Businessman pretends he understands the environment.
President Trump, in his first month of office, has brought me back to my youth with actions reminiscent of an obscure animated film I once adored called FernGully. Basically, a pollution monster voiced by the one and only Tim Curry tries to burn down the rainforest but is stopped by tree-loving fairies who teach kids the value of nature. There was a second movie, but we don’t talk about it.
This is not to say that I think President Trump is a looming carbon nightmare named Hexxus who feeds from forests, but his interactions with environmental organizations make me nervous nonetheless.
In early December, then President-elect Donald Trump named Scott Pruitt, Attorney General of Oklahoma, as his nominee for the Environmental Protection Agency. In his time as Attorney General, Pruitt proved he was an active member in the environmental community by disbanding the Environmental Protection Unit of the Attorney General’s office and suing the EPA over legislation that combatted climate change. As of last month, Pruitt had filed a total of 13 lawsuits against the EPA.
He is most well-known in Oklahoma for his involvement in a 2005 case against major poultry producers within the state, such as Tyson Foods. Toxic runoff from 300,000 tons of waste per year was proven to be linked to excessive algal blooms in the Illinois River watershed. Though the case was near complete when he took office, Pruitt organized a third-party analysis of water quality and no official ruling has since been handed down. It should also be noted that while running for office in 2010, Pruitt received $40,000 in campaign donations from almost 30 poultry company executives, several of which were involved in the lawsuit.
Pruitt also petitioned Washington with letters drafted by “industry lobbyists” but stamped with the official government letterhead. These letters were in support of fewer federal energy regulations that were designed and proposed to restrict energy sources that contribute to climate change, such as oil and gas.
In his defense, the New York Times cites that his supporters say “his record demonstrates a deeply held philosophy that states understand their needs best and should be allowed to regulate their own environment.” While this is a most admirable belief supported by examples that prove the effectiveness of local governments, the environment is not an issue that can be locally regulated. Or, in the words of environmental law professor Patrick A. Parenteau, “pollution does not respect state boundaries.” Similar to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision to nationally strike down President Trump’s immigration ban, overarching environmental issues—aka climate change—must be broader than one city or state in order to be effective.
In other news, the Dakota Access Pipeline was recently granted federal permission via executive order to continue building just north of the Sioux Tribe Reservation site. Although much of the 1,200-mile pipeline from Illinois to North Dakota has already been built, environmentalists and tribal activists alike have been protesting for months in this area due to the potential for water contamination for millions of people. Now that construction has been cleared, the Dakota Access pipeline will run under Lake Oahe, a water source where eight pipelines already exist roughly 100 ft from the surface.
The Obama administration’s suspension of construction in December was a victory for environmentalists and a testament to the power of civil disobedience. Now, Sioux leaders vow they will legally fight the decision in order to protect their water supply and ancient grounds the pipeline has plans to go through. Throughout the resistance, the Sioux have had support from thousands of protesters, hundreds of veterans, and even some celebrities like Mark Ruffalo and Shailene Woodly, who was arrested for criminal trespassing in St. Anthony, North Dakota.
On the other hand, CNN reports that developers say its construction will bring “$156 million in sales and income taxes to state and local governments and will add 8,000 to 12,000 construction jobs.” As part of his goal to reinvigorate the American economy, Trump commanded the Secretary of Commerce to use American-made materials in its construction. Furthermore, developers reiterate on their web site Dakota Access Pipeline Facts that the “Dakota Access Pipeline does not enter or cross the Standing Rock reservation” and how the “Dakota Access is one of the most technologically advanced and safest pipelines ever built.”
Regardless of opinions on Scott Pruitt or the DAPL, Trump’s administration has unequivocally brought in a new age of environmental pragmatism and hyperpolarization that makes the future of agencies like the EPA or National Parks Service difficult to predict. Based on research from both sides of the aisle, Pruitt and the DAPL could be very successful or disastrous, depending on the extent to which you favor industry or environmental caution.
For now, there are only three things you can do: fight for what you believe in, learn every side of the issue, and please for the love of the 1990s watch FernGully.