QUOTES OF THE WEEK:
“A political appointee cutting millions of dollars in funding to EPA grant recipients on what appears to be a politically motivated basis, while at the same time being authorized to serve as a paid media consultant to unnamed outside clients, raises serious concerns of potential conflicts of interest.”
— A letter signed by Representatives Frank Pallone Jr., Diana DeGette, Kathy Castor and Paul Tonko on the revelation that EPA political appointee John Konkus has been consulting for private clients
“Zinke thinks our public lands are nothing more than an ATM for his industry friends. If anything is un-American, it’s this administration’s persistent attacks on America’s public lands.”
— LCV Deputy Legislative Director Alex Taurel in response to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke saying that the permitting process for oil and gas leasing on public land is “quite frankly un-American”
LCV IN THE NEWS:
Politico Morning Energy: Group Launches Offshore Drilling Ad Blitz
OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:
LCV’s state affiliates are hard at work protecting the environment and fighting climate change in the states. Here’s what people are reading across the country:
Associated Press (WA): Washington State groups push carbon-pricing ballot measure
Janesville Gazette (WI): Local officials ask Ryan to protect public lands
NM Political Report (NM): Some Martinez vetoes get pushback
Penobscot Bay Pilot (ME): Maine Conservation Voters host film, panel discussion on Climate Change Solutions in Maine
SIREN: PRUITT’S STAFF CONSULTING FOR PRIVATE CLIENTS: Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported that the EPA’s deputy associate administrator for public affairs, John Konkus, has been consulting for private clients. Given that Konkus’ duties include assigning hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants, his work for private clients introduces potential conflicts of interest. It’s not entirely surprising that, yet again, Pruitt’s EPA is embroiled in a scandal that favors industry and is riddled with potential conflicts of interest.
EVEN MORE TROUBLE AT EPA: If you thought Pruitt’s EPA could stick to just one scandal a week, think again. In addition to the revelations about Konkus’ side business, it was also revealed that a business associate of Pruitt’s head of security was given a contract with the EPA. The contract raises even more questions about favoritism and conflicts of interest within the agency.
WATCHDOGS INVESTIGATING POLITICS AT EPA: The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is investigating the role that political appointees play in picking advisory board members at the EPA. Pruitt’s EPA has been slammed for sidelining scientists and pushing out career employees, and now, GAO is looking into whether or not those moves were politically motivated.
SO OUT-DOORSY: Over at the Department of Interior Design, Secretary Ryan Zinke couldn’t let Pruitt steal the spotlight and is facing questions about abusing taxpayer dollars. As the Associated Press first reported, Interior is spending $139,000 in taxpayer dollars to upgrade doors in Zinke’s office. This comes on top of scrutiny over Zinke’s lavish spending on travel, calls for an investigation by the Office of Special Counsel over Zinke’s mixing of political activities with his official duties, and his continued efforts to ignore public input on everything from his national monument review to offshore drilling.
ARCTIC REFUGE DRILLING RACING FORWARD, FACING BACKLASH: New reports allege that Zinke and other department officials will begin moving forward with an oil and gas lease sale in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge without doing an overall environmental review and plan for the refuge. Those rumors spurred more than 50 people, including Alaska Native leaders, to turn out this week to protest in snowy Fairbanks.
OVER ONE MILLION STRONG: The public opposition couldn’t be clearer: a comment period for Zinke’s plan to expand offshore drilling is set to wrap up today, and more than 1.35 million comments were submitted against the proposal. While Interior officials have spent the past few weeks taking meetings with their oil and gas industry buddies, millions have stood up and made sure that the administration hears their opposition.
WHY IT MATTERS: The Huffington Post reported this week that a new analysis shows that the Trump administration’s offshore drilling proposal threatens 2.5 million jobs and $180 billion in GDP in coastal states. Between the risks to our environment and the tremendous opposition to the plan along the coast and across the nation, it’s difficult to see why the Trump administration would push forward with this plan.
THE GOOD NEWS: Tribes, environmental groups, and other allies across the country have been pushing back against Zinke’s plan to speed drilling leases on public lands, filing formal protests and speaking out against these expansions. Now Zinke has bowed to pressure in Montana and New Mexico and abruptly delayed putting parcels of land up for auction. While this is a victory today, the attacks on public lands haven’t slowed since Trump took office, and we’ll continue to fight against any attempt to sell out our lands to corporate polluters.
UNFIT TO SERVE, VOLUME 28: The Trump administration’s nominees to fill top environmental posts have been disastrous, at best (that’s why we included votes on many of their confirmations in our 2017 National Environmental Scorecard). Keeping with his tendency to prioritize polluters over people, Trump has tapped another industry insider, Peter Wright, to be a check on an industry he has worked in for almost two decades. That’s right — Wright is currently managing counsel for Dow Chemical, and he is being considered to run the EPA’s land office that oversees Superfund, brownfields and other cleanup programs. CNN summed up the problem with his nomination in one short and sweet sentence: “If confirmed, Peter C. Wright, a managing counsel for Dow, will be in charge of overseeing toxic waste sites that are tied to the company that once employed him.”
NOW THAT IS AN INFRASTRUCTURE PLAN: This week, Senate Democrats released an infrastructure proposal that demonstrates true leadership: it includes significant federal investment that drives us towards a clean energy future, plans for a changing climate, protects our natural resources and makes smart transportation choices. Unlike Trump’s infrastructure scam, this plan puts communities first by investing in infrastructure that will adapt to climate change, and also ensures that clean air, water, and lands are not compromised in the process.
OUR TAKE: LCV’s Vice President for Government Affairs Sara Chieffo had this to say: “Unlike President Trump’s unfunded infrastructure scam, this plan sets aside $1 trillion by reversing giveaways to millionaires and billionaires. In contrast to Trump’s damaging infrastructure proposal that prioritizes polluters while jeopardizing the safety of our communities and sacrificing our clean air, clean water, and public lands, this alternative shows that we can strengthen our infrastructure without undercutting crucial environmental safeguards.”
CLIMATE DENIAL PERVADES THE ADMINISTRATION: A new Politico report highlights that the Trump administration’s denial of widely-accepted climate science extends far beyond key environmental posts. Officials at agencies including the Departments of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Homeland Security and the Central Intelligence Agency, have expressed doubts about climate change. As Politico points out: “President Donald Trump is filling the upper ranks of his administration with appointees who share his disbelief in the scientific evidence for climate change — giving them an opportunity to impose their views on policies ranging from disaster planning to national security to housing standards.”
WHY IT MATTERS: We’re already seeing the impacts of climate change every single day. Just last week, the East Coast was smacked with severe storms that officials weren’t prepared for. As the threat of severe storms increases every day, we need to be preparing for them and reducing the pollution driving climate change, not burying our heads in the sand and denying the very reason for their severity and frequency.
CENSORING SCIENCE: Keeping with denial of basic science, the Trump administration is also censoring scientists. The Washington Post reported this week that Interior officials claimed that scientists were using “inflammatory language” and speaking “outside of their wheelhouse” by speaking about climate change.
BUT THERE’S HOPE: If there’s any advantage to the Trump administration’s repeated attacks on climate and the environment, it’s the groundswell of grassroots activism that has ensued. The Washington Post reported this week on the influx of scientists putting their names forth for office in 2018.
CON AIR: This week, the House took up a number of bills that would endanger the health of our communities by allowing industry to dump more toxic pollution into our air. From delaying the implementation of clean air standards that would protect children from neurotoxins and carcinogens that are harmful to brain development to exempting coal burning power plants from meeting current pollution standards, these initiatives are nothing more than a favor to industry at the expense of the health of our communities.
ENVIRONMENT AND EQUALITY COME HAND IN HAND: A new report published by the Nature Climate Change journal found that economic equality and a sustainable future can and should be achieved hand in hand. The report shows that, under inequitable economic conditions, the likelihood of reducing emissions and making progress on climate change significantly decreases. Thus, tackling economic inequality will help us tackle the climate crisis too.
EPA REJECTS ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM CASE: Residents of a small town in Alabama filed a lawsuit against the EPA over a toxic landfill that is seemingly responsible for a multitude of physical and mental illnesses. The lawsuit claims that authorities in Alabama violated the Civil Rights Act by locating an enormous landfill containing four million tons of coal ash in close proximity to residents. While residents suffer from life-threatening health issues due to the proximity to coal ash, the EPA has chosen to turn a blind eye and dismissed the lawsuit this week.
March 13 – Zinke testifies in front of the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources about the budget
March 14 – Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross testify in front of the Senate Commerce Committee on the administration’s infrastructure proposal
March 15 – Zinke testifies in front of the House Committee on Natural Resources about the budget
March 23 – Government funding deadline