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Our Daily Planet: Scott Pruitt contradicts Scott Pruitt plus See results from our first poll — the ODP Environmental Anxiety Index
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Friday, April 27th, 2018

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Photo: Pete Marovich/New York Times
Pruitt's Ethics Under Fire - But Only By Dems

Yesterday EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt provided testimony before both the House Energy and Commerce and Appropriations Committees and held up fairly well under the intense questioning regarding his ethical conduct and profligate use of taxpayer resources. Committee Democrats drilled down on practices such as Pruitt's $50-a-night condo deal with the wife of an energy lobbyist, reports that Pruitt reassigned staff critical of his spending habits, his $43,000 private phone booth, first-class travel and unauthorized raises to staff. they landed many grazing punches, but no knock out blows.  Committee Republicans, largely avoided pressing Pruitt for answers on his scandals, preferring instead to praise the administrator for his deregulatory actions over the last year (see below).

“Would you agree that public officials should be held to the highest standards of ethical conduct?” asked Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO). Pruitt responded that he did, but avoided providing any details about his involvement in wasteful spending at the agency. Additionally, after some grilling by Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY), Pruitt admitted that he did know of the raises for his staff, but delegated the action to his chief of staff and was unaware of the amounts involved. Pruitt continually did the "bob and weave" -- shifting the blame to his aides for installing the phone booth, booking first-class travel, and arranging his $50/night condo. His testimony of blissful ignorance seemed to portray him as the head of a federal agency who was not aware of basic decisions being made around him.

Why This Matters: First, Pruitt's actions and testimony about them demonstrate his indifference to the sheer waste and abuse he oversaw--in the end he is exactly the sort of politician his boss (President Trump) pledged to oust with his "drain the swamp" campaign rhetoric. Second, the fact that the powerful Republican-controlled House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hasn't subpoenaed Pruitt to testify about his ethics scandals (so far they've only issued a letter requesting "more information" ) is more than troublesome.  It demonstrates that some of the most powerful Congressional Republicans are willing to look the other way when it comes to allegations of abuse, fraud, and mismanagement by the Trump Administration.  If this had been Clinton's EPA Administrator, these hearings would have been a firing squad.
Photo: PowerCarrot via Reddit

 Regulatory Roll Backs

Graphic:  Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine
Republicans Stand Behind Pruitt's Regulatory Roll Backs

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, took some heat from Democrats in Congress today for his rollbacks of clean air and water and climate change regulations, but the Republicans had his back.  Indeed, Pruitt's job security seems to rest squarely on his ability so far to undo many of the Obama Administration's regulatory achievements, thus keeping President Trump's campaign promises on deregulation.  For example, Rep. Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota, lauded Pruit, saying, “[t]he greatest sin you’ve committed, if any, is you’ve actually done what President Trump ran on, won on and what he’s commissioned you to do.” Indeed, when the Democrats severely criticized Pruitt, according to The Hill, Republicans came to his defense, portraying him as the victim of political grandstanding.  

Democratic efforts to take Pruitt to task for his deregulatory policies were limited.  When Democrats asked him about the announcement earlier this week limiting the science the agency could rely upon, he defended that decision as providing greater transparency.  Pruitt defended the Administration’s efforts to repeal the Clean Power Plan, former President Barack Obama’s signature plan to curb greenhouse gases. by falsely claiming that the plan had been struck down by the Supreme Court, when in fact, the Court delayed the plan but did not rule on the merits.  Similarly, Pruitt dodged questions about his decision to reverse the Obama fuel economy standards, saying that "at present" he was not planning to revoke California's independent authority to impose its own standards, but would not say definitively whether that was a final position. 

Why This Matters:  Of course Pruitt's ethical lapses and close ties to industry smack of the "pay to play" scandals that have so poisoned the public's faith in government institutions.  But all the while, the public's grave concerns about the real issues -- that they are not being protected from toxic air and unsafe drinking water and pollution in the soil -- are being ignored or even applauded by their representatives in Washington.  Congressman Frank Pallone (an NJ Democrat) tried to impress upon Administrator Pruitt that people's lives hang in the balance (watch it here), but to no avail. Right now, the Administrator and this Administration have lost sight of the fact that "protection" is so central to the EPA's mission that it's in the agency's name.   

To Go Deeper:  We highly recommend Robert Redford's op/ed in the Washington Post.  


 ODP Poll

Environmental Anxiety Growing Under Trump

Today, Our Daily Planet – in a partnership with Change Research – is releasing its first “Environmental Anxiety Index:” a measure of how Americans feel about the state of our environment and the impact that government policy has on our land, air, ocean, and wildlife.   The Environmental Anxiety Index is a research tool that surveyed 1,000 adults in the United States who were representative of the population as a whole.
What the Environmental Anxiety Index found:  Americans are increasingly anxious about the state of our environment, worried that environmental protection is eroding and that our environmental conditions are getting worse. 
While environmental news may not get front page attention, voters are aware of regulatory rollbacks and industry's undue influence and are deeply concerned.
  • By a margin of 59%-40%, voters agreed that “protection of our water, air, and open spaces is more at risk now than it was” two years ago.   And this was not a strictly partisan observation:  independent voters agreed, 62%-38% that the environment is at increasing risk now.   Even one in seven people who said they voted for Trump in 2016 agreed with this statement.
  • By a margin of 54%-28%, voters agreed that we are on “the wrong track when it comes to preserving and protecting our planet for future generations.”   Once again, independent voters agreed with this concern (58-26%), and even one-in-five Trump voters likewise believed that we are on the wrong track when it comes to environmental protection.
Voters also told us that they want to hear more about environmental issues, saying by 55%-26% margin, that they do not see enough coverage of “environmental and wildlife conservation issues” in the media.   That’s one reason why we are committed to bring you Our Daily Planet every weekday, and why we ask you to tell friends, coworkers, and neighbors about us. 

Why This Matters:   At a time when our country is deeply divided on most issues, it is heartening to see widespread agreement on the significance of changes in environmental policy – and disheartening to see that that agreement reflects growing anxiety and concern.  It’s not just that people think things are bad: it’s that they think they are getting worse, and are on the wrong track.  And given that this view is shared overwhelmingly by independent voters, and even some Trump supporters, this view cannot long be ignored by elected officials.   

Special thanks to our partners 
on this poll, Change Research.  Change Research is working to democratize access to public opinion research by enabling deeper, more frequent dives into public opinion on issues like the environment.  We hope to update our Environmental Anxiety index regularly.  


Thousands of wooden casks of aging Tabasco mash. Photo: Michael Isaac Stein
Hot Sauce in Hot Water 

America's favorite hot sauce could be in danger because rising sea levels in Louisiana are threatening the island where Tobasco sauce has been produced since the 1860s. Avery Island is only 152 feet above sea level and is still one of the highest points in the Gulf Coast. As Earther reported, it sits atop an enormous salt dome that elevates the land above the swamps and bayous that surround it. A generation ago, it was unthinkable that this natural fortress could be overcome by water but Hurricane Rita’s threatening surges were a symptom of an immense shift in the Gulf Coast, the result of longstanding harsh land use practices and climate change.

Overall, Louisiana is losing land at a rate of one football field every 100 minutes due to rising waters. Marshes that used to provide a barrier between the coastline and the Gulf of Mexico have become severely degraded and are now exposing the cities and towns of Southern Louisiana directly to storm surges. For about 100 years, tens of thousands of miles of Louisiana wetlands have been dredged to build canals and lay oil and gas pipelines. The dredging carved paths for saltwater intrusion, which kills the freshwater vegetation holding the land together.

Why This Matters: Aside from a beloved condiment coming under threat, this story illustrates how vulnerable coastal areas are to climate change and the drastic measures that will have to be implemented to buy these areas a bit more time. The McIlhenny family (descendants of founder Edmund McIlhenny) are fighting to save the island to which their family history and business are inextricably linked. Aside from erecting a 17ft earth levee, complete with a pump system the company has planted cord grass to plug up old canals and fortify the wetlands as well as investing in water control structures to regulate the wetlands’ delicate circulatory system. The family also hunt the invasive feral hogs that erode the swamps. 

Since Tabasco is a privately owned business, the family has ensured that they remain dedicated to a legacy of conservation. In the 19th century, E.A. McIlhenny founded a wildfowl refuge on the family property that helped bring Snowy Egrets back from the verge of extinction. The McIlhennys have donated thousands of acres of land on and near Avery Island to the Audubon Society, and in 1971, the family adopted the motto “Man and Environment in Balance.”

Go Deeper: Watch how Tabasco sauce gets made, it's a pretty impressive process! 


 Art: Valentine DeLandro via Amplifier
Climate Superheroes in Comic Book Form

For those of us who work in the world of environmental conservation and climate change, every day feels a bit like the David vs. Goliath storyline in a comic book -- there are battles to be fought to protect the fate of the earth against powerful special interests who have many more "weapons" at their disposal.  A new series of comic book figures commissioned by the non-profit Amplifier really makes the point.  Ecowatch partnered with Yes! Magazine to bring these fantastic artworks to a broader audience and to help us see the heroes who are fighting for us on these issues.    

This "comic art" series (#MyClimateHero) portraying leaders of the modern climate justice movement went public on Earth Day.  Amplifier is a Seattle-based art design lab that facilitates art aimed at amplifying the voices of the social change movement through art and community engagement.   Amplifier believes that there are a lot of misconceptions about what climate leadership looks like, or who fits the mold of an environmentalist. #MyClimateHero tells the story of modern climate leaders building unprecedented cooperation, driving action and creating space for those most impacted to share their knowledge and perspectives.

Who are their superheroes?  Just to name a few: President of the Hip Hop Caucus Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr.,  Explorer and Founder of Sea Legacy Paul Nicklen, Nathaniel Stinnett of the Environmental Voter Project, the 21 kids in the #YouthVGov lawsuit, and Pope Francis.  All great leaders.  

Why This Matters:  To put it bluntly, we need some heroes!  We really need the Justice League of environmental superheroes!  We need leaders who will speak up, work together, and galvanize the broad public support for environmental protection that we KNOW is out there.  How do we know? See our Environmental Anxiety Index above.

To See More Superheroes:  You can see the 
whole list and read about all their great work and their organizations - just click here.  

 And for a laugh check out this video of more climate change superheroes!


Photo: Goldman Prize, via Newsweek
This Week's ODP Superhero: LeeAnne Waters

This week we honor someone who finally received the recognition and thanks she so richly deserves.  Flint, Michigan's LeeAnne Waters, a medical assistant and mom turned badass environmental activist, is the North American region's 2018 winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.  She's one of six people around the world chosen for their grassroots environmental activism and awarded a cash prize of $200,000.

In 2014, she and her four kids were experiencing a number of serious and seemingly inexplicable health problems.  Walters' three-year-old twins were breaking out in rashes, and her elder daughter's hair was dropping out in clumps. Doctors couldn't figure out why her teenage son was suffering from blurry vision and an enlarged kidney.  So she took matters into her own hands, tested their drinking water and learned that it was full of toxic lead, which led to the realization that it was the town's drinking water that was contaminated.  The rest is history -- but sadly the saga of Flint's drinking water continues ( see ODP from Tuesday).

According to Business Insider, Walters is now gearing up to do independent, tamper-proof, and citizen-driven testing on taps around the US. She believes there are too many loopholes allowed in how many cities test their water to make sure it's safe to drink. She has set her sights on changing the way the Environmental Protection Agency writes its lead and copper rule so that cities can't skirt testing by toying with the water that's coming out of the tap ( we may need a new Administration for that).  "There's no reason for children to ever be poisoned by their water," she says.  Amen.  

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