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The Coronavirus has taken an exacting tollin the last few months.
5 million confirmed cases, with 83, 000deaths and counting.
Italy and Spain have been decimated by thevirus, halting all non-essential activity.
Town squares, empty.
But the hardest-hit country by far has beenthe United States, with over 400, 000 cases and rising, the U.
represents ground zerofor the corona crisis.
But the rapid rise in U.
cases is not somefluke or bad luck, it's the result of an administration hell-bent on downsizing its capabilities, a privatized and underfunded healthcare system, and a country that prides itself on statesand individual freedoms over collective unity.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Those issues have been reported on thoroughlyin recent weeks, so to avoid repeating that journalism, I’m going to investigate oneissue that has flown under the radar with the rise of the coronavirus: the environment.
Well, more specifically, the Trump administration’suse of COVID-19 both as an excuse and distraction to deregulate essential environmental protections.
So today, we’re going to look at the Coronaviruswith a pointed question: How has Trump used the Coronavirus to his advantage? To understand what the Trump administrationis doing now, we must first look back to what they’ve already done.
While this administration is responsible formany violent policies like putting children in cages at the border and barring asylumseekers, for brevity's sake we are going to narrow in on their environmental actions.
According to the New York Times, which drewupon the research of Columbia and Harvard’s law schools, the Trump administration rolledback 95 federal environmental regulations.
Of those 95, 58 have successfully been rolledback and 37 are still in the process of getting eliminated.
These rollbacks include repealing the CleanPower Plan which would have lowered emissions in the U.
power sector by 32% by 2030 orfailing to ban the use of Chlorpyrifos on farms, which has been connected to brain damagefor farmworkers.
These large cuts to environmental regulationsover the last three and a half years spell devastating consequences not only for climateaction, but also for air quality and community health.
Like in Texas, where, according to one study, an EPA reversal of a policy requiring retrofits of power plants with sulfur dioxide scrubberscould lead to the premature deaths of 180 people in Texas and the surrounding area.
The point here is this: since Trump has becomethe president, there’s been a steady stream of delays and rollbacks surrounding environmentalregulation that allow for indiscriminate pollution and harmful environmental inaction.
And now here we are in the heart of a globalpandemic with an administration blundering around claiming we have tests that just aren’tthere and attacking journalists asking needed questions.
Behind the bluster of the daily press conferences, Trump still continues to attack environmental regulations.
With the specter of COVID-19 occupying everyone’smental space, the White House has used the pandemic in two ways: as a distraction andas an excuse.
The Coronavirus has played into the handsof an administration that, as Steve Banon put it, wants to fast track the “destructionof the administrative state.
” With the virus on every screen and media conglomerate, the EPA, among other departments, has pushed forward with a surge of environmental deregulationproposals.
On March 18, the EPA put forth a proposalbroadening a previous rule that would require peer-reviewed studies focusing on everythingfrom air quality to epidemiology to release confidential public health information inorder to be considered by the EPA.
This has produced a large backlash from thescience community, because, in the words of Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center forScience and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, “that data can never be public.
No one is going to want their test resultspublicly available.
” Essentially, the “transparency” that thisproposal seeks, means that researchers will be hard-pressed to find willing subjects, which inevitably means hindering essential scientific studies like the effects of airpollution on a community.
On top of that, the Trump administration announceda proposal to gut the landmark Obama-era fuel efficiency standards.
These standards would have reduced the emissionsfrom cars and light trucks by half and saved American’s $1.
7 trillion in fuel costs.
Instead, amid the chaos of the Coronavirus, the Trump administration proposed a fuel economy change that would “result in almost a billionmore tons of greenhouse gases emitted over the next five years” These are drastic actionsand despite public opposition to these changes, the administration is barrelling through withthem in a time where protests, public comment periods, and court litigation is much harderto carry out.
As David Hayes, director of the State Energyand Environmental Impact Center at the New York University School of Law, explains, “Theadministration is essentially taking advantage of the fact that the public is distractedand in fact disabled from fully engaging against this ideological push.
” Alongside using the Coronavirus as a distraction, the Trump administration has, for certain deregulation efforts, also used COVID-19 asan excuse to dismantle environmental safeguards.
At the top of this list comes the EPA’sannouncement on March 26th to allow companies to essentially regulate themselves while theCoronavirus wreaks havoc throughout the United States.
In addition, the EPA is ceasing to issue finesfor violations of certain air, water and hazardous-waste-reporting requirements for the duration of the Coronaviruscrisis to supposedly ease the burden on oil and gas companies.
Essentially, pollution industries get a freepass during this pandemic, while communities surrounding refineries and chemical plantshave to live in their smog, which, incidentally, makes the effects of coronavirus more deadly.
Susan Bodine, assistant administrator forthe EPA compliance office, says this is due to the need for essential personnel and resourcesat polluting sites to be devoted to maintaining production, rather than having to focus oncompliance as well.
But, Eric Schaeffer, executive director ofthe Environmental Integrity Project, points out the flaw in this argument in an articlefrom the Intercept, “If everyone’s at work refining oil and making chemicals, andit’s just your compliance staff that’s been coronavirused-out, then they’ll needto explain that.
” All these actions have consequences not onlyfor the environment but for people.
Environmental deregulation is intertwiningwith and exacerbating the coronavirus in real time.
A recently published study from Harvard Universityfound that just a small increase in long-term exposure to pollution leads to a large increasein the COVID-19 death rate.
According to the study if New York Countyreduced its pollution particulate matter by just one count, they could have seen 248 fewerdeaths by April 4th.
That is a staggering finding, and is due tothe way in which the Coronavirus and air pollution both shut down lung capacity.
The conclusion of the report stands in starkcontrast to Trump’s actions, the authors stress “the importance of continuing toenforce existing air pollution regulations to protect human health both during and afterthe COVID-19 crisis.
” Sadly, Trump and his administration are doingthe exact opposite.
But this isn’t unusual for the U.
This is the American Shock Doctrine at work.
In the words of Naomi Klein, who coined theterm, “the Shock Doctrine is.
the political tactic of using states of crisis states ofemergency to push through a series of pro-corporate policies that leave us more divided [and]less protected.
” From the reconstruction of Iraq to the rubbleof Katrina, the United States government has a history of using disasters as a way to shockthe public into pro-corporate, neoliberal ideas.
The Trump administration’s use of this crisisto deregulate the oil, gas, and chemical industries is right out of the Shock Doctrine handbook.
Klein goes on to say, “whatever fossil fuelcompanies were after before this crisis set in they have just been checking off the wishlist.
” In short, as we reel from the shock of COVID-19, large industries can roll out their pre-prepared plans for expanded profits and decreased regulations, which ultimately mean more harm to people, more pollution, and a hotter planet.
But the crisis we face can go both ways.
Yes, the Trump administration is seizing thisas an opportunity to contract much needed policies and regulation, but it also presentsan opportunity to swing the other way towards justice, and in that sense there is hope.
A silver lining to this terrible pandemic.
What seemed for many like radical solutionsto national issues now feel like the bare minimum for keeping people alive during thispandemic: universal healthcare, a green new deal, guaranteed jobs.
All of these proposals could have mitigatedsome of the harm COVID-19 has already caused in the United States.
And on a more local level, the Coronavirusis showing us a social solidarity we often don’t experience in daily life.
The logic goes that if you don’t get sick, I won’t get sick and therefore we are learning to trust each other to do the right thing.
We are interdependent.
Community care and mutual aid groups are coalescingto take care of the most vulnerable people in communities by sharing excess food andchecking in on elders.
This is the collective mindset that helpsus realize that the solution to our environmental problems is us.
Working together to forge a path that meansenvironmental and social justice built from the rubble of this worldwide disaster.
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