Actions and words: Some quick thoughts on the President's joint address to congress

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By, Andy Maggi, Executive Director Nevada Conservation League

Last night the President spoke to a joint session of congress for the first time. It was clear he wants to believe that he can have his cake and eat it too, he also wants us to believe that is the case. He also wants his words to matter more than the actions he takes. And that is what is most problematic about his speech last night, expecially when it comes to conservation issues.

First, the President made no mention of climate change. It’s a glaring gap of attention. It’s also one he has made before and one we will likely see again. The President, his appointees to key administrative posts and Cabinet positions have made no indication it is a priority for them or their agencies.

Second, he made reference to environmental protection during the speech:

“My administration wants to work with members of both parties to make childcare accessible and affordable, to help ensure new parents that they have paid family leave, to invest in women’s health, and to promote clean air and clean water, and to rebuild our military and our infrastructure.”

This in and of itself is fine and certainly, all Presidents and elected officials should support, but this statement is coming on the heels of actions that send the opposite message.

  • Only hours before his speech The President signed an executive order directing the EPA to reexamine and rollback rules that protect drinking water across the United States.  Immediately following the signing of the order new EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, gave notice that not only would they begin work along these lines, but they would use an interpretation of navigable waters based on an interpretation of the Clean Water Act by Justice Antonin Scalia.  Weakening our enforcement and reinterpreting what the clean water means does not promote clean water.
  • Recent reports indicate that President Trump’s proposed budget would slash EPA funding by 25%. Those cuts seek to eliminate 1 in 5 EPA employees, targeting enforcement and science, and would ax programs aimed at low-income people, minorities, and indigenous groups. Given that those same communities bare the brunt of our worst pollution and are over impacted by it, cutting these programs do nothing to promote clean air and water in the communities that need it most.
  • Confirmed, Scott Pruitt is now head of the EPA. Scott Pruitt’s record is not one of environmental protection. As the Attorney General of Oklahoma, he routinely sued the EPA over protections for clean air, clean water, and climate change. During his confirmation process, he routinely discussed the need to streamline regulations at the EPA and make it work more for the polluters it regulates.
  • President Trump has also nominated Neil Gorsuch to the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. Neil Gorsuch is a conservative judge who shares many views and legal interpretations as Antonin Scalia and Justice Alito. Most notably and most worrisome, in previous rulings Gorsuch questioned the ability of the scientists and experts at federal agencies to interpret the laws that congress passes. For years, courts have given deference to scientists and experts, because scientists and experts are better equipped to interpret and implement laws based on science. A Gorsuch nomination could easily change all that, instead of letting untrained judges determine what is and isn’t science.
  • At the end of the day, if we want to protect public health, have clean water, have clean air, and have access to public lands if we truly want to promote the things the President said he wants to, we need laws that protect those things. Those laws are called regulations. However, in his speech last night, as his has since taking office and during the campaign, the President talked about slashing regulations and has arbitrarily signed an order stating that for every new regulation put in place two must be eliminated. He doesn’t get to have it both ways, he can’t claim to support clean air and water while rallying against the rules and policies that make those things possible.

The President is right to say we should promote clean air and clean water, but more than promote it we actually need to put policies in place that protect the public health and make those things a reality. He believes he can have his cake and eat it too, the reality is that he can side with polluters or he can put the interests of the people first. The same goes for Senators, Members of Congress, State, and local elected officials.

This is why the work of NCL is so important. If we want laws that protect people, air, water, and lands we need to pass laws that do those things. For those laws to pass we need elected officials in office who support those values and will write, champion, and pass laws that make those things happen. When we don’t have those elected officials or those we do won’t act NCL acts to hold them accountable or elect new leaders who will champion our shared values. From local governments like county commissions and city council to state and federal office holders, NCL works to ensure our elected officials are passing laws that protect us, our air, our water, and our lands.

The President is held to the same standard and despite his speech, his actions tell a story of someone uninterested in protecting clean air or clean water, especially for those that need it most.