Surprise! Scott Pruitt’s EPA Uses Bad Economics on the Clean Water Rule

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In the Aftertime, when our descendants are fighting over the last scraps of arable land, this fucking Okie hump is going to be one of history’s primary villains.

Scott Pruitt is not an honest man. He has one core belief–that extraction industries (and really any industry) should be able to do whatever they want to maximize profits. His ancillary beliefs–that there should be no regulations, that labor or environmental protections are evil, that climate change is a hoax, that we the poor and undeserving should choke on the ashes of capitalism–all flow from that.

All of his dishonesty and petty idiocy come from this. He’s an industry shill who literally copy-and-pasted comments extraction flacks wrote for him about EPA regulations he was fighting (before he was put in charge of the damn thing). He forces his department to self-censor the truth or lose their jobs (many choose the later). He replaces scientists with industry goons. He’s says it is “insensitive” to talk about climate change being a cause of more powerful and destructive because he knows it is inarguable, and so hides behind a veneer of compassion for environmental victims his whole career proves a lie.

He’s one of the primary disasters of the Trump regime, coming in close behind or ahead of Sessions, depending on where you stand on things. I’ll consider them tied. It flows from the top, of course. Just like in Pruitt’s EPA, dishonesty has begun to affect the noble institution with every one of his idiotic appointments.

We can see that inherent dishonesty in a recent review of the Clean Water Rule of 2015 (this is also known as Waters of the United States Act, or just WOTUS). The administration has been trying to overturn these regulations, which changed what water could be regulated by the federal government. The definition was expanded to include many irrigation channels and small streams.

To many, this was big government intrusion at its worst. And to be fair, I find that argument sympathetic. Irrigation channels often run on private land. The problem, of course, is that they don’t end there. Water seeps into aquifers or it runs rivulets of phosphate into lakes, creating murderous algae blooms, or it is just wasted. But, more regulations could be onerous to farmers, who already eke out a meager existence.

Who was on their side? Well, nearly everyone.

President Donald Trump made repeated campaign promises to repeal WOTUS, which is opposed by a variety of industrial sectors, including agriculture, iron and steel manufacturing, home builders, and mining groups. Industry associations representing those sectors argue it would trigger requirements to obtain costly federal permits to dredge wetlands and streams that they say fall under state and local laws already.

Now, some argue, maybe we should protect wetlands more. It’s a compelling argument these days. So who knows what to do? But no fear! That’s why the EPA commissioned a study. And they found that the economic burden would be super expensive. There’s just, well, one problem. From the Commies at Bloomberg.

The Trump administration was sloppy in how it estimated the economic impact of a proposal to repeal an Obama-era water pollution regulation, relying on data and assumptions that industry previously criticized, according to economists and regulatory analysts interviewed by Bloomberg BNA.

Chief among their complaints was that the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used recession-era economic data and failed to account for some of the benefits of leaving the 2015 Clean Water Rule in place. Their economic analysis even drew criticism from David Sunding, a University of California-Berkeley agricultural economist who was hired by industry groups to counter theanalysis the Obama administration used to back its regulation.

“I am not normally this dismissive, but this is the worst regulatory analysis I have ever seen,” Sunding told Bloomberg BNA in telephone interview.

It’s worth repeating that Sunding had been hired by industry groups, in large part because he criticized the conclusions of the Obama administration, saying they had used faulty data to overstate the benefits. But then the Trump admin under Pruitt used the same numbers to come up with even worse results.

When the program was first proposed, it was under one set of economic conditions (coming out of the recession). That skewed the benefits, because it started from an artificially low baseline. But Pruitt’s EPA used that same baseline, and ignored any benefits. Bloomberg can explain.

The Trump administration used the 2013 estimates as a starting point, assuming that the costs of that regulation would be avoided by a repeal and the benefits of the regulation would be foregone. The proposed repeal was estimated to result in $162 million to $476 million in avoided costs, while the estimated foregone benefits range from $34 million to $73 million per year.

In the 2013 analysis, the EPA estimated the annual costs of implementing the water jurisdiction rule to range from $133.7 million to $277 million, but those costs were outweighed by annual projected benefits of between $300.7 million and $397.6 million.

The EPA’s 2017 approach drew the ire of economists because no recent permitting data was used to estimate the economic impact of the proposed repeal. Instead, the analysis used data from fiscal years 2009 and 2010, a time when U.S. economic activity was at its lowest since World War II, particularly in the manufacturing, residential, and commercial development sectors.

Basically, the Obama estimates might have been wrong, but the Trump ones were almost deliberately misleading. Or, knowing them, not almost.

I err on the side of WOTUS, clearly. But it is worth looking into. We do need to know the impact of everything we do. Scott Pruitt sort of agrees. He thinks we should know the negative impact of any regulation. He doesn’t really care to know any of the benefits, or care about the long-and-short term destruction of our environment. That sort of impact doesn’t matter.

The only impact that matters is if business is happy. For some reason they don’t, or won’t, see the ground crumbling beneath their feet. They don’t see the flames licking up the sides of the house. They feel the lash of the storm, but assume it is passing, or pretend their boat can get out of the way. Theya re depserate and greedy murderers, and Scott Pruitt is their chief enabler.

If we’re lucky enough to have history in 100 years, his name will be cursed.

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Some Good News About Asian Carp…For Now (Or: Why Trump’s Budget Ruins Everything)

In this 2012 photo, an Asian carp, jolted by an electric current from a research boat, jumps from the Illinois River near Havana, Ill., during a study on the fish’s population.

So, the Great Lakes actually got some good news this week, when it turned out that the canal leading up to Lake Michigan was free of Asian Carp. There had been a two-week monitoring of the area following the discovery of a carp in the Calumet River.

This is good news because if the Asian Carp get into the lake, they’ll be able to get into all the Great Lakes. They have no natural predators around here, and are expected to be able to out-compete local species for food and resources. They could potentially change the entire ecosystem of the lake, ruining commerical fishing (there isn’t much of a market for them right now), and having huge repercussions both environmentally and economically.

If you aren’t familiar, these are big suckers that jump out of the water when they hear a baot, and can do serious damage to boats and people. They fly around and can break your nose. They hurt when they hit you.

They were brought to America for fish farms, but then during a flood escaped into a river, and have worked their way up. Parts of the Illinois, for example, are completely choked with these monsters. Check this out.

It’s super unpleasant. Even if you don’t care about the ecological ramifications of them dominating the Great Lakes (and you should, what’s wrong with you?) just imagine the havoc it will wreak on boating, on the lakes and their tributaries. It’s a nightmare.

That’s why the US has spent a lot of money to keep them out of the Great Lakes, especially on the the Cal-Sag Channel, and the Calumet River. and the Sanitary and Ship Canal, where there is an electronic fence south of the city. And everyone agrees that’s a good thing. Who could be against it?

Oh, for the love of god

The alarming discovery of an 8-pound, 28-inch adult silver carp comes as President Donald Trump is proposing a federal budget that would gut funding for efforts to block Asian carp and other invasive species from the world’s largest body of fresh surface water.

The Trump administration also has refused to release a government study on new proposals to prevent carp from moving upstream from the Illinois River, where the fish already have wreaked havoc on the ecosystem.

Seriously, what the hell? How is it possible to be on the wrong side of everything? How is it possible to be on the wrong side of this? If you had asked me a year ago, I wouldn’t have even imagined there could be a wrong side. I didn’t think there was a pro-Asian-carp-in-the-Lakes contingency.  Especially not from someone so concerned about keeping America safe from foreigners!

But then, they manage to be on the wrong side of everything, especially when it comes to the Great Lakes. They are trying to gut the Great Lakes Research Initiative, even though it will hurt their white working class base the most.  They even manage to be against making sure ballast holds don’t bring any more invasive species, which is almost impressive. You think they spend their whole days on operatic evil like ending health care or suppressing the vote, but nope: they take time to block common-sense ballast measures.

There’s been some talk about closing the Sanitarity and Ship  Canal. As most of you know, these were built in order to use lake water to wash the filth of the city down the Des Plaines and Illinois toward the Mississippi, and on to St. Louis, which: haha, screw St. Louis. The great shipping and sanitation channels changed the flow of the water, an audacious move, and the biggest diversion in Great Lakes history (which now could be a casus belli). 

But it did more than that. It erased the divide between the Mississippi Basin and the Great Lakes Basin, which means that invasive species in Arkansas can make their way up the vast river system into the greatest body of freshwater in the world. That’s why some people are advocating closing them down.

It’s an equally audacious plan, to be sure, and I doubt it will ever happen. But that’s the kind of big thinking that is needed to prevent a catastrophe. And that is what makes it equally catastrophic that we are being led by the smallest thinkers in the world, a whole party of petty, short-sighted, gleefully-destructive fools who inevitably take the most destructive possible course on every issue.

Protecting the Great Lakes smacks of environmentalism, and so they won’t do it. It’s pure nihilism. May they all be forced to paddleboard through a swarm of madly agitated carp.

EPA Replaces Scientists With Industry; Embraces Cartoon Villainy

 

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“Yeah, but those regulations were super onerous…”

 

The phrase “you can’t make this up” is overused, since these days, all you have to do is imagine the worst possible idea being enacted by the worst possible people, and you have a pretty close approximation of reality. Right, NY Times?

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency has dismissed at least five members of a major scientific review board, the latest signal of what critics call a campaign by the Trump administration to shrink the agency’s regulatory reach by reducing the role of academic research.

A spokesman for the E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, said he would consider replacing the academic scientists with representatives from industries whose pollution the agency is supposed to regulate, as part of the wide net it plans to cast. “The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” said the spokesman, J. P. Freire.

What’s interesting here is how they don’t even pretend to be talking about citizens anymore. Normally, they say things like “those egghead bureaucrat scientists in Washington DC don’t understand the kind of water that we enjoy here in Mudville. Our citizens are just fine with a little bit of cadmium in their soup.” But that’s not even what J.P. Freire is saying. He’s talking about the “regulated community”, i.e., the businesses themselves. It might be a different definition of “community” than you or I understand, but remember, my friend: corporations are people.

There’s not even anything to unpack here; there’s not even the tribute vice pays to virtue. They are straight-up saying that any regulations will be vetted by the people whose profits are impacted by regulations, and how that is the only concern.

It’s a pretty clear baseline. What matters is the impact regulations have on the bottom line of the company. The baseline isn’t what deregulated pollutions has on the humans who lives around the company. That is, at best, secondary. That’s not the impact that matters.

So it doesn’t matter, just to take a quick jaunt around recent headlines, that:

None of that matters (the attack on indigenous rights might actually be a bonus for these jackals). What we need are fewer regulations, and they should be vetted by the industries themselves.

It’s easy to see the counterarguments. More regulations are job-killing, and these plants and factories and industries are the lifeblood of the community, and if those science pinheads continue to ram their globalist climate-hysteric ideologies down our throats, we’ll be forced to close shop and go pollute Mexico. And why should the Mexicans get all our good pollution?

It’s a seductive argument, except it is also a completely phony one. The choice isn’t between “pollution and jobs”; it is between “pollution or slightly reduced profits.” It’s always been a lie that a company can’t follow simple environmental regulations. They made the same argument when smokestacks were regulated to reduce deadly smog, and industry didn’t collapse. It’s a choice made by companies to chase greater profits by moving to deregulated countries.

Reducing or eliminating regulations doesn’t actually help anyone. There will always be a place that cares even less about its citizens, that slashes regulations, that lets you dump paint right into the well. That the US is rushing to join these countries isn’t pro-worker; it is showing absolute contempt for the worker. It’s saying “you can keep your job, but only if we can lower wages, kill your collective bargaining rights, and poison you and your family, working you until you die young or are too broken to be of use.”

That’s Scott Pruitt’s vision of the future. It’s another reason why this administration has to be resisted at every step. Everything they do is carcinogenic. That’s unfortunately too often literal.

Trump’s Great Lakes Policies Are Terrible For His Rust Belt Voters

Republic Steel - Now known as Riverbend (BEFORE)

The people who this hurts aren’t latte-sipping coastal elites

There’s been no doubt that all of Donald Trump’s plans (at least the ones that aren’t designed to hurt Muslims and Mexicans) stick it especially hard to his voting base. Gutting the ACA will throw millions more into uncertainty and poverty. He’s destroying programs that reduce misery in Appalachia (while obviously not doing anything to “restore coal”, because that’s impossible).  He’s gutting Meals on Wheels, which I don’t remember being the province of smug liberals.

He’s doing this because he’s a Republican, of course, and a tremendous liar, both of which facts eluded (and in a way were hidden from) the people that voted for him. But regardless.

One area where this is especially true is in the Great Lakes, home of the Rust Belt, and the symbolic heart of Trump’s victory. On the surface, it is easy to see why. For decades, after the labor/environmental split, which was more a product of a few mistakes and deliberate divide-and-conquer strategies of management rather than an inevitable corporate outcome, “green” policies have been perceived as harmful, and even antithetical, to the white working class.

It’s a buncha eggheads at the EPA and college professors and long-hairs who are stopping us from working, with their regulations. The culture wars mixed with the regulatory battles (and are really part of the same phenomenon), to the point where anything that smacked of environmentalism was seen as un-American. That’s why Trump (like every other Republican) gets applause when he talks about destroying the EPA: he’s attacking BIG GOVERNMENT and he’s ANNOYING LIBERALS.

But the funny thing is that people who are opposed to all this green stuff in the main tend to like it when it is by their homes. That’s why Trump’s Great Lakes policies, in which he is going to gut the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, have proven to be so controversial.

The GLRI is a $3 billion dollar fund started in 2010 by the noted hater of the working man, Barack Obama, to improve water quality, clean up and manage pollution, fight invasive species, and promote responsible waterfront development in the Great Lakes, especially the heavily industrialized areas.

These are Rust Belt areas in which the land was poisoned and the water destroyed. These are areas like Buffalo, Erie, Cleveland, Detroit, and others. But they aren’t just big blue cities: they are the innumerable small towns that have their own shuttered factories whose legacies are pollution and waste. And, even in those “blue” cities, there are the fabled white working class, whose lives are destroyed, are whose lakes are algal disasters.

The GLRI has been working not just to undo that legacy, but to bring the lakefronts back to life. One of the most remarkable things about Chicago is that, as ruthlessly and dirtily capitalistic as this city was, we never built to the lake, keeping it public and beautiful. As such, the waterfront is the heart of the city, and helps bring in millions of tourists.

Other cities can get in on that. The GLRI has not just been great for the Lakes environmentally, but it has had the effect of letting cities use their waterfronts for recreation, commercial fishing, and gatherings. Look at this image from the Niagara River (which is part of the Great Lakes system).

I mean, yeah, you can see the rot around it. But that’s the same area from the top  picture! Now it’s an area where people hang out and can have jobs. It’s a tax base. It’s a place where life can be better.

For another great example of this, look at Erie, PA. It’s a town that was dying (and in parts, still is). But the GLRI helped clean the waterfront, bringing it back to life, a process Ohio had started but couldn’t afford on its own. Now there are big hotels, and a happening downtown with good restaurants and bars and stores. That’s economic progress. That’s turnaround.

And now that’s going to be thrown away. How nuts is this? It’s so nuts that even Scott Pruitt promised to keep funding the GLRI. Trump’s budget, the dream of Republicans, is so cruel and insane that even people who truly hate environmentalism are being wrong-footed by it. It’s pure nightmarish ideology.

What’s interesting (and predictable in a cheering, if also cynical way), is that Great Lakes Republican are angry. Scott Walker, Rick Snyder, Rob Portman and others, who always talk about federal waste, think the GLRI should stay. (And remember, Scott Walker is generally fine selling off most of his state to the highest bidder.) And they’re right!

What we see here, of course, is that wasteful overreach is only wasteful overreach when it doesn’t impact you. These GOP governors and Senators know that they need the Lakes, both for drinking water and for their state’s economies. They’d be fine cutting the EPA budget for other areas. But not for the Lakes.

This, finally, is the ultimate in GOP cynicism, and I think paves a way forward for liberal environmentalism to reconnect with labor. After all, the Trump budget was made from his priorities and from those of Washington think tanks who have been wanting to destroy the EPA for decades. They’ve managed to make that seem like a good thing for the working class, but now that they have total power, the truth is known.

They think the working class should live with dead rivers and unusable lakes. They think the ground should be ruined and salted with chemicals. They think that the government has no need to help make up for the wastes of industrialization, in which the white working class gave their lives, only to be left with poverty and poison. Someone else made money off of it. Now you have to live there.

Remember, the people making these decisions don’t live in Detroit. They don’t live in Erie. They sure as shit don’t live in Buffalo. They’re rich people in think tanks who think that the poor and economically anxious should stay that way, and if cancer is the price, well, it’s your choice if you can’t afford health care. Trump, and the people making his budget, aren’t just cruel. They’re snobs. 

Water Wednesday: Wisconsin’s Walker Woes and Things That Don’t Begin With W. Like Lake Erie

 

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I’m sure there’s a metaphor here somewhere, but my first thought is: whoa! A deer in Lake Erie? What the hell? Image (and explanation) from Cleveland Scene

A quick rundown of some top water stories, which remind us that while we can impact nature, we’re really not in charge. 

I realize that there is a weird-seeming contradiction in saying that we can bring great change to nature, but that we’re still at its mercy. But when we say “great change”, we don’t mean permanent. The earth will eventually repair itself, and time will smooth over our cataclysms. We just won’t be here. But you want the real image? Imagine a 7-yr-old jamming a hatpin into his mother’s ankle. He can do that, and cause great damage, but really, the storm will redound upon him.

So let’s start this week’s “hey, who cares about clean water?” news with Wisconsin.

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“Please find attached a short white paper with some talking points that you might find useful to cut and paste…”

 

“I’m just thrilled as a bird dog in an aviary to be destroying the environment for my corporate buddies!” 

That line is from an email sent to Scott Pruitt by “Roderick Hastie, a lobbyist at Hunton & Williams, a law firm that represents major utilities, including Southern Company, urging Mr. Pruitt’s office to file comments on a proposed E.P.A. rule related to so-called Startup, Shutdown and Malfunction Emissions.”

I like it because it doesn’t even pretend that Pruitt might want to think independently. It’s not “some thoughts that might inform your thinking” or “a few suggestions on combatting this rule”, but “here’s exactly what you should say.” It’s openly disdainful. And Scott Pruitt loves every moment of it.

That’s the big takeaway from the data dump, the thousands of emails detailing his master/sub relationship to energy. This man is one of the great climate villains of our time, because he’s willing to climb to power specifically to propitiate the short-term profit hunger of the extraction energy. And now he’s the head of the EPA.

(In a way, maybe the delay on the emails is a good thing, since anyone else running the EPA would be nearly as venal, though not as transparently so. Maybe this will blow up and consume his time, and weaken his attempts to weaken the agency. But there is still a lot of damage he can get done, a lot of long-term terrifying damage. Luckily, the working white class doesn’t need clean air or water. They just need liberals to stop being so condescending, and everything will be all right.)