Sunday, September 26, 2021
Sept. 26, 2021

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In Our View: Trump threat to, not steward of, environment

The Columbian

President Donald Trump on Monday declared himself a champion of the environment, a statement either laughable, head-scratching, or as one former Environmental Protection Agency official put it, “truly Orwellian.”

Let’s face it: If Trump is a champion of the environment, then the Kardashians are shy, modest wallflowers.

Perhaps most puzzling about Trump’s Monday announcement is not only did he campaign for office as an outspoken opponent of environmental regulations in general and the EPA specifically, his administration has taken a number of steps in the past three years to undo or roll back a number of those protections. According to The New York Times, more than 80 environmental rules and regulations are on their way out under Trump.

Anna M. Phillips of the Los Angeles Times this week outlined several of the inconsistencies between Trump’s statement on Monday and the reality of what’s been happening since he took office. For example, Trump said, “From day one, my administration has made it a top priority to ensure that America has among the very cleanest air and cleanest water on the planet.” However, Phillips reported, “EPA data show that there were more days of polluted air during each of Trump’s first two years in office than during any of the four years before.”

As for water, Phillips noted that under Trump, the EPA has been criticized for not doing enough to make drinking water safer. Environmentalists and some members of Congress have accused the EPA of stalling development of safety limits for a class of chemicals known as PFAS, which have been found in both public water systems and private wells. PFAS have been linked to cancer and other health problems.

Let us not forget that Trump is working to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord, has been an unabashed cheerleader for the coal industry, despite the market forces working against it, and has nominated a former energy industry lobbyist to run the EPA.

Then there’s the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Richland, about 200 miles upstream from Clark County. The administration recently opted to reclassify some of the radioactive waste stored at Hanford from “high-level” waste to “low-level.” As we noted editorially, the action “amounts to nothing less than a dereliction of duty.” Reclassifying the waste doesn’t make it any less dangerous, just easier and less expensive for the federal government to dispose of at low-level facilities.

The Trump administration has also proposed cutting the budget for Hanford’s cleanup by $416 million, even as the cost of that project continues to climb. This flies in the face of the U.S. government’s moral and legal obligation to clean up Hanford, which was a critical component of the Manhattan Project that led to the creation of the atomic bomb during World War II.

As the 2020 presidential race heats up, it’s certain we’ll be hearing plenty of hyperbole from both political parties’ candidates. But let’s hope they do a better job of clinging to a whiff of credibility than Trump’s assertion he’s an environmentalist.