There’s a principle at stake

Yes Irma is creating the predicted havoc in the Florida Keys and will go on to chew up the rest of Florida today and tonight and tomorrow, but never mind, Trump and his goons are still intent on destroying all federal efforts to deal with climate change, because hey, immediate profit for a few is far more important and valuable than the long-term survival of the environment we all depend on.

The news was hard to digest until one realized it was part of a much larger and increasingly disturbing pattern in the Trump administration. On Aug. 18, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine received an order from the Interior Department that it stop work on what seemed a useful and overdue study of the health risks of mountaintop-removal coal mining.

The $1 million study had been requested by two West Virginia health agencies following multiple studies suggesting increased rates of birth defectscancer and other health problems among people living near big surface coal-mining operations in Appalachia. The order to shut it down came just hours before the scientists were scheduled to meet with affected residents of Kentucky.

Now these are the very people Trump pretends to speak for and defend and rescue – the Forgotten people, the working stiffs, the people who live in coal country. He’s their pal, their ally, their honcho…that is, he’s a big fan of racism and sexism and he figures they have that in common. That’s enough isn’t it? No one would expect him to also give a damn about their health and well-being and safety?

The Interior Department said the study was killed because they need to count the pennies.

This was not persuasive to anyone who had been paying attention. From Day 1, the White House and its lackeys in certain federal agencies have been waging what amounts to a war on science, appointing people with few scientific credentials to key positions, defunding programs that could lead to a cleaner and safer environment and a healthier population, and, most ominously, censoring scientific inquiry that could inform the public and government policy.

Even allowing for justifiable budgetary reasons, in nearly every case the principal motive seemed the same: to serve commercial interests whose profitability could be affected by health and safety rules.

Well yes, because there’s a principle involved. Immediate profit for a few is far more important and valuable than the long-term survival of the environment we all depend on. That’s the principle. It’s pretty much the only one they have. They would give up even racism, even pussy-grabbing, for that one.

This is a president who has never shown much fidelity to facts, unless they are his own alternative ones. Yet if there is any unifying theme beyond that to the administration’s war on science, apart from its devotion to big industry and its reflexively antiregulatory mind-set, it is horror of the words “climate change.”

This starts with Mr. Trump, who has called global warming a hoax and pulled the United States from the Paris agreement on climate change. Among his first presidential acts, he instructed Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, to deep-six President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, and ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to roll back Obama-era rules reducing the venting from natural gas wells of methane, another powerful greenhouse gas.

Why? Because of the all-important first word of The Principle: immediate. Profit is immediate, climate change is slow (although it’s speeding up) and gradualish (but speeding up). Profit is today, climate change is maybe tomorrow…or actually maybe right now, if you’re in the Keys, but you can’t actually show us the fingerprints of climate change right on Irma now can you, so climate change is still always tomorrow.

Trump and his goons are carefully ignoring the causal issues of all these exciting hurricanes that give Trump a chance to pretend to be compassionate.

Mr. Pruitt and his colleagues have enthusiastically jumped to the task of rescinding regulations that might address the problem, meanwhile presiding over a no less ominous development: a governmentwide purge of people, particularly scientists, whose research and conclusions about the human contribution to climate change do not support the administration’s agenda.

Well what would you do? If you wanted to put immediate profit for a few ahead of the long-term survival of the many, what would you do? The same exact thing. Well all right then.

Mr. Pruitt, for instance, is replacing dozens of members on the E.P.A.’s scientific advisory boards; in March, he dismissed at least five scientists from the agency’s 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors, to be replaced, according to a spokesman, with advisers “who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community.”

Ah yes the regulated community – such a warm, friendly bunch, always at the door with a casserole when anyone’s in trouble. Much better than those pesky scientists explaining what’s causing all this crazy weather.

Last month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration dissolved its 15-member climate science advisory committee, a panel set up to help translate the findings of the National Climate Assessment into concrete guidance for businesses, governments and the public.

In June, Mr. Pruitt told a coal industry lobbying group that he was preparing to convene a “red team” of researchers to challenge the notion, broadly accepted among climate scientists, that carbon dioxide and other emissions from fossil fuels are the primary drivers of climate change.

Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric science at Texas A&M University, called the red team plan a “dumb idea” that’s like “a red team-blue team exercise about whether gravity exists.” Rick Perry, the energy secretary, former Texas governor and climate skeptic, endorsed the idea as — get this — a way to “get the politicians out of the room.” Given his and Mr. Pruitt’s ideological and historical financial ties to the fossil fuel industry, it is hard to think of a more cynical use of public money.

“Cynical” is a harsh word. “Principled” would be a kinder word. Somebody has to take care of the immediate profits for the few, and those goddam climate scientists sure aren’t going to.

At the E.P.A., a former Trump campaign assistant named John Konkus aims to eliminate the “double C-word,” meaning “climate change,” from the agency’s research grant solicitations, and he views every application for research money through a similar lens. The E.P.A. is even considering editing out climate change-related exhibits in a museum depicting the agency’s history.

The bias against science finds reinforcement in Mr. Trump’s budget and the people he has chosen for important scientific jobs. Mr. Trump’s 2018 federal budget proposal would cut nondefense research and development money across the government.

The president has proposed cutting nearly $6 billion from the National Institutes of Health, the nation’s single largest funder of biomedical research.

Why would we want to spend federal money on biomedical research? Immediate profit, remember? Biomedical research can take years to deliver profits.

It is amazing but true, given the present circumstances, that the Trump budget would eliminate $250 million for NOAA’s coastal research programs that prepare communities for rising seas and worsening storms. The E.P.A.’s Global Change program would be likewise eliminated. This makes the budget director, Mick Mulvaney, delirious with joy. He complains of “crazy things” the Obama administration did to study climate, and boasts: “Do a lot of the E.P.A. reductions aim at reducing the focus on climate science? Yes.”

As to key appointments, denial and mediocrity abound. Last week, Mr. Trump nominated David Zatezalo, a former coal company chief executive who has repeatedly clashed with federal mine safety regulators, as assistant secretary of labor for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. He nominated Jim Bridenstine, a Republican congressman from Oklahoma with no science or space background, as NASA administrator. Sam Clovis, Mr. Trump’s nomination to be the Agriculture Department’s chief scientist, is not a scientist: He’s a former talk-radio host and incendiary blogger who has labeled climate research “junk science.”

So if he’s not a scientist how can he be the Agriculture Department’s chief scientist? Even my fanatical support for the Immediate Profit Principle can’t quite get a handle on that one.

From the beginning, Mr. Trump, Mr. Pruitt, Mr. Zinke and Mr. Perry — to name the Big Four on environmental and energy issues — have been promising a new day to just about anyone discomfited by a half-century of bipartisan environmental law, whether it be the developers and farmers who feel threatened by efforts to enforce the Clean Water Act, oil and gas drillers seeking leases they do not need on federal land, chemical companies seeking relaxation from rules governing dangerous pesticides, automakers asked to improve fuel efficiency or utilities required to make further investments in technology to reduce ground-level pollutants.

But look on the bright side: a few people will get a lot richer. A good swap, wouldn’t you say?

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