Monday, April 3, 2017 Blog

The federal war on the environment and why it doesn’t matter, that much. Living your way into a new way of thinking, about plastics. Kiawah sand dumping. Bikes for everybody! Google “overuse of water.” More trout, less ivory.

by Andy Hollis


I’ll start with the bad news about the federal government because I hope you will agree that it’s less important than the good news that follows.

The Trump Administration continues to amaze. Without exception, every single step they have taken on the environmental front is designed to undermine policies and programs that protect nature and human health, and to eliminate funding for critical scientific research on which future progress depends. They have, in the words of commentators across the country, declared war on the environment.

A few months ago, one could have speculated, optimistically, that perhaps the Administration was going after the most burdensome regulations, or cutting the fat from agencies that were inefficient, or eliminating underperforming programs. Today it is clear that they are taking a meat cleaver to the legal and scientific infrastructure that has made the US a world leader in environmental protection.

In the crosshairs (of the meat cleaver) are policies protecting rivers and streams, averting climate change, preventing methane leakage from gas lines, shielding children from harmful pesticides, increasing energy conservation (and making America energy independent)… What are they forgetting? I haven’t heard anything about endangered species protection, but Congress is taking that one on. They are truly batting 1,000.

The Trump philosophy, to the extent you can call it that, is that making American great requires us to reduce our environmental standards to pre-1970 levels, in order to attract industries that have moved abroad or are simply too dirty to operate anywhere anymore. This superb editorial from the Post and Courier in defense of the EPA, by our former board chair Roy Richards, explains why this point of view is bass-ackwards for industry, not to mention the environment.

P&C: Guest column: Don’t kill the EPA

Roy is the chairman of Georgia-based Southwire, one of the largest privately held companies in the country. His point is that the last thing American industry needs or wants is an environmental “race to the bottom.” It is critical for the economy, he says, to maintain high standards that are consistent and predictable. In Roy’s words:

“My family’s company today employs thousands of people and operates in nearly a dozen states. For decades, our business model has been to invest in American technology and talent, and comply with all state and federal environmental standards. We have invested nearly $100 million to meet environmental standards that make our community a healthier and safer place to live. Like almost every other manufacturer I know, Southwire is proud of our environmental compliance, committed to running a sustainable company, and prepared to compete in a market where we know exactly what the rules are.”

These next two pieces support my proposition for the week – that what goes on in Washington is less important than what is going on in the rest of the country. The first, from the Washington Post, reports that in spite of – and I think there is even reason to believe, in response to – the Trump war on the planet, some cities and states, the real battlegrounds against climate change and other forms of pollution, are marshalling the troops on behalf of the environment.

WP: As Trump halts federal action on climate change, cities and states push on

From the article:

Jim Brainard is a Republican mayor in a Republican city in a Republican state. But that hasn’t stopped him from taking aggressive steps in recent years to combat climate change and become more energy efficient.

During his tenure, Carmel, Ind., has shifted its fleet to hybrid and biofuel vehicles, replaced streetlights with LED bulbs, installed hundreds of miles of bike paths and spent millions of dollars planting trees to absorb carbon dioxide and provide shade.

Carmel now has 102 roundabouts — more than any community in the country, he says proudly — that have reduced traffic accidents as well as helped to conserve gasoline, reduce air pollution and save electricity by negating the need for traffic lights. “For a long time, taking care of our environment was a nonpartisan issue,” Brainard said. “I have yet to meet a Republican or Democrat who wants to drink dirty water or breathe dirty air.”

This seems undeniable, but it is also clear that Mayor Brainard has yet to meet President Trump.

Speaking of Republican mayors, this next piece from the New York Times is by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. In it, he argues that the Administration’s actions will have little effect reversing the momentum that has been building for the past decade toward cleaner energy and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

NY Times: Michael Bloomberg column: Climate Progress, With or Without Trump

From the editorial:

Those who believe that the Trump administration will end American leadership on climate change are making the same mistake as those who believe that it will put coal miners back to work: overestimating Washington’s ability to influence energy markets, and underestimating the role that cities, states, businesses and consumers are playing in driving down emissions on their own.

Though few people realize it, more than 250 coal plants — almost half of the total number in this country — have announced in recent years that they will close or switch to cleaner fuels. Washington isn’t putting these plants out of business; the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan hasn’t even gone into effect yet.

They are closing because consumers are demanding energy from sources that don’t poison their air and water, and because energy companies are providing cleaner and cheaper alternatives. When two coal plant closings were announced last week, in southern Ohio, the company explained that they were no longer “economically viable.” That’s increasingly true for the whole industry.

Now I’ll throw out a proposition that may seem delusional. I think the Trump presidency will prove to be a good thing. Don’t hit “delete” yet! Maybe not “good” in the sense of, say, “virtuous” or “righteous.” But good in the sense of salutary, by inspiring us to get off our collective bottoms and take responsibility to make the world a better place, rather than waiting around for someone in Washington, or Paris, to do it. (Although we would be grateful for their help and participation…) The next few articles make my point.

This week the South Carolina Aquarium held a symposium on the planetary plastics plague and what we can do about it. As this article by Bo Petersen with the Post and Courier, reports, more than 500 people flocked to Gaillard Auditorium to hear the answers. The bottom line was that there are dozens of things ordinary citizens can do, and have done, to turn the tide.

P&C: Everyday people critical to curtailing plastic pollution, experts tell Charleston audience

Bans on single use plastic bags are important, not because they alone will solve the global problem, but because they are entry points for citizens and communities to engage the larger issue. As one speaker said, they are “gateway drugs” for understanding and action.

One of my favorite observations is, “We don’t think our way into a new way of living, we live our way into a new way of thinking.” So, as some speakers said, (including moi), we need to deliberate less about what we should do, and spend more time just doing something. (And local single use bans are a great option to start with.)

This simple maxim has solid grounding in behavioral psychology. A person who takes a particular action – like speaking at a hearing on a municipal plastic bag ban – begins to define herself differently, as someone who works against marine pollution. These changes in what people DO, actually change who they ARE, (neurologically and psychologically speaking.)

I think we can draw an analogy at the municipal and state levels. Towns like Isle of Palms and Folly Beach that ban single use bags collectively define themselves as caring about the ocean and the planet, and they go on to do even more. This is the most important news of the week, or the year, for that matter. In a perverse way, we may have Donald Trump to thank for some of this.

If you are looking for an important public hearing to attend, or an issue to write a letter to an editor about, the Post and Courier reports that DHEC OCRM is holding a public meeting on the application to dump 8,000 cubic yards of sand on the beach at Captain Sams Spit.

P&C: Public hearing scheduled on moving sand to Capt. Sam’s project on Kiawah Island

Incidentially, this would be the same spit the Kiawah developers assured us was, “very stable high ground… accreting sand for the past 60 years, and is currently growing at an annual rate of six to 15 feet…” Maybe they will explain at the hearing why they need the sand. If you want to go, as the editorial following the article urges, it is at 6:00 at Kiawah Town Hall on April 18th.

P&C: Speak up for Captain Sam’s Spit

Part of the problem with the Administration, I can’t help but believe, is that no one who is a part of it must ever go outside. (Back to living one’s way into a new way to thinking…) Their positions on nature and the environment are otherwise incomprehensible. So I was delighted to read this article about a wonderful teacher at Pepperhill Elementary School named Katie Blomquist who raised enough money to buy a bicycle for every one of the 650 students at this North Charleston high-poverty school. Exercise, fresh air, nature, CO2 reductions, and fun… all in one fell swoop. It gives you goosebumps!

P&C: Seven months and one GoFundMe campaign later, every student at Pepperhill Elementary gets a free bike

Speaking of people who don’t get outside enough, I’ve always thought of Google as a cool, progressive company. This may be true is some areas, but it’s definitely not the case when it comes to water conservation. We and Mt. Pleasant CPW have been working with Google to amend their proposal to withdraw half a billion gallons of water a year from the Middendorf aquifer. As this article from the Post and Courier reports, we haven’t made any progress.

P&C: South Carolina Google groundwater permit opposed at DHEC meeting

CPW manager Clay Duffie says in this editorial from the Post and Courier, that Google threatens the survival of this “ancient reservoir,” by pulling water out at a faster rate than it can be recharged. Clay reports that Google roundly rejected our suggestions to reduce the withdrawal through recycling and to restore the water to the aquifer after it has been used for cooling the servers at their Moncks Corner operation.

P&C: Duffie column: Reject Google plan for overuse of aquifer

The bottom line is that working with Google has been as difficult, or more, than working with old-line hide-bound state agencies like Santee Cooper. Forget the image of millennials skateboarding around the office with cups of latte. These guys are about as tough, secretive and unaccommodating as the Kremlin.

Finally, two articles about progress on the environmental front. The first one, from the Greenville News, reports that Trout Unlimited is working with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore native brook trout to upstate rivers. These beautiful animals, our only native species of trout, have been harmed by logging and clearing along stream edges. This effort envisions restoring the streamside vegetation necessary to maintain the conditions (mainly temperature and clarity) suitable for the fish, not to mention improving the health of the streams for other life forms.

Greenville Journal: The quest to bring back South Carolina’s only native trout

Finally, wonderful news on the elephant front. This article from the Washington Post reports that China’s decision to ban the trade in ivory by the end of the year has depressed the ivory market, and reduced the economic pressures that were driving poachers to kill 96 elephants a day in sub-Saharan Africa. China is enforcing the ban and prices have fallen by more than half!

WP: Good news for Africa’s elephants: China is losing its taste for ivory

So, take heart, go forth and live your way into a new way of thinking, and have a great week!


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