Before he died last year, Nathaniel Reed offered some advice to President Donald Trump: “America does not want to go back to an era of dirty water and dirty air.”
To avoid that fate, Reed told me in a 2017 interview, the federal government needs laws with teeth.
“Enforcement is a tool that must be in the presidential quiver,” he said. “You have to enforce environmental laws, you have to — or they’re negated, ignored.”
Reed knew something about advising Republican presidents. He served Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford as assistant secretary of the Department of Interior. He helped write the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act.
Reed died last year — but that advice bears repeating now, in light of Trump’s visit Friday to Lake Okeechobee in Florida to talk about Everglades funding and the Herbert Hoover Dike that encircles the giant lake.
Trump’s regulation erosion
So far, Trump has defied Reed’s advice. He has eroded environmental regulations — much as U.S. Sen. Rick Scott did during his eight-year tenure as Florida’s governor — in the name of spurring economic growth.
Read more commentary:
Marco Rubio: Green New Deal litmus test makes it harder to deal with climate change
Lower the voting age, let more teens shape the future. It’s their planet on the line.
Green New Deal’s overreach lends itself to mockery. But what’s your climate change solution?
But there comes a time in every shrewd politician’s career when he or she realizes it’s politically expedient to be an environmental advocate. Scott positioned himself as greener than Kermit during his campaign for U.S. Senate.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has focused intensely on environmental issues since taking office in January. However, one stop at Lake Okeechobee does not an environmentalist make.
This is a fitting time to reflect on Trump’s broader environmental record. It’s not that of a conservationist.
National Geographic is keeping a running list of the Trump administration’s environmental actions. Among the lowlights:
- The Environmental Protection Agency is trying to remove federal Clean Water Act protections from smaller rivers and streams under the “Waters of the U.S.” rule. In Florida, the change would impact some 6 million acres of wetlands.
- EPA chief Andrew Wheeler is a former coal lobbyist who has proposed rolling back fuel-efficiency and pollution standards for vehicles.
- Under Trump, EPA inspections to identify pollution problems dropped to a 10-year low for facilities such as manufacturing plants, oil and gas operations and power plants.
- Criminal enforcement by the EPA is at a 30-year low under Trump.
- The Trump administration disbanded a scientific review panel that advises the EPA about safe levels of pollution in the air.
- In December, the Trump administration announced it would lift certain restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from coal power plants.
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has given five oil and gas companies approval to use seismic airgun blasts to search for offshore oil and gas deposits from New Jersey to Florida.
- The Trump administration reversed Obama-era requirements for oil and gas companies to monitor and mitigate releases of methane.
- Trump in 2017 pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement to curtail greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
This is a long list, but it is far from comprehensive. Many more rollbacks of environmental rules have occurred under Trump, affecting water, climate, air and chemical regulations. I encourage you to look at the National Geographic compilation and assess them yourself.
And, to be fair, we should note a couple of environmental wins that have occurred under Trump’s watch:
- In March, the president signed the largest public-lands bill in a decade, creating five new national monuments and expanding several national parks. The bill combined more than 100 separate bills and had bipartisan support in Congress.
- Trump signed a bill in October reauthorizing a program to clean up marine debris from the world’s oceans.
These victories have been overshadowed, however, by a vast push to weaken environmental protections across the country.
Trump’s visit to Lake Okeechobee won’t change that. Additional funding for Everglades restoration won’t change that (though it’s better than cutting funding). Instead, only a sustained commitment to environmental protections “with teeth,” as Reed suggested, can have a lasting positive impact on clean water and air.
Eve Samples is opinion and audience engagement editor for TCPalm/Treasure Coast Newspapers, where this column originally appeared. Follow her on Twitter @EveSamples.