There has been a flood of negative news involving Donald Trump the last few days, such as the apparent difficulty Trump was having to get anyone to agree to be his Chief of Staff, news his inauguration committee is under criminal investigation, both the National Enquirer and Michael Cohen stating in sworn statements that Trump was personally involved in committing crimes, the Senate voting to stop Trump from continuing to help Saudi Arabia fight a war against Yemen, a 7 year old girl who was seeking asylum dying in U.S. custody, Trump’s Interior Secretary resigning amid ethics investigations, the tantrum about the wall that Trump threw while meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, and a stock market continuing to decline thanks to Trump’s trade war.
Among all of that news, something else the Trump administration is doing barely made a blip in the news cycle. It is hard to imagine how bad the rest of the news was for this to have gone almost completely unnoticed. Think for a second what would have happened had any other Presidential administration said they were going to do this:
The Trump administration wants to reclassify some radioactive waste left from the production of nuclear weapons to lower its threat level and make disposal cheaper and easier.
The proposal by the U.S. Department of Energy would lower the status of some high-level radioactive waste in several places around the nation, including the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state — the most contaminated nuclear site in the country.
Reclassifying the material to low-level could save the agency billions of dollars and decades of work by essentially leaving the material in the ground, critics say.
Perhaps we are just growing numb to the many, many ways the Trump administration is trying to harm the people of this country by loosening protections against harmful materials, such as air pollution from coal plants:
The Environmental Protection Agency, now led by acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, has announced more rollbacks regulations on coal-fired power plants. It’s a striking move for two big reasons: No new coal plants are being built in the US, and the EPA itself (along with 12 other federal agencies) recently put out a sweeping report detailing the need to reduce emissions from fossil fuels because of the grave threat of climate change.
The new proposal involves loosening an Obama-era restriction on how much carbon dioxide new coal power plants can emit. Known as the New Source Performance Standards, a provision under the Clean Air Act, the rule established in 2015 said coal plants couldn’t emit more than 1,400 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour.
The Trump administration isn’t just trying to allow coal plants to emit more carbon into the air, they also want them to emit more mercury:
The Trump administration has completed a detailed legal proposal to dramatically weaken a major environmental regulation covering mercury, a toxic chemical emitted from coal-burning power plants, according to a person who has seen the document but is not authorized to speak publicly about it.
The proposal would not eliminate the mercury regulation entirely, but it is designed to put in place the legal justification for the Trump administration to weaken it and several other pollution rules, while setting the stage for a possible full repeal of the rule.
Those pollutants do actual harm to people. The Trump administration doesn’t care:
As a fourth-year medical student and future family medicine provider, I have a moral obligation ― as does any doctor ― to keep my current and future patients healthy and thriving. It’s for that reason I must speak out against acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s pending proposal, misleadingly named the “Affordable Clean Energy Rule,” to dismantle the Obama-era 2015 Clean Power Plan, which set the first and only federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants.
I’ve seen firsthand how air pollution harms our communities’ most vulnerable populations. During my pediatrics rotation last year, half of the patients on our ward were young children with asthma from Chicago’s South Side. Some of these kids had been to the hospital so many times they’d lost track, rushed by their parents into the emergency room when they could barely breathe.
We were thankfully able to successfully treat these children, but their terrifying experiences left a lasting impression on me, and I continue to be deeply troubled by the knowledge that a large number of my cases could’ve been prevented if these kids only had cleaner air to breathe. Study after study has shown the connection between dirty air and asthma exacerbations and that improving air quality has a clear and positive impact on children’s health
Besides trying to increase air pollution from coal plants, the Trump administration is also trying to increase air pollution from automobiles, and limit the ability of individual states to set their own rules regarding auto emissions, rules that have been remarkably successful in clearing the polluted skies that existed over many American cities in the 60s and 70s:
The Trump administration on Thursday put forth its long-awaited proposal to freeze antipollution and fuel-efficiency standards for cars, significantly weakening one of President Barack Obama’s signature policies to combat global warming.
The proposed new rules would also challenge the right of states, California in particular, to set their own, more stringent tailpipe pollution standards. That would set the stage for a legal clash that could ultimately split the nation’s auto market in two.
The administration’s plans immediately faced opposition from an unusual mix of critics — including not only environmentalists and consumer groups but auto-industry representatives as well as individual states — who are now launching efforts to change the plan before it is finalized.
Their proposal would freeze the increase of average fuel economy standards after 2021 at about 37 miles per gallon. It would also revoke a legal waiver, granted to California under the 1970 Clean Air Act and now followed by 13 other states, that lets those states set pollution standards that are more stringent than the federal government’s.
Coal plants and autos aren’t the only sources of air pollution that the Trump administration is trying to increase. They are also trying to increase methane emissions from oil and gas drilling sites:
The Trump administration on Tuesday finalized its plans to weaken regulations on methane gas releases from drilling on public land.
The action from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rolls back key provisions of an Obama-era rule that limited releases of the greenhouse gas during oil and gas production on publicly owned lands leased to fossil fuel companies.
The new rule is expected to allow for more leaks of the gas through a practice known as venting or flaring, adding to air pollution. The Obama administration estimated that the practice cost taxpayers more than $330 million annually in lost revenue.
The Trump administration is not just trying to harm people by increasing air pollution. They also want to increase water pollution:
The Trump administration is moving forward with a significant rollback of an Obama-era clean water regulation that has become a rallying cry for farmers and property-rights activists opposed to federal overreach.
The new proposal, unveiled Tuesday morning by acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and other administration officials, would ease Washington’s oversight of small bodies of water, undoing a regulation President Donald Trump has called “a massive power grab.”
The new rule would replace an Obama administration regulation, known as the “Waters of the United States” rule that expanded federal protections to smaller rivers and streams.
Environmental advocates warn the proposed rule could remove pollution and development protections from most U.S. waterways and pose far-reaching effects on the safety of the nation’s tap water for more than 100 million Americans.
“Even a child understands that small streams flow into large streams and lakes – which provide drinking water for so many Americans,” said Craig Cox, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources for the Environmental Working Group. “By removing safeguards and allowing industry to dump pollutants into these water sources, Trump’s EPA is ensuring more contamination challenges for utilities and dirtier water for their customers.”
One of their attempts to increase water pollution has already had a direct impact, contributing to an E. coli outbreak that killed several people:
The culprit turned out to be E. coli, a powerful pathogen that had contaminated romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona, and distributed nationwide. At least 210 people in 36 states were sickened. Five died and 27 suffered kidney failure. The same strain of E. coli that sickened them was detected in a Yuma canal used to irrigate some crops.
For more than a decade, it’s been clear that there’s a gaping hole in American food safety: Growers aren’t required to test their irrigation water for pathogens such as E. coli. As a result, contaminated water can end up on fruits and vegetables.
After several high-profile disease outbreaks linked to food, Congress in 2011 ordered a fix, and produce growers this year would have begun testing their water under rules crafted by the Obama administration’s Food and Drug Administration.
But six months before people were sickened by the contaminated romaine, President Donald Trump’s FDA – responding to pressure from the farm industry and Trump’s order to eliminate regulations – shelved the water-testing rules for at least four years.
Lest you believe that increasing air pollution, water pollution, and exposure to radioactive waste is the extent of the Trump administration’s attempts to harm people, the Trump administration would like to remind you that people can also get sick from harmful materials used in the buildings they live and work, and yes, the Trump administration is trying to increase that risk, too, by loosening restrictions on the use of asbestos:
On June 1st, the EPA enacted the Significant New Use Rule, which allows the government to evaluate asbestos use on a case-by-case basis. Around the same time, the EPA released a new framework for how it evaluates chemical risk. Not included in the evaluation process are the potential effects of exposure to chemicals in the air, ground or water. It’s as absurd as it sounds. “It is ridiculous,” Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, who recently retired after four decades at the EPA, told the New York Times. “You can’t determine if there is an unreasonable risk without doing a comprehensive risk evaluation.”
The new evaluation framework is a nifty way for the EPA to circumvent an Obama-era law requiring the EPA to evaluate hundreds of potentially dangerous chemicals. Asbestos is among the first batch of 10 chemicals the EPA will examine, and also one of the most blatantly dangerous to public health. Its use is banned in over 60 countries, and though it is only heavily restricted in the United States, asbestos is no longer used in construction because of the health risks it poses. Direct or indirect exposure to the carcinogen can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, and it has been found to kill 40,000 Americans annually. The World Health Organization wrote that “all types of asbestos cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis.”
Of course, not all people work in buildings. Some people work in mines, and the Trump administration is trying to make that workplace more dangerous, too:
The Trump administration is weakening a safety rule that was dearly bought with coal miners’ blood.
The federal mine safety agency, now under the leadership of a former chairman of the Kentucky Coal Association, is backing off penalizing mines that have an established pattern of serious safety violations.
A recent settlement with Pocahontas Coal Co. is bad news for miners if, as many fear, it signals a return to allowing coal companies to repeatedly endanger miners more or less with impunity.
Some people work in occupations that put them in places with exposure to potentially dangerous radioactive materials. The Trump administration is trying to increase their danger, too:
The Trump administration is quietly moving to weaken U.S. radiation regulations, turning to scientific outliers who argue that a bit of radiation damage is actually good for you — like a little bit of sunlight.
The government’s current, decades-old guidance says that any exposure to harmful radiation is a cancer risk. And critics say the proposed change could lead to higher levels of exposure for workers at nuclear installations and oil and gas drilling sites, medical workers doing X-rays and CT scans, people living next to Superfund sites and any members of the public who one day might find themselves exposed to a radiation release.
Then there are those people who work on off-shore drilling sites. The Deepwater Horizon accident thrust the danger of that job into the spotlight. The Trump administraton is trying to make that job even more dangerous:
At the Interior Department, administration officials are seeking to roll back regulations on offshore oil rigs — former President Barack Obama’s response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout that killed 11 workers and flooded the Gulf of Mexico with millions of barrels of oil. A proposed rule would rescind the requirement that only government-approved third parties may inspect blowout preventers that seal a well in the event of a pressure surge.
The revisions would also allow rig operators to test equipment less frequently, to prevent “wear and tear.” All told, the changes would save industry more than $900 million over 10 years.
But environmental advocates and southern lawmakers of both parties worry the changes could lead to another deadly spill.
And for those folks who work in meat-packing plants, yep, more danger:
At the Agriculture Department, officials are weighing whether to raise line speeds at meat-packing plants, a change that worker advocates say would increase repetitive motion injuries and accidents. According to government data, the injury rates in meatpacking are already higher than in U.S. industries as a whole.
USDA in February proposed lifting line speed requirements in hog processing plants — part of an effort to streamline food safety inspections at the plants, which currently may process no more than 1,100 hogs per hour. Agriculture department officials wrote in the proposal that they seek to remove “unnecessary regulatory obstacles” and cut food safety inspection staff, saving taxpayers $8.7 million. The change would also would free up line inspectors to inspect other areas of the plant, they wrote.
But “common sense would tell you [that] you cannot increase line speeds at a fast, repetitive motion and not expect injuries to go up,” said Mark Lauritsen, director of meat packing and food processing for the United Food and Commercial Workers.
Basically, wherever you work, the Trump administration is trying to make it more dangerous:
At the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Trump officials are seeking to loosen reporting requirements for injury and illness data from large companies. A rule proposed in July in would relieve companies with 250workers or more from a previous obligation to submit detailed injury and illness data, which OSHA had intended to publish online.
“Companies will have an easier time hiding injuries and illnesses,” said Debbie Berkowitz, a former ObamaOSHA official and director of worker safety and health for the National Employment Law Project. “This is on top of the fact that OSHA’s presence in the workplace is declining.”
A NELP study released in June found that OSHA enforcement fell from 2017 to 2018, after Trump took office.
We spend $700 billion a year on national defense on the premise that it ensures our safety. But, meanwhile, the Trump administration is literally endangering our safety here at home by trying to weaken environmental and occupational protections and regulatory agencies. This has become a life or death issue, and it should be treated with the same seriousness as national defense. If we can’t protect ourselves from environmental and occupational danger here at home, what good is defending from dangers abroad?