EPA on the Chopping Block

In the multi-front war on the working class being led by the Trump administration, yet another bull has been let loose in the china shop. Scott Pruitt, a professional climate denier and opponent of environmental regulations, has been confirmed as the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. With global atmospheric CO2 now exceeding the critical threshold of 410 parts per million, the last thing humanity needs is a climate skeptic with ties to the fossil fuel industry helming the agency responsible for creating environmental regulations in the country which holds the top spot for pollution per capita.

In an interview on CNBC in March, Pruitt doubled down on his denial of anthropogenic climate change, stating that he “would not agree that carbon dioxide (from pollution) is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” adding, “we don’t know that.” The EPA website has had its section on climate change hidden, requiring a search before data linking global warming to increases in greenhouse gases and particulate matter in the atmosphere can be found. This change, Pruitt’s office said in a press release, was made “to better represent the new direction the agency is taking.” We can only imagine what course this “new direction” will take: further destruction of the environment in the name of unbridled profit-making, with working people—as always under capitalism—bearing the brunt of whatever catastrophes may follow.

Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget proposes to cut the EPA’s federal allocation by 32%, while workforce reduction demands call for the elimination of more than a quarter of the agency’s positions. What better person to institute this brutal austerity than a man who, as attorney general of Oklahoma, filed suit against the EPA fourteen times to roll back regulations on clean air and water, and up until his appointment to office proudly proclaimed on his LinkedIn profile that he was a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”

The EPA employees’ union as well as the Union of Concerned Scientists, to their credit, made an attempt to resist the appointment of the most hostile new director to the stated aims of the agency since its inception. In the end, however, a letter-writing campaign and threats of resignation did little to sway the opinions of two Democratic and all but one Republican Senators. These politicians are all bought and paid for by corporate money including Koch Industries, which is among the top five US producers of toxic waste, spending $3.1 million dollars to “influence lawmakers” prior to the vote, ensuring that Pruitt’s confirmation went off without a hitch.

Since then, the agency has been undergoing a bureaucratic purge of those reluctant to fall in line and to prepare for deep cuts, while an internal memorandum confirmed that longtime employees are being pushed into retirement, with an offer for “early buyouts.” More recently, it was revealed that Pruitt’s office had effectively fired half of an 18-member advisory board of scientists in order to make room for ones who have a “background in industry”,  adding they hoped to make future policy proposals more “inclusive” of the “regulated community.”

obama xi parisaccordsDuring his campaign, Trump also promised to pull out of the Paris Agreement, the international contract for limiting carbon emissions among the world’s leading polluters, calling it “a bad deal for America.” The motivation is more political than economic. As we’ve pointed out in previous articles in Socialist Appeal, the Paris accords themselves do very little to limit emissions, in the first place because they are virtually unenforceable. Signatories of the agreement set their own benchmarks, based on economic projections, for meeting reduced emission targets—a complete farce of environmental protection policy.

This allowed the US, for example, to set its goal against emission levels in 2005, which preceded the boom of natural gas in the country, and including huge swathes of the oil and coal industries that have already been permanently phased out, as a part of what it plans to cut. The fact that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson supports staying in the agreement when, under his direction as the company’s CEO, Exxon was fined $21 million for violating the Clean Air Act 16,300 times should indicate the degree to which it is actually capable of stopping flagrant pollution.

The White House is divided on the Paris Agreement along factional lines. The frenzied, nationalist petty-bourgeois are represented by Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon and Pruitt, while the interests of the big bourgeois are defended by Tillerson and advisor Jared Kushner (Trump’s son-in-law). According to the rigid protectionist dogma of the Bannon wing, the Paris Agreement represents everything anathema about global politics, the mere suggestion that the US should weigh international interests in its economic activity a deadly heresy. The bourgeoisie, however, already bristling over the humiliation of having allowed such mediocrities to rise to the halls of power, recognize the accords as a useful tool in curbing dissent.

Of course, some of the more short-sighted among the capitalists are eager to ride roughshod over environmental regulations, envisioning a future where operating in the US is more profitable due to even fewer regulatory fines, costly safety and containment procedures, and less scrutiny over where they store their industrial waste. The class as a whole, though, wants to prevent further losses to its credibility and are bringing to bear both the media and their connections within the administration to stop these amateurs from going too far. Tillerson, ahead of a meeting with international partners to discuss Paris-related issues in Bonn, stated publicly that he wishes to stay within the agreement to keep a “seat at the table.” Fox News’s Chris Wallace surprised almost everyone by going for the throat during an interview with Pruitt on April 2, grilling him on his climate denial and demanding to know if he is “comfortable” with the fact that China’s “President Xi is more committed to Paris then the United States is.” With the  G-7 summit on May 26 coming up, which Trump himself is expected to attend, the possibility that he will be curbed away from yet another of his blustering campaign promises seems increasingly likely.

Whatever happens to the Paris Agreement, the rolling back of environmental protections in the US spells disaster for the world’s climate. While much of the coal and oil industries have been replaced by “cleaner” natural gas, Trump’s promise to somehow return to an earlier period of energy production before the advent of hydraulic fracturing flies in the face of reality.

And we should not forget that under the Obama administration, the EPA was forced into functioning as a floundering, inept bureaucracy. It was the Democratic Party that reduced the EPA’s workforce to its lowest levels since the 1970s and cut the agency’s budget by over 20% prior to the Republican resurgence. Not wanting to impede the fat profits being made by the natural gas industry, the serious environmental dangers posed by fracking to clean water and air went largely unchallenged by the federal government under Obama. All the while, the refusal to tighten regulations on aging infrastructure for pipelines, underground gas storage, and wells led to continuous leaks and disasters. Furthermore, the fact that job losses in coal and oil were not offset by significant investment and job growth in renewables is precisely what led so many former miners and oil workers to tune into Trump’s populism and his promise to end “the war on coal.”

Outshining the shallow justifications and pandering, the millions who participated in the March for Science, People’s Climate March, and May Day show there is a strong mood of resistance against these attacks, which is an expression of the underlying process of polarization and the ramping up of class warfare crystallizing under the Trump regime. Many protesters called for an end to the attacks on the EPA and wanted to see immediate action to combat the worst effects of climate change—a position we completely share.

However, the call to fully fund the EPA assumes that that money will go towards fighting climate change and protecting working people from polluting industries. If the Trump administration has proven anything, it is that with a change of hands and a shift in the winds, a government agency under capitalist control can quickly turn from a regulatory body into a tool for overturning regulations. To transform the EPA into a useful, democratically administered and accountable agency devoted to the protection of the environment, we need a mass workers’ party in power on a socialist program. Such a party would demand paid retraining and relocation with guaranteed employment for displaced workers, prioritize funding for research and development of sustainable technologies and renewable energy sources, and ensure public control and ownership over natural resources and the means of production as part of a rationally planned economy.

The working class cannot plan what we do not control and cannot control what we do not own. To turn back the rising tide of climate change, we’ll need more than reforms and half-hearted attempts at regulation. When it comes to the environment the question is literally one of life or death. Join us to win the fight against climate change, and create a brighter future for all of humanity!


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