While the pandemic rages on, the United States government is using the virus to pass “shock doctrine.” The term “shock doctrine” was coined by author Naomi Klein who wrote a book describing how leaders will exploit national crises to pass unpopular policies that would have faced much more push-back in peace times. It is possible you don’t know about the many ways our government is putting profits over planet during the pandemic, so take a look. Then do something about it.
EPA Reduces Environmental Regulations
On March 26, the Environmental Protection Agency released a memo stating it would temporarily allow companies to violate testing, training, and other obligations without punishment. There is no indication of how long “temporary” means, and this broad new policy opens the door for negligence. If companies can make a strong enough case for noncompliance due to the pandemic, they could get away with cutting corners to increase profits.
What Does The EPA Memo Say?
The memo addresses the effect the pandemic may have on a facility’s ability to properly monitor and test as required, move or store property and waste, and even train its employees. The memo says “these consequences may affect the ability of an operation to meet enforceable limitations on air emissions and water discharges, requirements for the management of hazardous waste, or requirements to ensure and provide safe drinking water.”
The EPA “does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations in situations where the EPA agrees that COVID-19 was the cause of the noncompliance”.
The Agency provided an expectation that all facilities should continue operating in compliance with environmental regulations, but it will not punish those who defy those regulations. While the policy does not apply to any criminal violations, the EPA stated it would work with the Department of Justice to “exercise enforcement discretion” with regards to companies that pollute during this time.
It is important to note this policy also does not apply to any imports, Superfund activities, or RCRA Corrective Action enforcement instruments. The EPA memo stated it expects public water systems to continue normal operation and maintenance activities, including timely sample analysis of water systems.
The Agency says it will distinguish between noncompliance that stems directly from the pandemic and noncompliance that was avoidable. It is unclear how that determination will be made.
Nine States Sue Over Memo
On Wednesday, nine states sued the EPA over the reduction of regulation and oversight. California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Virginia filed a lawsuit on the grounds that “the policy is too broad and not transparent.” They argue the EPA does not have the authority to waive the obligation of entities to inform the public about about pollution hazards. A month ago, multiple environmental groups filed a similar lawsuit regarding the temporary policy.
Fossil Fuel Bailouts
The Federal Reserve’s bond buyback program will benefit at least 90 fossil fuel companies and over 150 utility companies, many of which heavily rely on coal (). The total expected worth of the program is estimated at $750 billion, but the portion these companies would receive in still unknown.
An Oxford University study said investing in a green recovery from the pandemic would create more jobs and produce larger economic returns over investing in the fossil fuel industry, but the Trump administration continues to prop up a dying industry. This decision puts profits over planet by providing a lifeline to fossil fuel instead of investing in our future.
Big Oil and Gas companies also received over $72 million in “small business” bailout money despite having a value over the $2 million maximum. Despite all these bailouts, members of Congress sent a letter to President Trump complaining that banks are not using enough of their own bailout money to invest in the fossil fuel industry. They argued discrimination against fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy companies.
Some members of Congress are still searching for ways to provide more relief to renewable companies who did not receive access to tax benefits like oil and gas companies did. This slight stems from conservative lobbyists who urged Congress to reject renewable energy relief on the basis that “Climate change is not an immediate threat to humanity.“
States Increase Fossil Fuel Protest Punishments
Right now Americans are urged to stay inside, but three states (Kentucky, South Dakota, and West Virginia) passed laws to increase penalties for those who participate in fossil fuel protests within days of each other. Last week Alabama moved forward a similar bill, which is much harsher than the others.
On March 16, Kentucky officially designated natural gas and petroleum pipelines as “key infrastructure assets.” The new law makes causing over $1,000 in damage or tampering that may make operations unsafe a felony for first degree criminal mischief.
Two days later, North Dakota’s governor signed into law a bill that reclassified oil, gas, and utility equipment as “critical infrastructure.” Causing interruptions to these facilities now carries a felony. The next week, the governor passed another measure which defines a felony riot as “intentional use of force or violence by three or more persons” that causes any property damage.
West Virginia then followed at the end of March the a similar reclassification of oil, gas, and pipeline equipment as “critical infrastructure” and will now be charging fines up to $20,000 on those guilty of causing over $2,500 worth of “damage, destruction, vandalization, defacing or tampering.“
The proposed bill in Alabama would make the same “critical infrastructure” designation, prohibit where pollution watchdog groups can fly drones, and make actions that interrupt or interfere with pipeline activities or facilities a Class C felony. This felony carries at least one year in prison and up to $15,000 in fines.
After the end of the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2017, other states passed their own laws protecting pipeline infrastructure against protesters. These states include Indiana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas.
Executive Order Opens Up Offshore Fish Farms
On May 7, Trump signed an executive order that will make fish farming in the Gulf of Mexico and other waters less regulated. Specifically, the order calls for the removal of “unnecessary regulatory barriers” to increase domestic fish farming.
Marianne Cufone, executive director of the Recirculating Farms Coalition, opposes the order and pointed out how often the floating fish pens fail. She believes the measure was taken now so it could slide past while most concern is focused on the pandemic.
While fish farming is efficient, it poses many environmental risks. Escaped fish can damage the surrounding ecosystems by out-competing wild populations. Viruses can wipe out the farm population. And fish farming would mostly benefit large corporations and wipe out smaller family operations. This executive order will reduce regulations which will cause even more harm to our waters.
Administration Opens 2.3 Million Acres To Hunting And Fishing
While Americans are stuck inside, the Trump administration announced plans to open 2.3 million acres of federal lands to hunting and fishing. Fishing will now be permitted in several wildlife refuges including San Diego Bay in California, Umbagog in Maine and New Hampshire, and Everglades Headwaters in Florida. Alligator hunting will be allowed at refuges in Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas.
Hunters will soon hunt mountain lions and mule deer at Cabeza Prieta as well as mountain lions, bobcats, and fox in Buenos Aires. Both of these national refuges are in Arizona. Hunters may also go after migratory birds for the first time in Oregon at the Wapato Lake and Hart Mountain refuges. What is the point of a national wildlife refuge if humans can still kill its animals for sport?
Reduced Fuel Efficiency Standards
At the end of March, the Trump administration announced the Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles rule which will apply to vehicle models from 2021 to 2026. While this rule is an improvement from the administration’s initial plan to freeze emissions standards, it only requires 30% of the annual improvement the Obama administration’s standards required. Now vehicles must improve emissions by 1.5% per year instead of 5%.
The justification for this dramatic decrease is that it would make vehicles more affordable and encourage families to buy newer cars. Officials estimate this new standards would save around $1,000 on a $38,000 vehicle compared to the Obama era standard. This is only around 2.5% of the vehicle cost. I am unsure how much sway that small discount will have on potential consumers. To me, it sounds like a marketing campaign to sell more cars.
Leases and Land Auctions
On March 18, the US Department of the Interior auctioned off 78 million acres in the Gulf Coast for oil and gas leases. The following day, the Bureau of Land Management announced plans for a 45,000-acre auction for lands in New Mexico and Texas for even more oil and gas development.
The Bureau has also not given any indications of postponing or cancelling other scheduled auctions in Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.
The pandemic and a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia dropped oil prices. This mean these auctions are not even bringing in as much money as they could be. Companies are buying up rights to drill on public lands at rock bottom prices. The government is giving companies the best deal, putting industry profits over planet and even their own profits.
Greenlit New Projects
The Bureau of Land Management approved a 497-acre expansion for a gold and silver mine located on public lands in Mojave County, Arizona. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved construction of both the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas export terminal and the Pacific Connector Pipeline which will stretch 230 miles. The terminal will be located in Coos Bay in Oregon, which is already seeing the effects of pollution.
Other Environmental Damages
The EPA has moved forward with expanding the proposal to restrict scientific research used to make environmental regulations. The Fish and Wildlife Service closed the public comment period regarding a proposal to weaken migratory bird protections forever.
The administration tapped Anna Siedman, a lawyer from Safari Club International, to lead the Fish and Wildlife Service’s international affairs department. She had sued the Fish and Wildlife Service many times over her career at the trophy hunting advocacy group. Someone against protecting the lives of animals should not have a position within the Fish and Wildlife Service.
What You Can Do
With federal and state governments putting economic profits over our planet, you may be asking what you can do about it. The best thing you can do is make your voice heard. Contact your elected officials. Be sure to turn out to vote.
Join or support one of the environmental groups below.
- Citizens’ Climate Lobby
- Sierra Club and Sierra Student Coalition
- National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
- World Wildlife Fund
- National Audubon Society
Get active on social media and in your community to spread awareness and support for environmental and sustainable policies. The #FridaysForFuture campaign started as a way to organize protests. The new #ClimateStrikeOnline campaign moves those protests online in light of the pandemic. Do not let quarantine keep you silent about environmental issues.
You can learn about more ways to get involved in protecting our future by heading over to my other post!
The main takeaway of this post is to not let the health crisis blind you to policies and laws that our government is passing to increase the profits of destructive industries. Keep speaking up even when it needs to be online. Stay informed about what’s going on in our country beyond the pandemic. Do not let them get away with destroying our future by placing profits over planet!
Today is Friday. Head over to Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter and post your own #FridaysForFuture post calling for climate action and calling out the profiteers only looking to make a quick buck.