What’s at stake in new political climate

Elected officials plan to undo rules that keep our water and air clean

Jan 16, 2017

A political tsunami will wash over the country on inauguration day. We don’t yet know what the damage will be, but we know it will make Trustees for Alaska’s work protecting and defending Alaska harder and more critical.

The surge has been building since election night. The president-elect, his appointees, and many members of Congress have shown that they will stifle opposition, limit debate, squelch public input and drown out science and journalism that doesn’t serve their purpose.

Their goal? To hastily weaken or eliminate the protections and safety nets safeguarding our families and communities.

The environment will be a target. The president-elect, virtually all of his appointees, and many Republican members of Congress want to undo or weaken regulatory oversight protecting our clean air and water. They continue to deny the human causes of climate change. They have already started repealing federal regulations that protect Americans.

Polar bear looking at the sea and moon.

© Bob Waldrop, RedPoint Images

There is a lot to be worried about in the years to come. Here’s a brief rundown on what’s on the chopping block and what’s at stake.

The Congressional Review Act (CRA): Enacted in 1996 as part of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America,” the CRA gives Congress the ability to revoke new regulations within timelines based on when those regulations were made. Currently, Republicans are targeting regulations put into place in the last months of the Obama administration, all the way back to May. The consequences of this act go deeper still. If Congress repeals a rule, the act bars agencies from issuing the same or similar rule later, even if a rule can save lives, protect drinking water, or salvage fisheries. Using the act is a dangerous power grab that turns regulations into political tools rather than rules to protect Americans. The Republicans in Congress will likely want to repeal rules that require industry to protect the environment. Examples include rules curbing methane emissions from oil and gas production, preventing coal-mining companies from permanently polluting streams, and setting new greenhouse-gas emissions standards. Any action that stops progress in reducing emissions is a big hit to Alaska. Our communities know first-hand the effects of coastal erosion and the impact of climate change on subsistence hunting and the Alaska way of life.

The Midnight Rules Review Act (MRR): This act, already passed by the House of Representatives, is essentially the Congressional Review Act on steroids. The CRA allows Congress to target one rule at a time and gives the minority 10 hours to discuss each repeal. The Midnight Review Act would let Congress repeal a bunch of rules at once, potentially with little or no debate on many of them. In other words, the majority can undo a mass of regulations in one vote with minimal scrutiny. Congress can essentially wipe out the work of thousands of executive branch experts and millions of hours of public input. A vote could happen so quickly, and with so little debate and media, that the public would not know what their legislators were doing. The MRR would leave Americans in the dark about what regulations Congress is trying to undo, how repealing those rules can reduce protections or even cause harm, and how their representatives stand on any given regulation. The act doesn’t make government efficient. Instead, it gives corporate lobbyists more influence by allowing legislators to stay under the radar as they slash rules that protect all of us. The act would give Americans even less access to the regulatory process that is supposed to protect them.

The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2017: Turning a phrase can make it hard to read between the lines. The name of this act evokes a sense of accountability, but the REINS act makes it easier for Congress to skirt accountability altogether.

The act requires that both houses approve within 70 days any regulation having an annual effect on the economy of $100,000,000 or more. The monetary number attached to this act makes it clear that this act will benefit industries with enormous resources. Simply put, one chamber of Congress can simply sit on its hands to stop regulations aimed at preventing harm to Americans. It would let one legislative body single handedly, without debate, stop regulations protecting our health, safety, human rights and environment.

The House of Representatives has already approved the bill. Not surprisingly, its biggest supporters are lobbying groups sponsored by the likes of the Koch brothers.

Alaska will suffer the loss of agency oversight and expertise if regulations become political currency used by corporate lobbyists to get their way with our elected representatives. Politicians are not experts in writing and understanding regulations. The process requires years of scientific study and technical expertise.

As a resource state, Alaska will particularly suffer the loss of effective regulatory oversight of its lands and waters.

The denial of climate change: Most of the president-elect’s appointees and many members of Congress have denied the human contributions to climate change. Alaska is on the front lines of this issue, with villages forced to move, yet unable to foot the bill. The small village of Newtok has resorted to asking the federal government to declare a disaster so that it can get funds to relocate. The Army Corps of Engineers estimates the cost as between $80 and $130 million. Many other villages face the same hardships.

Proposed Chuitna coal strip mine map; Copywrite Alaskans First. .

Proposed Chuitna coal strip mine map. Copyright Alaskans First.

Putting climate change science into doubt is a way for corporations to eke out profits at the expense of our communities and environment. Seeding doubt is a tactic for countering policy that demands a reduction of carbon emissions, and a move away from oil and gas dependency.

Clouding the issue is a way for industry and politicians to skirt accountability for the economic, public health and environmental damage caused by irresponsible busi

ness practices and regulatory controls.  The denial of the human causes of climate change will force villages like Newtok to bear the consequences of inaction. It will leave Alaskans and Americans the mess and expect them to pay for cleaning it up. It will endanger Alaska communities, lands, and waters. It will steal Alaska’s future from the next generations.

The cumulative effect in Alaska: These actions could contribute to the greenlighting of projects like the Pebble Mine, the Chuitna coal mine, oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge and the NPRA, construction of a road through the Izembek wilderness, and the use of brutal methods of predator control on federal lands. No part of the state is safe when laws and regulations created to protect the environment get gutted or compromised. Our work to protect and defend the environment is more critical than ever. The values we live by demand that we prepare for these threats. It will take all of us to stay vigilant in this rapidly changing political climate.

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