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Trump Administration Granting Wish Lists for Coal, Oil and Gas

A hat-trick for the energy industry: The Trump administration is once again turning energy industry hopes into reality, with a plan to make it easier for oil and gas wells to leak methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases. Coral Davenport of The New York Times reports that the Environmental Protection Agency will put forward a proposal to weaken a 2016 rule that required energy companies to inspect for leaks from drilling equipment as often as every six months and to repair them within 30 days. Companies would have twice as long to repair a leak, and the tests would be required less often, about once a year or even once every two years for low-producing wells, saving the industry nearly half a billion dollars by 2025, Davenport writes. She notes that the proposal follows two other major steps to undermine the country’s efforts to address climate change: a proposed rollback of rules limiting vehicle tailpipe emissions and a significant weakening of restrictions on emissions from coal-fired power plants. Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, an industry trade group, summarized the situation neatly. “It all depends on who you trust,” she said. The Obama “administration trusted environmentalists. This one trusts industry.”

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A diminished EPA: President Trump is making good on a campaign promise to gut the Environmental Protection Agency. A team of reporters from The Washington Post found that the agency’s workforce has shrunk 8 percent, with 1,600 people leaving their posts in the first 18 months that Trump was president, while fewer than 400 people were hired. Among the offices most affected are those that handle enforcement of environmental regulations, international and tribal relations, and environmental research and development. Staffing at the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance has dipped a whopping 15.7 percent. The reduction is in part the result of a hiring freeze Trump imposed for about three months upon taking office, but many longtime staffers have decided to leave, along with younger employees who might have taken their place. That’s prompted concerns about “a brain drain,” the reporters write. “My feeling was I could do better work to protect the environment outside the EPA,” said Betsy Smith, a 20-year EPA employee who said much of a project she led to help coastal communities cope with climate change was shelved.

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Delayed tobacco warnings draw judge’s ire: Congress passed a law nearly a decade ago requiring cigarette makers to include graphic health warnings on their packages, something dozens of countries already require. But as reported by FairWarning, following a legal challenge by the industry a federal judge struck down the labels designed by the Food and Drug Administration–which included images of a diseased lung or cadaver–on 1st Amendment grounds. The FDA was supposed to go back to the drawing board to design new warnings, but never produced them. Now, a federal judge in Boston has ordered officials to get to it, saying the FDA hasn’t worked fast enough to comply with the law. The decision was celebrated by public health groups that filed a lawsuit to compel action by the FDA, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Lung Association and others. “Studies around the world have shown that graphic warnings are most effective at informing consumers about the health risks of smoking, preventing children and other nonsmokers from starting to smoke, and motivating smokers to quit,” the groups’ press release said. “Requiring graphic cigarette warnings in the U.S. will protect kids, save lives and reduce tobacco-related health care costs, which total $170 billion a year.”

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Putting the kibosh on pesticide limits: In dozens of communities across the country, people concerned about the health of bees, their children, their pets and themselves have lobbied to pass local ordinances restricting the use of pesticides, including glyphosate, the main ingredient in the Monsanto weedkiller Roundup. But a provision in the House version of the 2018 Farm Bill could preempt the ability of local officials to regulate pesticide use, writes Meg Wilcox for Civil Eats. The House bill would bar regulation of pesticides below the state level, according to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group, which also produced an interactive map of communities that have put restrictions in place. Separately, the House bill also would remove about two million people from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the Food Stamp program, including about a third of all seniors now enrolled and 469,000 households with young children, The New York Times reports. Lawmakers are working to reconcile the House and Senate bills. The Senate version included neither the pesticide change nor new limits on food stamps. President Trump has tweeted support for the House SNAP cutbacks.

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‘It’s still a problem, and it’s still outrageous’: That’s how Washington Post reporter Valerie Strauss explains the state of drinking water quality at American schools. She points to a federal report that found too-few school districts have tested their water for lead. In a representative survey of 549 districts, the Government Accountability Office found that at least 41 percent had not tested for lead. Among those who had, more than one-third found elevated lead levels that required action, such as replacing water fixtures or installing filters. The report recommended that the EPA and U.S. Department of Education do more to support local water testing.

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Reef relief? Not much: The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia may be showing some signs of recovery from the catastrophic bleaching event of 2016, when a rise in ocean temperature killed nearly a third of its coral. Colin Bertram reports for Bloomberg that the Queensland tourism office has reported “substantial signs of recovery” in some areas, based on work by a nonprofit research organization which surveyed key tourism dive sites. The news may be a tiny bright spot in an otherwise bleak story: A study also published last week found that the bleaching event damaged deep water reefs more than previously thought. And another published last month said increases in both bleaching and the frequency of high-intensity storms will have dire consequences for the reef.

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Tracing bullets: The cities of Sacramento and Los Angeles long ago required establishments that sell ammunition to log the names of their buyers. Those logs have been used in some cases to identify a shooting suspect and more routinely to find sex offenders, gang members or parolees who have a gun and shouldn’t, writes Ian Urbina of the New York Times. Starting next year, ammo sales across the state will have to be logged, as California targets a factor in gun violence that historically has been all but ignored: the bullet.

  • Also: A report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that few people who lie on forms submitted for a gun background check are ever prosecuted. Very few – as in, 12 cases out of about 12,700 that were referred by federal officials for investigation.

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Detainee life, detailed: ProPublica Illinois has provided an incredible account of what happens to immigrant children detained in one of the country’s largest shelter networks for unaccompanied minors. The nonprofit news organization obtained thousands of confidential records that detail the day-to-day life of detainees at sites operated by Heartland Human Care Services, some from years ago and some from the past few weeks. “In what they say and write, and in what is said and written about them, one truth becomes abundantly clear: The longer children are detained, the more they struggle,” they write. The reporters also take a detailed look at 99 children who were separated from their parents at the border and sent to Heartland facilities: “Heartland officials said the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy has caused ‘incalculable harm’ to children, leaving the organization with the job of ‘picking up the pieces of the administration’s very destructive policies.'”

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An unusual desert prospect: Can renewable energy make it rain? Yes, in a most literal way, according to a study published in the journal Science. Put enough solar panels and wind turbines in the Sahara, and they would cause more rain to fall in the region, researchers found using a climate model. How many? Enough to power the entire world, “which is possible and has been discussed in the literature,” the researchers write.

Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.