florida Republican congressman Matt Gaetz might take the ultimate cake for deregulation: Gaetz proposed HR 861, a bill that would literally “terminate the Environmental Protection Agency.” Details are scarce at this point, however, it appears that the bill would desolve the USEPA and put full responsibility for environmental regulation in State hands. Suffice it say, the USEPA provides critical national and regional oversight, funding, and expertise in public health and environmental protection, ranging from contaminated site remediation, clean air and water, the regulation of ocean dumping sites, among many other critical roles. The termination of USEPA would be a disaster for the ocean, for clean air and water, and for the American Public. Pollution does not respect State lines, in the air, in waterways, and in our oceans.
  • Texas Republican congressman Pete Olsen continued this disturbing trend with his introduction of HR 717 which would require government agencies to consider the economic costs tied to listing a species as “threatened.” It would also eliminate clear timeframes the government has for responding to listing petitions; the bill would basically allow government agencies to ignore petitions or prioritize certain petitions over others.
  • President Donald Trump signed an order on January 30 that seeks to dramatically pare back federal regulations by requiring agencies to cut two existing regulations for every new rule introduced. For the rest of fiscal 2017, the cap would also require that the cost of any additional regulations be completely offset by undoing existing rules. While it is unclear precisely how this EO will impact the numerous environmental regulations that protect public health, clean air, water, and soil, it is a troubling sign of the continued emphasis on industry driven deregulation.

The Congressional Review Act in Action

This week, Republicans in the House of Representatives used a little known Congressional Review Act (CRA) mechanism to block two recently finalized environmental regulations issued by President Obama: 
  • On Wednesday, the House voted to block the Obama Administration’s Stream Protection Rule, designed to protect small waterways from pollution associated with coal mining. The Stream Protection Rule tightened exceptions to a rule that requires a 100-foot buffer between coal mining and streams. It also would require coal mining companies to restore streams and mined areas to a state similar to what existed prior to the mining.
  • On Friday morning the house voted to roll back the BLM methane rule, which limits methane emissions from oil and natural gas wells on federal land. This rule required ensures that companies will continue to waste $330 million each year in taxpayer-owned natural gas extracted from public lands owned by all Americans. In the process oil and gas companies will also pollute our communities with carcinogens like benzene, and the climate with methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Nominations Moving Forward
  • Supreme Court Justice: U.S. Court of Appeals 10th Circuit Judge and son of former Regan EPA Administrator Ann Gorsuch Buford, Neil Gorsuch was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Trump to fill the vacancy left by Judge Antonin Scalia.To quote a New York Times editorial, “He is even more conservative than Justice Scalia in at least one area — calling for an end to the deference courts traditionally show to administrative agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency, that are charged with implementing complex and important federal laws.” 
  • Senators voted 56-43 on Monday night to advance Rex Tillerson's nomination to become the top U.S. diplomat, setting up an expected final vote on the nomination Wednesday. Tillerson was the long time CEO of Exxon Mobile.
  • Senate Republicans on the Environment and Public Works Committee successfully suspended committee rules that required the presence of at least two Democrats to hold votes, and approved Scott Pruitt for EPA administrator, after Democrats boycotted the committee for the second straight day. As reported widely, Mr. Pruitt, as the Oklahoma attorney general, has led or taken part in 14 lawsuits aimed at blocking E.P.A. regulations, including Obama administration policies trying to tackle climate change, repeatedly espoused climate denial talking points, and has a remarkably cozy relationship with the fossil fuel industry, both ideologically and financially.

Climate Webpage Changes
  • After noting last week that potential changes to USEPA’s Climate Change webpage were in the works, it appears that the Trump Administration has begun the process in earnest. According to several analyses, Federal climate plans created under former President Obama, tribal assistance programs, and references to international cooperation have been stricken from the site. Furthermore, it appears that the causes of climate change have been removed in favor of an emphasis on adaptation, as well as some routine “housekeeping” in which broken links and completed programs have been removed.

  • ·    The actions of the last week have reinforced how vital it is that every citizen engage with their elected officials. Use the links below to find your representatives and let them know how important clean water and strong environmental protections are.

o   Federal:
§  Call your US House of Representative:
o   State Level:
§  Contact your Governor:
§  For NJ residents, contact your State Senate and Assembly Representatives:
§  For NY residents, contact your State Senate and Assembly Representatives:

Stay tuned for next week, when more nominations will move forward, Congress moves to finish what it started, and the Trump administration continues to keep us all guessing.

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