WEST VIRGINIANS DON'T MIND A LITTLE POISON - Trump Administration's Roll-Backs

(08/13/2017)

By Bob Weaver

Most West Virginians don't seem to mind the poisoning of their environment as opposed to jobs.

A few years ago, environmentalist Robert Kennedy, Jr. called the public's negative reaction as an act against themselves and God.

Worse yet, West Virginia politicos can't get on board with 21st Century clean air and water technology, which is becoming a great economic game changer around the world.

The media has been a bit distracted recently by shakeups in the White House, Congress' fight over health care, the ongoing Russia investigation, and President Trump's tweets.

These are all newsworthy issues.

The Trump administration has been making sweeping changes to environmental regulations under the radar. Experts expect some of President Obama's landmark environmental regulations, and others, will be repealed in the coming weeks on favor of big business and the coal, extraction and auto industries.

1. Repealing the Clean Power plan

The White House is reviewing the plan, which was the crowning jewel in Obama's climate agenda. The Clean Power plan sought to wean power plants off of coal by capping their carbon emissions. Enforcement of the rule was put on hold last year and it's expected that Trump will call for a repeal in the coming weeks as part of his pro-coal agenda.

Opponents of the Clean Power plan have argued that it places harsh, financially crippling restrictions on power plants on top of previous EPA rules restricting air pollution.

2. Clean Water rule

The EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers have already begun repealing this regulation, which sought to shield some streams, wetlands and other bodies of water from pollution and development.

The rule, also known as the Waters of the United States Rule, was first proposed in 2014 and it expanded protection for 200 million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands, bringing them under federal jurisdiction.

Trump signed an executive order in February asking EPA administrator Scott Pruitt to repeal the rule.

3. Auto fuel and car emissions rules

Auto makers have been lobbying Trump and Congress to role back Obama-era regulations limiting pollution from cars and setting fuel efficiency standards.

Trump has asked the EPA and the Department of Transportation to review the standards. Last week, the Department of Transportation issued a notice that it is looking to revise the fuel standards for car for the 2021 model year.

4. Fracking

The Trump administration is planning to propose completely repealing Obama's regulations on hydraulic fracturing on federal land. the 2015 rule, which was delayed by a federal court, sought to set standards for fracking including strict standards for wells for holding tanks and ponds where liquid wastes are stored. They also would be forced to report which chemicals they were pumping into the ground.

Last June, a U.S. District Judge in Wyoming ruled the Interior Department had overstepped its congressional authority in regulating the drilling practice. Obama officials appealed the decision, and now Trump officials plan to roll back the regulations all-together.

5. Coal mining

The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management has also repealed several Obama-era restrictions on coal mining and is seeking to undo even more in the coming weeks.

In February Trump signed a bill passed by Congress to repeal the Office of Surface Mining's Stream Protection Rule, a regulation to protect waterways from coal mining waste.

Then in March, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke lifted Obama's moratorium on coal-mining leases on federal land.

The Trump administration is wading into one of the oldest and most contentious debates in the West by encouraging more coal mining on lands owned by the federal government. It is part of an aggressive push to both invigorate the struggling American coal industry and more broadly exploit commercial opportunities on public lands.

The intervention has roiled conservationists and many Democrats, exposing deep divisions about how best to manage the 643 million acres of federally owned land — most of which is in the West — an area more than six times the size of California. Not since the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion during the Reagan administration have companies and individuals with economic interests in the lands, mining companies among them, held such a strong upper hand.

Clouds of dust blew across the horizon one recent summer evening as a crane taller than the Statue of Liberty ripped apart walls of a canyon dug deep into the public lands here in the Powder River Basin, the nation’s most productive coal mining region. The mine pushes right up against a reservoir, exposing the kind of conflicts and concerns the new approach has sparked.

“If we don’t have good water, we can’t do anything,” said Art Hayes, a cattle rancher who worries that more mining would foul a supply that generations of ranchers have relied upon.

The denial of Climate Change, a position taken by the USA among hundreds of nations who have accepted the challenge. During the Obama administration, the Interior Department seized on the issue of climate change and temporarily banned new coal leases on public lands as it examined the consequences for the environment.

President Trump, along with roundly questioning climate change, has moved quickly to wipe out those measures with the support of coal companies and other commercial interests.

Separately, Mr. Trump’s Interior Department is drawing up plans to reduce wilderness and historic areas that are now protected as national monuments, creating even more opportunities for profit.

Opponents said the Obama administration had become intent on killing the coal industry, and had used federal lands as a cudgel to restrict exports. The only avenues of growth currently, given the shutdown of so many coal-burning power plants in the United States, are markets overseas.

Their goal, in collusion with the environmentalists, was to drive us out of the export business.

The majority of United States coal is produced in the West, with a small share of it then exported. About 85 percent of coal extracted from federal lands comes from the Powder River Basin, in Wyoming and Montana. The Trump administration is rolling back an Obama-era moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands.

Opponents of the Trump administration’s direction have already gone to court. New Mexico and California sued in April to undo the rollback in royalties that coal mines pay, while ranchers like Mr. Hayes and the Cheyenne tribe joined a lawsuit in March challenging the repeal of a year-old moratorium on federal coal leasing.

“If we hand over control of these lands to a narrow range of special interests, we lose an iconic part of the country — and the West’s identity,” said Chris Saeger, executive director of the Montana-based environmental group Western Values Project, referring to coal mining and oil and gas drilling that the Interior Department is moving to rapidly expand.

Mr. Trump’s point man is Ryan Zinke, a native Montanan who rode a horse to work on his first day as head of the Interior Department. A former member of the Navy SEALs and Republican congressman, Mr. Zinke oversees the national park system, as well as the Bureau of Land Management, which controls 250 million acres nationwide, parts of which are used to produce oil, gas, coal, lumber and hay.


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