There’s a centripetal force to the coronavirus pandemic that pulls us inward, that preaches a new First Commandment: Protect yourself.
That psychology, backed up by official mandates to cover up, keep your distance, stay home and shelter in place have kept people from spending much time out in the environment, much less thinking about how important, how wonderful it is.
Well, turn your back for a minute and The Devil’s in the door, destroying as much as he can of the planet and the rulebooks protecting it.
Over its three-plus years in power, the Trump administration has, by the New York Times’ recent count, rolled back, removed or ruined 100 significant federal rules or regulations protecting the environment. Reporters for the Times and the Washington Post who are paid to pay attention to this say the tempo of change has been increasing as the threatened end of the Trump presidency gets closer, and the imperative to finish the job of destruction gets stronger.
Scanning the 100 changes, I see some patterns – almost half the regulatory changes affect air pollution or emissions and industrial drilling and extraction. In other words, they re-empower the main drivers of climate change.
The net-net of trump deregulation is a fossil fuel festival. Burn, New Mexico, burn, or choke on your own methane plume. The last guy on Earth selling toxic coal has hair the color of the flames of cooking anthracite. I’ll bet if you shake Trump’s hand you get a smear of soot left behind.
Killing the planet or its atmosphere may seem like the ultimate goal of Trump environmental policies, but he’s also about killing people one at a time – by withdrawing workplace health and safety protections, and about reducing protections for animals, fish and migratory birds, weakening controls on toxic substances and lowering water pollution standards. These malign missions by themselves account for another 30 changed regulations.
Much of this orgy is still in progress, but some jobs are almost done. Accomplished most quickly – 11 of 12 targets shot dead already – are changes affecting “Infrastructure and Planning.” President Trump has friends and funders from the energy and extraction industries, but planners and builders – developers!! – they’re family. In several self-interested senses of the word.
So, when it comes to environmental rules for large-scale clearing and constructing, Trump’s new rule isn’t just the standard – “Regulators, get out of the way!” For fellow developers, there is added, an emphatic – “NOW!”
Laura Paskus is an environmental reporter with long experience in New Mexico and the Southwest. She currently files regular reports for New Mexico Public Television’s New Mexico in Focus and the Santa Fe Reporter. Paskus ran the Environmental Project of the New Mexico Political Report and in September, the University of New Mexico Press will release her book, At the Precipice: New Mexico’s Changing Climate. She continues to report for New Mexico In Depth, and her work has also appeared in Al Jazeera America, Ms. Magazine, Indian Country Today, The Progressive, Columbia Journalism Review, and High Country News, where she also served as Assistant Editor.