During U.S. Rep. John Katko’s last two terms in office, he has consistently voted with President Donald Trump’s devastating assault on the environment. It is necessary in these divisive times to choose between protecting our earth or enabling large industry to continue polluting with gas and oil drilling, dumping of chemical wastes in our waterways, deregulating fuel emissions, and otherwise making our planet no longer able to sustain a quality of life for generations to come.
Trump, the EPA, the Department of the Interior and Katko have derailed progress made on environmental laws, and Katko and other Republicans have mostly abdicated their oversight responsibility by allowing the Trump administration to strip us of needed protections.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has monitored and regulated these areas since it was established under the President Richard Nixon administration in December 1970. However, under the Trump administration, our environment is at terrible risk of returning to 1960’s smog, polluted water, chemical emissions and wildlife extinction. Many younger citizens will not remember wearing masks in California cities, cancer-causing chemical legal battles, polluted waterways and dumps, respiratory diseases caused by inhaling coal dust, asbestos and lead illnesses and the Great Lakes pollution. All is discreetly being undone with very little media coverage.
By December 2019, Trump’s EPA and other agencies had deregulated or drastically reduced 78 environmental protections. Between January 2020 and early September 2020, in just eight months, another 22 assaults were enacted. These increases are listed below:
• Air pollution and emissions deregulations increased from 21 to 27.
• Drilling and extraction deregulations increased from 16 to 19 .
• Infrastructure and planning reversals increased from 12 to 13.
• Animal safety protections were cut back again from 9 to 12.
• Water pollution deregulations increased from 6 to 11.
• Toxic substance and safety reversals were increased from 6 to 8.
• Other reversals against environmental safety standards increased from 8 to 10.
“We have the cleanest air in the world, in the United States, and it’s gotten better since I’m president,” Trump said during a visit to Ireland. This is untrue. There were 15 percent more days with unhealthy air in America both last year and the year before than on average from 2013 through 2016, according to the Associated Press.
During the pandemic, industries and all other polluters were released from being monitored and regulated for pollution. The implication was: regulations would return to already relaxed standards after the pandemic was controlled. Trump called the regulations burdensome and restrictive.
These new guidelines have allowed industries to monitor themselves with no oversight from the EPA, no fines or retribution. With the loosening of EPA monitoring, the implication is that industries would voluntarily self-monitor themselves. The order asks companies to “act responsibly” and voluntarily return to past standards with no monitoring. These are laughable, unreal expectations from profit mongers. The EPA also refused to strengthen industrial soot emissions linked to respiratory illnesses including COVID-19.
In April, rules were weakened on tailpipe emissions. However, some auto manufacturers opted to continue present standards. Since the pandemic, reduced driving has seen huge improvements in air quality especially in large cities American like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City, and metropolitan areas all over the world. This will be reversed once vehicle travel resumes to normal, but is definite proof that car emissions are a major cause of polluted air. The National Environmental Policy Act, a bedrock law protecting our natural resources, was gutted in July. This comprehensive conservation law required environmental impact studies be done on new production, construction and other projects. This limits public reviews of infrastructure projects expediting unsafe or inferior production, and is a major setback for environmental studies.
In late August, the Trump Administration finalized a plan to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas companies. This area is known for its landscape and wildlife consisting of caribou and polar bears, and has been protected since the Reagan administration. Yet, Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt said he would begin auctioning off parcels of land and start the process of exploring for oil. This could begin by the end of the year if the Trump administration is still in office.
And even closer to home: Trump claimed on March 28, 2019, that he loved the Great Lakes.
“They’re big. Very Deep. Record deepness, right?” he said.
He then promised full funding of $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). He claimed the GLRI has been trying to get funding for over 30 years. In reality, The GLRI has been receiving funding starting in 2010 under Obama with $475 million, and continuing since then. Trump proposed to cut this budget by 90 percent in his last two budgets. Congress ignored these drastic budget cuts. In April 2020, the EPA cut back enforcement of clean water laws in the Great Lakes region.
John Katko has not been transparent in his voting record. Between 2015 and 2019, he has voted against public “Right to Know” legislation for pesticides pollution and water and air toxics, according to the League of Conservation Voters.
Katko’s opponent, Dana Balter is running for the 24th Congressional District and has pledged to keep all her constituents informed on how she is protecting our air, water, and natural resources from irreparable damage. Balter will work to reinstate the environmental protection rollbacks by Trump and Katko. While the Trump administration has basically ignored infrastructure, Balter will put a price on carbon emissions and fight for renewable energy and safe water systems. Dana supports local farmers and will promote sustainable, safe and profitable agricultural practices through tax relief and grants.
It’s time to put an end to this destructive path. Please vote by mail, early voting, or at the polls during the Nov. 3 election.
Suzanne Stout is a contributing columnist for The Palladium-Times. She lives in Oswego.