Donald Trump's foreign policy and legislative agenda may be a confused mess due to amateurism, impulsiveness and understaffing, but his administration's attack on the environment is operating with the focus and zeal of the Spanish Inquisition. Led by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, the Trump team is moving quickly to return national environmental policy to a pre-scientific age.
The Trump administration's proposed federal budget would whack the Environmental Protection Agency especially hard — a 30% cut. Even some big corporations that are less-than-enthusiastic fans of the EPA are worried the budget stinginess will be problematic for their operations because there won't be enough staff at the agency to process and approve the applications needed to move ahead with environmentally sensitive projects.
Nevertheless, Pruitt is intent on a complete neutering of the agency he runs. It came to light this week that the new director is now demanding that all but the most insignificant enforcement measures taken anywhere in the country get a review in Washington, presumably to determine if they are out of step with Pruitt's pro-industry cheerleading.
EPA scientists who do research into the causes and effects of climate change have been put on notice much like Galileo got put on the spot by the Vatican. When Galileo proclaimed that the Earth revolves around the sun, the church demanded that he recant or be branded a heretic. Like medieval priests, Pruitt and Trump do not want to be contradicted by any scientific findings that refute their belief that climate change is a hoax. That is why Trump has also told NASA to stop collecting climate change data from orbiting satellites.
The Republican dogma of unrestrained economic exploitation drives the president and his EPA chief. As a result, climate science has become a heretical activity. It is no wonder government scientists have been very busy since the election transferring vast amounts of research from government computers to private servers. They fear it will all be destroyed by the new Savonarolas in a technological bonfire of the vanities.
The central target of the onslaught, Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, set the United States on a course toward a 26% reduction from 2005 greenhouse gas levels by 2025. Trump has signed an executive order that would scuttle the plan in order to please coal and oil interests.
Appearing last Sunday on Fox News, Pruitt attempted to defend the new policy and got serious blowback from interviewer Chris Wallace. What would Pruitt do about the tens of thousands of Americans who get sick or die from environmental pollution who would be saved by curbs on carbon emissions?
"Without the Clear Power Plan, how are you going to prevent those terrible things?" Wallace asked.
Pruitt had no good answer and instead yammered on about "regulatory overreach." Has the U.S. ever had an EPA chief who is more a stooge of the fossil fuel industry?
The only silver lining in the black cloud of stupidity that hangs over the EPA is the fact that the Trump administration's retreat to the ignorant environmental policies of the McKinley era is being offset by the imperatives of the energy market and the enlightened actions of states and cities.
In a recent opinion piece, former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said the U.S. would still be able to meet commitments made in the 2015 Paris accord on climate change that led to the Obama plan. He noted that, no matter what tricks Pruitt and Trump have up their sleeves, they cannot stop the decline in the use of coal. Already, 250 coal-fired power plants are scheduled to be closed or converted to cheaper, cleaner fuel sources, Bloomberg said. That, combined with state and city efforts to cut emissions and commitments from major corporations to do the same, will mean the goals agreed upon in Paris remain in reach, with or without the federal government's help.
Which may prove that the anti-EPA crusade is as futile as it is feudal.