By Tommy Hough
It's a great time to be a polluter.
From the moment Donald Trump assumed office in 2017, his cabal quickly became the most anti-environmental administration in modern U.S. history. It was a surprise to no one.
We expected the worst from Trump, and he's delivered. On election night 2016, at the moment the results were clear and the bourbon was beginning to flow, I sat down and wrote my emergency list of "Conservation Points That Must Be Addressed Prior to Inauguration," like National Monument designations, moves to shore up Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, protection of the Wilderness Act and Antiquities Act, etc.
Boy, was I thinking small.
Trump's team had a game plan, and it was a determined effort to rid every federal agency of every last vestige of competence, fact-based rationale, or anyone who could plausibly say "no," and instead, turn our hallowed insititutions into instruments of lazy absurdity to give credible cover to a radicalized, lawless vision of America in the service of a corrupt banana republic ruling family. They were thinking big, and familiar. The pencilnecks in Washington never saw it coming.
Within days of Trump taking office, the EPA was turned upside down and promoting coal (!) and the benefits of mercury, the hallowed National Park Service was bullied into doctoring inauguration photos, and the Interior Department announced plans to either modify the boundaries or entirely do away with 27 National Monuments, essentially undoing the entire reason National Monuments are established in the first place. Unprecedented you say? Well, the boss said so. Precedent would receive no attention or respect from this administration.
Not that his supporters care. And despite all of Trump's characteristically confused bravado pledging to make America great and revive oil, fracking, and even coal in the face of abundant, rational, and profitable (!) renewable energy opportunities, in the days after the election Trump apologists admonished us that Donald Trump was "an American," wishfully hoped that "nothing will change," and that his administration would follow what Chief Justice John Roberts has called "settled" law.
They've done anything but. Trump's packing of federal courts, and quite possibly, one to two more seats on the Supreme Court should he be reelected, or should a tragedy befall one of the justices between now and January 2021, ensures even more wretched, absurd decisions for decades to come, even if we get lucky and bump Trump and his Republican enablers out of office in November – and assuming they actually leave town in January without tanks in the street.
According to the New York Times, "After three years, the Trump administration has dismantled most major climate and environmental policies." Ever the champion of fossil fuels, Trump has described the countless policies he has done away with as "burdensome" to the fossil fuel industry and other extraction businesses. After all, it's so hard to be a billionaire or a multinational corporation in America.
This breathtaking, ongoing assault on America's environmental heritage includes the undoing of 64 long-standing regulatory policies, with 34 more rollbacks in progress for a total of 98. Presidents from FDR to Obama prided themselves on policy they'd passed. Trump, and his rudderlessly embittered supporters cheer every little thing he tears down. So much for the vision of a guy who made a name for himself building buildings, however tacky they are.
I never imagined Team Trump and their GOP enablers would be able to manage an enforced brain drain and literally gut federal agencies into the ether, but that's what they did. For years Republicans whined that government is inefficient, and government can't possibly be an asset to the citizenry. They were so intent on demonstrating this premise they elected Donald Trump to make sure reality fit the pipe dream. I always figured the cabal would need someone around who had a clue in case of a real emergency. Instead, those few civil servants remaining who have a clue and demonstrate it, like Dr. Anthony Fauci, get death threats from emboldened lunatics instead of thanks.
I never imagined modern, Obama-era agreements to limit poisonous emissions from power plants and ensure more fuel-efficient cars and trucks, all made in conjunction with industry leaders, would be gutted as swiftly as rules pertaining to clean air, water, and toxic chemicals. But of course, failure of imagination is what led to disasters like Pearl Harbor, 9/11, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The era of modern American conservation can be traced past LBJ and FDR to the hearty, workaholic activism of President Theodore Roosevelt on behalf of wilderness and open space, President Benjamin Harrison's creation of the U.S. Forest Reserve system in 1891 to stop the wanton destruction of western forests, and President Abraham Lincoln's donation of Yosemite Valley to the state of California in 1864 for the purpose of establishing a park in the Sierras.
Trump has put an end to that grand tradition of American conservation, of pride in America's natural heritage. This is a man, after all, who stares at eclipses and is visibly uncomfortable outside. Prior to becoming president, the only time Trump spent outdoors was while walking from his limo to the front door of the building he was entering. Like all of his toxic behavior, Trump projects his contempt and disgust for our natural world onto us all.
To be fair, the golden era of American conservation was already a little wobbly by the time James Watt threw a wrench into it in the early 1980s leading the Reagan administration's Interior Department, but the preservation of the Stanislaus River, 1984 Wilderness Act(s), 1994 California Desert Protection Act, 1994 Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP), and 2001 Roadless Rule were still ahead.
The slope became increasingly slippery during the George W. Bush years, and during the Obama administration the lunatic GOP Congress routinely ran rough drafts of today's conservation rollbacks by the White House, knowing full well Obama would veto them. As I said in presentations at that time, they were just getting the wording right and waiting for a Republican administration.
Ultimately, Obama ended up preserving more federal land than any president before him, so Trump inherited a federal preservation system ripe for exploitation and abuse. As the administration quietly closed off 24 million of acres of public land in the Intermountain West for oil and gas exploration, they loudly announced plans to open some two million acres of conservation lands managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the absurd claim Trump was "expanding" areas for hunting and fishing. Wait, he closed off 24 and gave them two, did you see that? The pencilnecks will never understand.
But that's not the only American tradition Trump has desecrated and jettisoned. Children remain in cages. Families legally seeking asylum remain separated. Concentration camps are a reality in our nation. Cruelty has been empowered. Walls are being built, have been built, bulldozed over cactus and sliced across wilderness and protected habitat. Convicted war criminals and federal criminals are pardoned, murdering racists and actual Nazis are "fine people," while honorable naval officers who put their crew's safety ahead of the president's fragile ego are fired. The post office's effectiveness is a problem for those who believe government should not be.
People of color are humiliated and then murdered in full view of their neighbors while jogging in deadly, outrageous "citizen's arrests," or while doing nothing more suspicious than sleeping in their own beds at night. Children are in cages.
Children are in cages.
Tell your friends, tell your family, especially in the states that matter – vote this November. Don't ever accept what's changed, and what's been done to this nation since January 19, 2017. It is not, and will never be acceptable.
Tommy Hough is the co-founder and original president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He currently serves as vice president for policy.
A San Diego County planning commissioner and former radio host and media personality, Tommy Hough works as an environmental consultant and communications professional, and is a California Democratic Party delegate and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action.