The Trump administration has promised to give individual states more power to set their own strategies for curbing air and water pollution.
But states may not be up to the job: A whopping 30 states have cut their environmental budgets over the past decade, a new study found.
And it's raising concerns among environmental advocates about whether states have enough resources to stop polluters.
"The bottom line is it's past time to give both the U.S. EPA and state agencies the resources they need to enforce our environmental laws," said Eric Schaeffer, head and co-founder of the Environmental Integrity Project, which conducted the analysis of anti-pollution programs in the Lower 48 states published late last week.
Half of all U.S. states cut their budgets for environmental programs by more than 10 percent when adjusted for inflation between 2008 to 2018, the study found. During that decade-long stretch, state environmental protection agencies shed more than 4,400 jobs. The analysis only looked at state-level programs combatting pollution, and did not include those that manage wildlife or state parks.
In Pennsylvania, during a decade of growth in natural gas production in the Marcellus shale formation in Pennsylvania, state officials slashed funding for pollution control efforts by 16 percent even as the overall state budget grew by 18 percent.
And in Texas, which saw a similar boom in oil and gas extraction in the Permian Basin in the western half of the state, lawmakers cut funding at its Commission of Environmental Quality by 35 percent even as overall state spending grew by 41 percent.
“I knew there had been some cuts, but even I was alarmed to see” the report, said Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas.
The findings are especially significant given leaders at the federal Environmental Protection Agency under President Trump have said they want to grant states more enforcement responsibilities and then support them when needed.
Environmental advocates have argued that shifting responsibility to the state amounts to a retreat on pollution prevention, but Trump officials refer to this concept as “cooperative federalism.”
“Cooperative federalism is a cornerstone of the administrator’s approach,” Andrew Wheeler said during his 2017 nomination hearing to become the EPA's second-ranking officer under then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. (Wheeler became agency head after Pruitt stepped down the following year.) “We must work cooperatively with the states to ensure that the environment and public health are both protected.”
When asked about the cuts to state environmental spending, the EPA said in a statement that it is "fully committed to fulfilling our mission of protecting human health and the environment and working closely with our state, local, and tribal partners."
The cuts came as many states fell under Republican control after the tea-party wave election of 2010. The steepest decline in environmental funding occurred in Wisconsin under the budgetary knife of then-Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who was first elected that year.
But blue states were not spared as lawmakers sought to tighten belts after the Great Recession. New York cuts its environmental spending by nearly a third over the decade, while Illinois slashed funding for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency by a quarter over that same period.
“Clearly, the recession had some impact,” said Schaeffer, who previously served as director of EPA’s Office of Civil Enforcement. “Interestingly, for some states, because of the federal stimulus package, there was actually a flood of money in 2010-11.”
One of the few states to significantly increasing its environmental spending since 2008 was California. The nation's most populous state almost doubled funding for the California Environmental Protection Agency over the decade, from $2.4 billion to $4.2 billion, to both implement a new recycling law and launch a cap-and-trade program for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
But when it comes to California specifically, the Trump administration has been less keen on protecting states' rights. It's been more interested in asserting federal supremacy rather than allowing the big blue state to pursue pollution standards more aggressive than those of the federal government.
In September, the EPA revoked California’s long-standing authority to set stricter air pollution standards for cars and light trucks. The agency has even accused California of “failing to meet its obligations” to protect the environment because of the large homeless populations in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“It’s a terrible situation — that’s in Los Angeles and in San Francisco,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that month.
“They have to clean it up,” he added. “We can’t have our cities going to hell.”
— Trump taking on “elements of bathrooms”: Trump told reporters he has called on the EPA to look into water efficiency standards and low water pressure in sinks, showers and toilets.
- What Trump said: “We have a situation where we’re looking very strongly at sinks and showers and other elements of bathrooms where you turn the faucet on — in areas where there’s tremendous amounts of water,” he said. “ You turn on the faucet; you don’t get any water. They take a shower and water comes dripping out. It’s dripping out — very quietly dripping out. People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once. They end up using more water. So, EPA is looking at that very strongly, at my suggestion.”
- Trump also renewed his attack on energy-efficient lightbulbs: The president again criticized energy-efficient bulbs, saying that old-fashioned and energy-intensive bulbs were more flattering. “They got rid of the lightbulb that people got used to. The new bulb is many times more expensive,” he said. “And I hate to say it, it doesn't make you look as good. Of course, being a vain person, that's very important to me. It gives you an orange look. I don't want an orange look.”
— A glimpse of Pete Buttigieg’s work at McKinsey: The presidential candidate released a “summary” of his work at consulting firm McKinsey and Co. It included an outline of seven projects that included one examining “opportunities to sell more energy-efficient products for a ‘consumer goods retail chain,’” The Post’s Chelsea Janes reports. He also worked on a project co-sponsored in part by the EPA and Energy Department to find ways to address climate change with energy efficiency. In yet another project, he worked separately with an environmental nonprofit to research renewable energy.
- But is this disclosure enough? Buttigieg worked at the consulting giant for 2 1/2 years and has faced calls for more transparency around his work there. “In a statement issued by his campaign Friday evening, the South Bend, Ind., mayor also reiterated his request to McKinsey and Co. to free him from the confidentiality agreement that prevents him from disclosing further details,” Janes adds.
— PFAS provisions pulled from NDAA: Provisions to regulate a dangerous class of chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS — commonly referred to as “forever chemicals” — have been taken out of the annual National Defense Authorization Act. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters that negotiations were essentially complete, the Hill reports. “The House-passed version of the NDAA would have forced the cleanup of PFAS under the Superfund law and would have directed the EPA to set a maximum contaminant level,” per the report. PFAS provisions had recently emerged as a roadblock in negotiations over the bill.
- What happened: House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) nixed a bipartisan deal on the issue, E&E News reports, even after months of negotiations and a threat from Pelosi not to bring the annual defense authorization bill to the House floor without PFAS provisions. "This week, Democrats and Republicans were finally close to a good deal on PFAS provisions, but in a rush to quickly pass the NDAA, [Armed Services] Chairman [Adam] Smith [D-Wash.] — at the behest of Rep. Pallone — unilaterally took PFAS off the negotiating table," according to a source familiar with the NDAA negotiations.
- What’s next: If the final NDAA addresses PFAS, it will include a Senate version which would “give the military until 2023 to stop using firefighting foam containing PFAS — however, ships are exempt from this — and require military firefighters to undergo testing for the chemicals during physicals. The Senate's version would also allocate $10 million to the research and development of a firefighting foam that is free from the toxic chemicals,” per E&E.
— Another House climate bill expected: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters she expects the House Select Committee Climate Crisis to make a policy recommendation that will lead to another major climate change bill ahead of the 2020 election. “It's been an open question for months whether Democrats would hold a vote on broad decarbonization legislation, given the potential political risks and that Republicans still control the Senate,” E&E News reports. “Pelosi offered no specifics this morning about what potential broad legislation would look like or how House leaders would reconcile work in various committees.”
- To quote: “That is the purpose of the Select Committee, not just to be an academic endeavor, but to report to the legislative committees so that we can act upon it and build along the way, in the public, the fact that Congress is acting," Pelosi said.
A broad coalition of Hawaii businesses came together to fight for the survival of local jobs and beloved local brands. We care for our environment, but passing Honolulu City Council Bill 40 would hurt local businesses. Sign our petition at https://t.co/HAuDQmeyom pic.twitter.com/6naQyKYeoi— Chamber of Commerce (@cochawaii) November 6, 2019
— Perhaps the strictest ban on single-use plastics in the U.S.: The Honolulu City Council voted 7 to 2 to pass a bill to prohibit businesses and restaurants from using plastic utensils, plastic straws and polystyrene foam food containers on Hawaii’s most populated island, HuffPost reports. Nearly 70 percent of the state’s resident’s live on Oahu, where the single-use plastic ban will take effect in phases.
— Oceans are losing oxygen: A report released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature found the oxygen levels in oceans worldwide dropped 2 percent between 1960 and 2010, the New York Times reports. And climate change is largely to blame.
- Why it’s important: “This loss of oxygen in the ocean is significant enough to affect the planetary cycling of elements such as nitrogen and phosphorous which are ‘essential for life on Earth,’ [report editor Dan Laffoley] said …. Warming temperatures also affect the ability of ocean water to mix, so that the oxygen absorbed on the top layer doesn’t properly get down into the deeper ocean. And what oxygen is available gets used up more quickly because marine life uses more oxygen when temperatures are warmer.”
— PG&E reaches multibillion-dollar wildfire settlement: The company said it reached an approximately $13.5 billion settlement to pay to victims of the devastating wildfires that killed dozens and destroyed homes. “The massive settlement could compensate tens of thousands of victims who have had to recover and rebuild after losing homes, businesses and loved ones in the blazes,” The Post’s Derek Hawkins reports. “It would also mark a step forward in the beleaguered utility’s attempts to emerge from bankruptcy in the coming months.”
- The reaction: “We are pleased that PG&E has finally admitted that the victims’ losses exceed $13.5 billion, and that PG&E is responsible,” Robert Julian, a lawyer from the firm BakerHostetler representing the victims, said in a statement.
- What this means for the company: “PG&E said the latest deal would put it on a path to emerge from bankruptcy by June 30, the deadline to participate in a fund created by the state legislature that California utilities will use to pay for future wildfires linked to their equipment,” Hawkins writes. “ … Even if the settlement is approved, however, PG&E will still have to reconcile with a frustrated and distrustful public and government officials who want to rein the company in.”
— What happened when a Boston suburb tried to block new oil and gas hookups: Brookline, Mass. became the first municipality on the East Coast to ban gas hookups in new construction projects starting in 2021, “a move proponents say will help the suburb of 58,000 people achieve its ambitious goal of zeroing out greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,” HuffPost reports. It was an effort that the fossil fuel industry tried to spoil at the last minute. Still, other communities probably will follow suit.
- Why it’s notable: “The behind-the-scenes effort in [Brookline] is part of a growing industry push to thwart municipal gas regulations, which are becoming increasingly common as local governments look to do their part to combat global climate change,” per the report.
- The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on research and innovation to address the critical materials challenge on Tuesday.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the upcoming implementation of the International Maritime Organization’s new global sulfur standard for marine fuels on Tuesday.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a business meeting on pending legislation on Thursday.
- The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee holds a hearing on the U.S. Coast Guard Arctic strategic outlook on Thursday.
—"One of the most precious and important fossil sites in the world”: Christina Chung illustrated the art to accompany this piece by The Post’s Sarah Kaplan on the Burgess Shale, a massive Canadian fossil trove. “Weirdness seems to be the defining characteristic of Burgess Shale organisms,” Kaplan writes.