It would all be more easily survivable were it not for the supine position of Congress, with how smoothly corruption has settled in as both House and Senate compromise conservative ethics and norms, evidenced by email newsletters from our Rep. Phil Roe as well as Sen. Lamar Alexander.
Probably EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been the best case in point. As I write he has 11 ethics violations under investigation, a few of which he brought along to his confirmation hearing. None are minor infractions, or the result of pardonable ignorance. Not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he’s made up for lost time by stepping right up to the trough and adapting to lifestyles of the rich and famous.
Details of the spiraling ethics scandals are readily available. With such behaviors exposed he wouldn’t have lasted a day in the Obama, either of the Bushes, the Clinton or the Reagan administrations. Trump’s White House just doesn’t happen to incorporate values that guided in previous times. And what trade-offs for Roe, Alexander, and most of the Republicans in the House and Senate could possibly be so important, enough to justify ignoring ethics, morality, their own foundational values and norms? It seems few will even publicly acknowledge any pesky unease.
Instead Pruitt is lauded as Trump’s most effective soldier in the all important war to roll back environmental regulation, particularly anything from Obama’s tenure. What’s a bit of corruption (mostly by “my staff” after all), or even such an egregious display, compared to that? Fossil-fuel interests are surely served, while making Roe apparently euphoric.
Pruitt is a slick, articulate, quick-witted man, well chosen for the job he was specifically tapped to do. The fossil-fuel industry chose him, with the Koch Brothers playing a pivotal role, and they’re getting their money’s worth, with 67 environmental rules on the way out under Trump. Thirty-three rules have been overturned, including the anti-dumping rule for coal companies. Also, reduced standards for rebuilding after floods, some specifically designed to protect taxpayers from paying to rebuild the same houses repeatedly. Twenty-four rollbacks are in progress, on the Clean Power Plan, the Paris Climate Agreement, offshore oil and gas drilling, oil-rig safety, fuel-efficiency standards and limits for toxic discharge from power plants. Ten more are in limbo, including wetland and tributary protections, limits on methane emissions from new gas and oil wells, mercury emissions, plus hazardous chemical plant regulation. Listing those can make me shudder, from knowing how directly they correspond to petitions from chemical, coal, gas and oil industries. Yes, they do get their money’s worth.
A caveat though, which may put a damper on Roe’s mood, comes in Michael Grunwald’s April 7 article in Politico titled “The Myth of Scott Pruitt’s EPA Rollback”. He makes a persuasive and verifiable claim that Pruitt hasn’t fully completed many rollbacks of significant regulation. Some of Trump’s and Pruitt’s bragging claims have been so far mostly hype. Not for want of trying, but so far they’ve mainly delayed some Obama-era rules which hadn’t yet taken effect. Pruitt makes it sound as if he’s already killed Obama’s fuel-efficiency standards, when he’s only proposed the clear intention.
His problem lies in why major federal regulations can take years to enact, because they’re complicated and difficult. Reversing them can also be complicated and difficult. Pruitt and his team have so far proven fairly lazy about doing serious groundwork to effect the changes they’d like to see. Plus, the EPA has dedicated people who have worked for years on landmark environmental changes and believe in their enactment. It may take more time than either Pruitt or Trump will be in office to completely obstruct Obama’s efforts. Even the Paris Climate Agreement is safe until 2020, and by then they might wise up — or not be around to see things through. One of Pruitt’s own lawyers has cautioned that if you want lasting change, you can’t be rushed or sloppy.
Besides being corrupt, Pruitt’s seeming professionalism is a sham. But he definitely has been a great gift to the lawyers. Remarkable numbers of his actions are found challengeable legally, with more to come, tying them down in court for years.
All this leaves no reason to be casual about a corrupt man with a corrupt boss. The most damage comes from his power to act through omission, by not doing things. Joe Goffman, head of Harvard Law School’s environmental law program, says our real danger lies in not moving forward, which in times of climate and public health crisis means falling behind. Pruitt may fail to disrupt the status quo as much or as rapidly as his patrons would prefer, but the status quo as it stands is nothing to brag about.
Jennie Young of Elizabethton is a retired language arts teacher.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed by all Community Voices columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the Johnson City Press.