The White House got a bit more specific about its plans to gut the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, releasing a budget blueprint that targeted one-fifth of EPA staff and shuttered key programs.
Air and water programs and state grants would be cut 30%, research and development 42%, and “38 separate programs would be eliminated entirely,” the Washington Post reports. “Grants to clean up brownfields, or abandoned industrial sites, would be gone. Also zeroed out: the radon program, climate change initiatives, and funding for Alaskan native villages.”
The cuts “would have to be codified through the congressional appropriations process and would probably face resistance from some lawmakers,” write reporters Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis. “Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), a former chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on interior, environment, and related agencies, said he did not think Congress would approve such a steep drop in funding.”
Former EPA officials were aghast, however, reminding the regime that science transcends politics. “Evidence-based decision-making on the environment should not be abandoned,” wrote Thomas A. Burke and Bernard Goldstein, who led the agency’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) under presidents Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan, respectively, and University of Southern California Prof. Jonathan Samet, former chair of the agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, in a commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“Reasoned action and acknowledgment of scientific truth are fundamental to democracy, public health, and economic growth,” they added. “Scientific evidence does not change when the administration changes.”
Samet added that the 42% ORD cut “would be devastating to the nation’s capacity to do environmental health and ecosystem research.”
Greenpeace USA called the EPA cuts “environmental racism in action”, Grist reports. “While this ‘zero out’ strategy would impact nearly every community in the United States,” said spokesperson Travis Nichols, “a close examination shows the burden of these cuts will fall hardest on the health of low-income Americans and people of colour.”
“It’s almost like I might as well just kill myself because I will have no protection,” said Cheryl Johnson, executive director of People for Community Recovery in inner city Chicago. “I won’t have the resources to be able to go and educate my community, or educate even just my family about the environmental hazards in our community.”
Trump is also proposing dramatic foreign aid cuts at a moment when four countries across Africa and the Middle East are approaching famine and 20 million people are approaching starvation, the Post reported. “The United Nations has requested $4.4 billion by March to ‘avert a catastrophe,’” the paper notes. “It has so far received only a tiny fraction of that request.” Much of the crisis is due to drought brought on by climate change.
An analysis by ThinkProgress concluded that Trump’s address to Congress Tuesday evening was “riddled with falsehoods about the energy industry”, including claims that the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines would deliver “tens of thousands of jobs”. The LA Times said Trump was getting ahead of himself with that claim, while ignoring the real and significant job creation coming from clean energy. Washington Post fact checker Michelle Ye Hee Lee awarded Trump the paper’s coveted Four Pinocchios, reserved for only the most misleading examples of political speech, for the claim the Obama-era Waters of the United States regulation had cost the country “hundreds of thousands” of jobs when it had not yet been implemented.
Climate Progress Founding Editor Joe Romm charged that first daughter Ivanka Trump is greenwashing her father’s administration, not greening it. Members of Congress who had gathered to discuss social cost of carbon accounting ended up debating whether climate change is a thing. The Senate confirmed ex-Texas governor Rick Perry as Energy Secretary, just a few years after he famously forgot the name of the U.S. Department of Energy as he tried to identify it as a federal agency to be eliminated. The White House brought onboard a Koch-affiliated senior energy advisor who believes U.S. environment groups are driven by “Marxist ideology”, and that global warming is a “liberal concept”. And EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt cited brownfield programming and Superfund cleanups as two funding areas he wanted to protect.
The Nigerian Senate will launch an encore investigation of the country’s state oil company, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), on suspicions that it pocketed US$17 billion (5.1 trillion naira) in extra government subsidies between 2006 and 2015 by inflating its fuel prices.
“NNPC was previously implicated in allegations of fraud in an investigation in 2012 that discovered a $6.8-billion fuel subsidy scam, one of the biggest corruption scandals in Nigeria’s history,” Reuters reports. “In the 2012 investigation, companies including NNPC were found to have declared the same fuel import cargoes multiple times and claimed subsidies for fuel never delivered or sold to neighbouring states.”
There was no word on whether the new Senate investigation would focus on the 2012 scandal, or a new one.
“Subsidies are a murky issue in Nigeria,” the news agency notes. “The government hasn’t allocated any money to them since 2016, but effective support remains in place, including giving petrol importers access to dollars at very favourable rates.”
Smallholder farmers in a remote, impoverished region of Kenya are joining forces to cope with climate impacts that have wiped out about 80% of their recent harvests, forcing some of them to travel up to 20 kilometres to collect water.
“Many water sources have dried up,” SciDevNet reports, and “much of the water that is available is of poor quality, with some containing a high salt content, making it unsuitable for drinking or agricultural use.”
In response, the farmers formed a community-based organization and banded together to learn water and soil conservation techniques, deal with pests and crop disease, get better access to technology and crop storage, and negotiate higher prices for their product.
“One of the reasons we started the CBO was because we want farming to be a business,” said Kathande, a farmer who helped found the group in 2014. “For some time, we have been growing crops that have not done well, so we have come together to work out what will grow successfully in this climate.”
“We came together in a farmers group to unite so we can have bargaining power,” added Nzoka, one of about 100 local producers learning conservation techniques.
“With the right training and support being given, Nzoka and others in his community can become more resilient” to climate shocks, SciDevNet notes. “By increasing the amount they can harvest, they will be more able to feed their families and earn additional income from selling their surplus, which can be invested to further improve their businesses.”
Donald Trump may have built a successful presidential run in part on denying the reality of climate change. But that doesn’t stop people from dying from its effects, in the midst of a crippling drought across much of Africa.
“Trump has repeatedly mocked climate change, once even calling it a hoax fabricated by China. But climate change here is as tangible as its victims,” reports New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who travelled to Madagascar with a videography team to document a mounting humanitarian tragedy.
“Climate change, disproportionately caused by carbon emissions from America, seems to be behind a severe drought that has led crops to wilt across seven countries in southern Africa,” he writes. “The result is acute malnutrition for 1.3 million children in the region,” according to United Nations estimates.
“Southern Africa’s drought and food crisis have gone largely unnoticed around the world,” Kristof reports. “The situation has been particularly severe in Madagascar,” where “families are slowly starving because rains and crops have failed for the last few years. They are reduced to eating cactus and even rocks or ashes. The United Nations estimates that nearly one million people in Madagascar alone need emergency food assistance.”
Kristof writes about a young mother who walked barefoot through the desert for 12 hours to get her 18-month-old son to an emergency feeding station. “I feel so powerless as a mother, because I know how much I love my child,” she said. “But whatever I do just doesn’t work.”
Kristof says the young woman had never heard of the United States or Donald Trump. “Yet we Americans may be inadvertently killing her infant son.”
“As an American, I’m proud to see U.S. assistance saving lives here,” Kristof writes, “but my pride is mixed with guilt: The United States single-handedly accounts for more than one-quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions over the last 150 years, more than twice as much as any other country.”
He adds: “The basic injustice is that we rich countries produced the carbon that is devastating impoverished people from Madagascar to Bangladesh. In America, climate change costs families beach homes; in poor countries, parents lose their children.”
The veteran reporter proposes a teachable moment for the empathy-challenged U.S. president. “Trump should come and feel these children’s ribs and watch them struggle for life,” he writes. “It’s true that the links between our carbon emissions and any particular drought are convoluted, but overall, climate change is as palpable as a wizened, glassy-eyed child dying of starvation.”
The southern African countries of Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe are all in severe drought, along with East Africa and the Horn of Africa
A local energy co-op in the town of Olosho-Oibor, in Kenya’s Rift Valley, is using solar and wind generation to power a range of essential services, keep more money in the community, and keep people healthy and safe.
The off-grid community “is buzzing with solar and wind energy, which powers everything from the dispensary and church to shops, homes, and even a rescue centre for girls fleeing child marriage and the threat of female genital mutilation,” the National Observer reports.
After seeing the success of a small solar installation, enough to power a few homes, residents “banded together to buy the shared energy system themselves, recognizing that the substantial upfront cost would create benefits for years to come. Those now include everything from vaccines that can now be kept cold at the dispensary to solar-powered pumping of water.”
To fund installations that not everyone could afford, those community members who could pay began contributing $10 per month to the project, then approached the UN Industrial Development Organization for technical support. “Today the 125-member energy cooperative has raised $4,900 for panels—installed on poles around the community and on rooftops—and installed two small wind turbines, as well.”
The community occasionally has to rely on a back-up diesel generator—but just occasionally.
“Before we started this solar farm, people from this village used to travel to Ngong town, which is 17 kilometres away, to get basic services and goods such as a photocopy or a haircut,” said solar farm manager Simon Parkesian. “This used to inconvenience us greatly since you had to part with a tidy sum.”
He adds that “the [local] power grid has initiated many projects in the community, but the most important project is the girls’ rescue centre that houses close to 80 vulnerable girls.” The centre opened in 2012 and lights is dormitories and classrooms with renewable energy.
Co-op member Lydia Mboyo said evening lighting gives her children more time to study and allows her to keep her retail shop open later into the evening. She’s planning to expand the business and buy a fridge to store perishable food and drinks.
“I am also a member of a women’s group that makes and sells beaded ornaments abroad, and with lighting we have been able to store our business records in computers,” she said. “We also listen to the radio for entertainment while beading.”