By John Rogers, Union of Concerned Scientists
President Trump’s new directive to cut two regulations for every new one makes as much sense as the call from the former head of his EPA transition team to cut our lead environmental agency in half: zero. If Mr. Trump and his team are really in a cut-stuff-in-half mode, there are a whole lot of much better targets for those societal scissors. Here are a few of them.
Mr. Trump’s ill-conceived proclamation on regulations is an idea that Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, has rightly called “reckless”, “absurd”, and “illegal”. With the many (many) ways government agencies and regulations make our lives better, safer, healthier, it seems clear that this proposal hurts us all, from our children on up.
The new executive order echoes a statement by Mr. Trump’s erstwhile EPA transition head and vocal climate change denier, Myron Ebell, who recently advocated for cutting the EPA in half as a starting point: “Let’s aim for half and see how it works out, and then maybe we’ll want to go further.” Better idea: Let’s not.
What should we really target?
There is something appealing, though, in applying that 50% idea to the real ills that plague us in 2017, including in the energy and environment spaces, and particularly related to the EPA, as near-term targets. Here are just a few ideas of where that could work:
- Half the air pollution – In the power sector alone, we’ve got a range of pollutants like sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and mercury to worry about. We’ve made a lot of progress since Richard Nixon signed the Clean Air Act into law in 1970, but we’ve still got a way to go—and any improvements will require a robust EPA.
- Half the water pollution – While we’re at it, let’s cut down on bad stuff going into the lakes, rivers, and streams that we count on for so much in our daily lives. That includes thermal pollution from power plants that haven’t kicked the water habit. We know how to help. But we’re going to need the EPA, and the Clean Water Act.
- Half the carbon emissions – A 50% cut would be a terrific down payment on our long-term need to cut emissions of the heat-trapping gases that cause climate change. UCS has actually looked at much deeper carbon reductions in the power sector, based on ramping up low-carbon options like wind, solar, and nuclear power. A strong tool for achieving real reductions over the next dozen years, the Clean Power Plan, resides with… wait for it… the EPA.
- Half the natural gas risk – While renewables like wind and solar have made incredible gains in US electricity production in recent years, low natural gas prices have had a lot of states doubling down on that one fuel. That means that some states are pretty exposed to the risks of natural gas overreliance, with potentially bad implications for their consumers. There are plenty of ways of reducing those risks as we’ve laid out for the incoming head of… well, the Department of Energy.
- Half the oil use – If we’re talking energy, let’s not forget petroleum. My colleagues working on transportation practically invented the cut-stuff-in-half genre, with a terrific campaign for just these occasions. Half the Oil shows the way to get there through efficiency and innovation. Who has enabled efficiency standards for cars, trucks, and big rigs? Yup: the EPA.
- Half the inequity – While we’re fixing all these other things, we need to keep a strong eye on how the benefits get spread around, and make sure that we’re attacking head-on the unbalances that persist. Communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately affected by power plants, and by climate impacts. Environmental justice doesn’t just happen, and we have plenty of reminders that addressing it’ll take smart choices all around—starting with who we get to head the EPA.
- Half the monkeying with science – As more than 5,000 scientists (and counting) have declared in an open letter to Mr. Trump and Congress, “…people benefit when our nation’s policies are informed by science unfettered by inappropriate political or corporate influence.” Let’s cut the monkeying—including at the EPA (and including with really important stuff like climate science).
And, as a bonus:
- Half the ill-considered tweets – While we’re at it. I’m not actually on Twitter, but somehow each of those 140-character gems from on high keeps wheedling its way into the public consciousness, inciting international and domestic firestorms. I’d be okay with 50% less of that—either half as many tweets or each only half as long. (How much trouble can you possibly get into in 70 characters…?)
What should be clear is that, in each of the above areas, a 50% cut would be only the next step. We have the tools to go much further.
What should be equally clear is that Mr. Trump’s proposed approach—“using a bludgeon when a scalpel would work better,” in the words of Ken Kimmell—won’t cut it. (Though it could mangle it beyond recognition.) Government regulations play a key role in our society, and we’re going to want them to continue to do that, no matter who’s sitting in the White House.
So, how about it? If Mr. Trump is truly of a mind to cut stuff, how about weighing in with more suggestions about what more could we usefully add to his 50%-off chopping list?