March 20, 2019
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Trump’s regulation-slashers gutting environmental protections

Gerald Herbert | AP
Gerald Herbert | AP
The Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns in the Gulf of Mexico following an explosion that killed 11 workers and caused the worst offshore oil spill in the nation's history, April 21, 2010. As the Trump administration rolls back environmental and safety rules for the U.S. energy sector, government projections show billions of dollars in savings reaped by companies will come at a steep cost: increased premature deaths and illnesses from air pollution, a jump in climate-warming emissions and more derailments of trains carrying explosive fuels.

As if Deepwater Horizon never happened.

Never mind 11 dead oil-rig workers. Forget the 87 days that oil spewed unabated from a ruptured wellhead 5,000 feet below the surface. Forget the 22-mile plume of oil and chemical dispersants, drifting like a toxic cloud in the Gulf of Mexico, creating incalculable damage to marine life and coastal marshlands.

Well, not incalculable. Virginia Tech economists assessed the value the public placed on the various forms of marine life wiped out by the 2010 disaster and came up with $17.2 billion. That’s aside from billions lost to the fishing and tourism economies. Or the $61 billion BP paid in fines, cleanup costs and reparations for business losses.

Never mind the health consequences, including chronic respiratory difficulties, suffered by cleanup workers and residents in the coastal areas where that strange red gook washed ashore. About 12 million pounds were removed from beaches and tidal marshes along the Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida coasts.

Yet, the Trump administration, as part of its anti-regulatory frenzy, has decided that the worst oil spill in the nation’s history was not worth remembering. The Interior Department is discarding the offshore drilling rig safety regulations adopted after Deepwater Horizon to prevent another such blowout. Meanwhile, rather than wait for the cumbersome process it takes to undo federal regulations, Politico reported that Interior has jumped ahead and issued an extraordinary 1,679 exemptions to the safety rules.

Most of the exemptions allowed offshore drilling companies to bypass regulations that tighten the maintenance and testing requirements for the so-called blowout preventers that automatically cap a wellhead in case of a rupture. Of course, the blowout preventer on Deepwater Horizon failed spectacularly.

It’s as if the disastrous aftermath hardly matters as the Trump administration erases regulations that fossil-fuel operations find burdensome. Oil drillers want offshore drilling rules relaxed and Trump’s appointees are there to serve.

Regulation rollbacks have become the very essence of the Trump administration, almost by default after stumbling with other big initiatives, like the construction of his fabled wall or the nuclear disarmament of North Korea. According to The New York Times, the administration has targeted 78 environmental rules created to protect drinking water, control toxic industrial emissions, limit greenhouse gases and protect endangered species.

Trump’s fevered anti-environmentalists have attacked regulations governing the disposal of coal-ash waste. And the arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium, chromium and cadmium that steam power plants spew into the atmosphere. They’ve stopped enforcing the prohibition against using hydrofluorocarbons (a particularly potent greenhouse gas) in air conditioners and refrigerators. They’ve undone rules that required states to monitor tailpipe exhaust emissions and oil refinery pollution.

Much of the environmental degradation fomented by Trump anti-regulatory regime will be borne by Trump country. For example, coastal Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle –– the areas most at risk for another Deepwater Horizon –– are home to some of Trump’s most fervent supporters.

It’s not the residents of liberal Broward County, Florida, or Boston or New York or Los Angeles who need to worry about an unregulated coal-ash pond next door or their children breathing polluted air from a nearby chemical plant or strip miners spoiling the water. It’s not our workers who’ll be descending into coal mines or boarding oil rigs where safety precautions are no longer a priority for federal inspectors.

Not that the regulation rollbacks aren’t painful in South Florida, which was ground zero in the shameless for-profit college scandals that left thousands of would-be students with second-rate educations, deep in debt, facing dismal employment prospects. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has undone safeguards designed to protect students from the misleading and unscrupulous tactics employed by for-profits.

South Florida also has more than its share of endangered species, another genre that the Trump administration considers subsidiary to the wants of corporate America. And the Trump administration’s pretense that global warming and rising seas are liberal myths will surely leave us treading water.

Of course, coastal communities in Trump-loving South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas and Alabama also face inundation. But folks in those places simply pretend otherwise. And they shrug off the Environmental Protection Agency’s findings that cessation of the pollution rules for power plants would lead to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, 2,800 new cases of chronic bronchitis, and 130,000 asthma attacks every year.

And if Trump’s supporters, between coughing fits, can pretend that Deepwater Horizon never happened, then why would they ever think to burden offshore drillers with inconvenient safety regulations?

Fred Grimm, who has worked as a journalist in South Florida since 1976, is a columnist for the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

 



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