Thursday, 08 February 2018

Attacks Mount on Those Trying to Run Interior, EPA the Right Way

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From the print edition of The New American

Correction, Please! Attacks Mount on Those Trying to Run Interior, EPA the Right Way

A sampling of news articles:

Item: In an article entitled “Trump unites Democrats and Republicans — to oppose his offshore drilling plan,” the Los Angeles Times for January 11, 2018 reported: “Members of Congress from both parties and both coasts have intensified their opposition to the Trump administration’s plan to open almost all of America’s outer continental shelf to energy exploration.”

Item: Writing in USA Today for January 12, 2018, U.S. Representative Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) objected to the decision by the Interior Department to exempt Florida from the Trump administration’s proposed offshore oil drilling plan, saying this reeked of illegal political favoritism.

Also, said Lieu: “Offshore drilling creates extraordinary safety concerns for coastal communities and ecosystems. Instead of fighting climate change and looking at wind, tidal and wave energy development, the Trump administration is barreling towards crisis after crisis with this plan.”

Item: The Los Angeles Times for January 18, 2018 reported: “One year into the Trump administration’s unrelenting push to dilute and disable clean air and water policies, the impact is being felt in communities across the country. Power plants have been given expanded license to pollute, the dirtiest trucks are being allowed to remain on the roads and punishment of the biggest environmental scofflaws is on the decline.”

“The numbers emerging from the federal government’s database of enforcement actions against polluters show that from the time Pruitt took the helm early last year through November, the dollar amount of pollution-control equipment and cleanup activity the EPA demanded dropped by more than 85%.”

In an attempt to buttress its case against the Trump administration, the Times cited comments by an official from the previous administration: “‘It is one thing to say we have a change of administration and a different level of emphasis and focus,’ said Cynthia Giles, who led the EPA’s enforcement office during the Obama administration and has analyzed the recent data. ‘But this kind of drop is not a change of emphasis. That is abandonment. That is a very, very big deal.’”

Correction: If you want to make a mountain out of a molehill, it helps to add dirt. The “dirt” is largely fear-mongering. The political and media adversaries of the current top officials contend that community safety around the nation is being sacrificed to the gods of the oil industry and claims that power plants are now being given free rein to pollute. These agencies have abandoned — or so we are supposed to believe — all of the wondrous edicts of their predecessors that produced universal sweetness and light, and have now enlisted with the venal forces of the dark side. Catastrophes are said to loom on every front because omniscient progressive crusaders are no longer in charge.

Moreover, testifying to the reputed evil intentions of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, he has presided over the shrinking of the workforce of his agency by — can you believe it!? — a monstrous 4.1 percent (as compared to the end of 2016). The EPA staff is smaller than it has been in more than three decades. (It is down to “about 14,000 workers,” by several recent accounts.) The president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, which represents EPA employees, maintains that Pruitt is “basically doing everything he can to gut the agency of quality personnel.”

We could fill pages with the hypothesized wickedness of the regulatory officials of the current administration at various levels. Bloomberg Businessweek, for example, in late December ran a lengthy tirade about those running the agencies (the title, “In Trump’s Washington, Foxes Guard the Henhouse,” gives away the foregone conclusion).

The president’s Cabinet, we are assured, is “studded with people who fought to undermine the missions of the agencies they now lead.” To drive home the point, the publication not surprisingly found a leftist New England politician to quote, Rhode Island’s junior Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. He obliged by saying of the Trump administrators: “This is almost like an exercise in trolling, in which they go out of their way to pointedly pick both shameless and inappropriate people for these public-safety positions.”

Similarly, the (London-based) Economist enlightens credulous readers to its assertion: “Energy firms could have no better friend than Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, who has zealously overturned rules in their favour. All of the transparency initiatives … have been rolled back.”

In the interests of decorum, we won’t say all of those making such inflated claims are liars, but they are assuredly living on the other side of the facts.

The Interior Department’s early January release that suggested opening the door for the possibility of more development of offshore energy, which sparked outrage among left-wing and green-tinged opponents, was a departure from the direction pointed by the Obama administration. The overreaction was expected, if misguided. After all, according to the (likely conservative) estimates of the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the outer continental shelf (OCS) contains 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Realizing that potential, if energy developers were unleashed and eventually deemed it profitable, could mean jobs for nearly a million Americans, say some experts.

Photo: AP Images

This article appears in the February 19, 2018, issue of The New American. To download the issue and continue reading this story, or to subscribe, click here.

On the other hand, the previous administration stressed keeping American resources in the ground. In November 2016, wrote Nicolas Loris, a fellow in energy and environmental policy at the Heritage Foundation, the Obama Interior Department finalized some of the most restrictive leasing programs to date.

The Interior Department’s final 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program was best known for the areas it placed off limits, rather than what it made available to lease for energy exploration.

As the Trump administration’s Interior Department put it early this year, the Draft Proposed Plan (DPP) “proposes to make over 90 percent” of the total federal OCS “acreage and more than 98 percent of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore areas available to consider for future exploration and development. By comparison, the current program puts 94 percent of the OCS off limits. In addition, the program proposes the largest number of lease sales in U.S. history.”

The initial proposal is not a mandatory campaign; it could make more opportunities available. Speaking about the potential of opening more offshore areas to drilling, even a Bloomberg writer (in a January piece) acknowledged that the Interior Department’s draft

is only an initial step in assembling a new five-year schedule for selling offshore oil leases from 2019 to 2024, replacing an Obama-era plan spanning 2017 to 2022. The process begins broadly, with the number of potential sales and the available acreage generally whittled down in response to public comments and environmental reviews.

Moreover, as pointed out by “BloombergPolitics” writer Jennifer Dlouhy, there are still at least “two major milestones before a final lease sale schedule could be imposed, including the release of a proposed program later this year.” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has been careful in pointing out that the initial release is not the final plan. “Not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks,” said the secretary.

Of course politics is involved. And initial plans are just that — in this case for possibilities, not prohibitions. Writing in the Richmond (Virginia) News-Leader for January 13, William O’Keefe offered some perspective. O’Keefe, a consultant and a former executive vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, commented:

From the sturm und drang reaction to the Department of Interior’s announcement of a five-year gas and oil leasing plan that would open most offshore areas, it could be concluded that leasing was imminent. It is not — and the hand-wringing reactions are another reflection of the polarization that exists in the country.

To begin with, this is a proposal affecting what could take place between 2019 and 2024 if the leasing plan is approved and implemented, which is less than certain.

There are a number of steps that a proposal must go through before it is final.

The Jan. 4 announcement was an early step in an iterative process. The next step involves collecting and analyzing public comments — and then publishing a revision for further comment and analysis.

The final plan requires approval by the secretary before being submitted to Congress and the president. Along the way, federal representatives and officials from the affected states change the scope of the leasing plan.

This is not to say that the direction pointed by top officials is meaningless. Consider how stark are the differences between the chief executives in France and the United States, in terms of energy and the environment, among others. In December, French lawmakers — at the behest of President Emmanuel Macron (who apparently sees himself as the savior of the world’s climate) — banned fracking and oil extraction in all of France’s territories (by 2040). The gesture didn’t cost much — since France is 99 percent dependent on hydrocarbon imports.

Yes, it does make a difference to have leaders in favor of energy production and opposed to overregulation.

And when such U.S. officials are outspoken, they become targets of the mass media. Scott Pruitt is a prime example. The chief of the EPA recently outlined to the Wall Street Journal a number of the major changes he is seeking to make his second year: They include, noted the paper, repealing and rewriting Obama-era rules for power plant emissions, speeding up the agency’s permit review process, “implementing weekly performance assessments across the agency and fostering a public debate about climate change.” Such common-sense priorities have the Left frothing at its collective mouth.

Pruitt’s EPA disputes the mainstream media charges (cited at the top of this column) that it is abandoning its mission because its regulations have not been as costly as those handed down under Obama. Rather, says EPA, it has frequently shifted enforcement of environmental violations to state agencies. Imagine that. Is it really possible that states might know better about local needs than the feds? Even thinking about that is alien to big-government advocates who revere centralized power.

The current EPA is not hiding what it is doing. It acknowledged (in a release in November) that Pruitt is “on a mission to re-engineer the agency’s culture by returning power to states and away from the Washington bureaucrats and coastal elites he said have led it astray.”

Those commentators who are not wedded to conventional groupthink see Pruitt in a different light from the ogre pictured by the Left. Kevin Williamson, writing in the National Review (December 31, 2017), stressed that the EPA chief is interested in “stewardship” as opposed to the left-wing’s favored “prohibition.” Pruitt is, writes Williamson, an “endangered species: a Washingtonian who cares whether he actually technically has the power to do what he wants to do.” The Pruitt-led EPA is not “deregulating.” Rather, as the agency head puts it: “We are regulating in accordance with the law.”

In an extensive piece in the Weekly Standard (“The Man They Love to Hate,” December 25, 2017), Fred Barnes offers a number of examples, large and small, of how Pruitt is doing the job. The EPA head, he recounts, has reformed “the 22 panels of science advisers at the agency, kicking those who get EPA grants off to avoid conflicts of interest. And he has barred the practice of ‘sue and settle’ whereby EPA consents to a settlement in litigation, often with environmentalists. It’s a backdoor way to create regulations that Congress would be unlikely to enact.”

The EPA chief, as noted by the executive editor of the Weekly Standard, is not anti-regulation. Instead, he is against

regulatory overreach he regards as a menace to freedom and economic growth. Rather than concentrating on new regulatory targets, he’s attacking the massive backlog of problems neglected by his predecessors, such as finally cleaning up the toxic waste at 1,300 Superfund sites and dealing with 700-plus state air quality plans left behind by earlier administrations.

Pruitt’s biggest clash with the accepted wisdom of Washington has come over the Paris Accord, the international treaty to deal with climate change….

In meetings at the White House, he provided Trump with a series of reasons to oppose the accord.

In short, there is little wonder why “progressives” can’t stomach the chiefs of Interior and the EPA: These chiefs don’t put America last.

Photo: AP Images

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