No-one in their right mind will dispute that natural disasters are horrific while they are occurring and in their immediate aftermath. The flooding resulting from Hurricane Katrina and most recently, Hurricane Harvey bear witness to the post-event damage unfolding in and around the Houston metropolitan area. However, when any natural disaster occurs, the threats of multiple environmental disasters pose a significant threat that demands a robust response from environment protection experts.
It is no great revelation to anyone that one of Trump’s missions as White House occupant is doing the bidding of the fossil fuel industry. Chief among that “bidding” is neutering, and eventually eliminating, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It is why, after all, he appointed a sworn enemy of the federal agency, Scott Pruitt, to slash the agency half-to-death and deconstruct environmental regulations he regards as unfriendly to his funders in the fossil fuel industry.
This week, while Texas, and now Florida and possibly Louisiana face environmental disasters as a result of historically monstrous hurricanes predicted by climate scientists, Pruitt proudly announced he is cutting close to 500 EPA jobs. It’s glaringly apparent that it is more important to Pruitt to advance Trump’s deregulatory crusade than adopt an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach to the several environmental disasters still emerging.
In announcing that close to 500 hundred EPA employees are being “pushed out” in a “smaller government” effort, Pruitt boasted about hard-working and long-serving staffers leaving the agency. Pruitt has been pushing for “voluntary buyouts, early retirement and good old fashioned agency budget cuts” as preparation for Trump slashing EPA funding by 31 percent. Pruitt said in a statement:
“We’re proud to report that we’re reducing the size of government, protecting taxpayer dollars and staying true to our core mission of protecting the environment and American jobs.”
Pruitt is probably too much of an imbecile to comprehend how stupid he sounds to sane people when he congratulates himself for “protecting American jobs” at the same time he announces he’s eliminating nearly 500 American jobs whose core mission is protecting the environment. It is particularly insane sounding that he’s cutting environmental protection jobs even as multiple environmental disasters threaten hundreds of thousands of American citizens in Texas alone. It is far too early in the hurricane season to estimate how many millions of Americans will face environmental disasters after the 150-plus mile-per-hour winds, driving rains, and subsequent flooding will cause. But it will be epic and the environmental disasters in the Houston area are prime examples.
Houston is the undisputed American petro-chemical capital, and the flooding has “triggered a dizzying list of environmental problems.” According to Gizmodo, “at least five toxic Superfund sites were breached by Harvey’s floodwaters,” and that is in addition to several reported oil spills. Of course the floodwaters “distribute” that spilled oil to better damage the surrounding areas.
There was also a chemical plant that housed “large stockpiles” of dangerous organic peroxide that exploded due to massive flooding. And if that isn’t enough environmental damage, health experts have warned that “still-lingering floodwaters” are likely polluted with “anything from weed repellant to animal feces to disease-causing bacteria.” When that polluted floodwater dries up, those pollutants will still remain and it is why having an excess of environmental experts on the scene to assess and coordinate cleanup efforts is crucial to protect the people in the affected area.
But this is Trump’s EPA and despite the damage to the environment, “the EPA’s most noteworthy response” to Hurricane Harvey was attacking an Associated Press journalist because he was covering “the ongoing environmental disaster.”
If these were remotely normal times there would be plenty of advocacy for, and debate about, why having fully-staffed and fully funded federal agencies such as FEMA and the EPA is crucial. But these are far from normal times with increasingly severe weather events wreaking havoc on the country and an administration slashing agencies to death. Now more than ever America needs a robust and fully-staffed EPA and FEMA because they are the only federal agencies created specifically to respond in times of distress.
This is particularly true because, regardless what any fact-averse member of Trump’s administration claims, there will be increasingly devastating natural and environmental disasters due to climate change. Still, Trump’s EPA is staffed at just below Reagan-era levels long before climate change-borne weather events posed the extraordinarily damaging hurricanes ravaging America recently.
Americans affected by the latest natural disasters, and those about to experience climate change’s fury, deserve all the assistance and protection the federal government can muster, and that includes protection from the environmental disasters that will linger long after the winds subside and floodwaters recede.
Image: Rick Bowmer/AP