In most emergencies, networks seem eager to show images of people looting, but with the coronavirus crisis, those images don’t seem to be reaching our screens. Which is surprising, because the level of looting has been severe; it’s not televisions or sneakers, it’s the air, the water, the soil, and the future.
Under the cover of the coronavirus, Donald Trump has let polluters know that all bets are off. Anything goes. And the usual suspects are welcoming the opportunity.
Since taking office, Trump has made destroying environmental rules set in place by President Barack Obama both one of his goals and bragging points. But the rule over limiting emissions from vehicles and requiring higher mileage from vehicles has been something of a sticking point, partly because there is the complication that California and other states have the authority to set their own limits, and partly because not even the automakers want Trump’s sky-blackening proposal.
But, with all eyes turned to the immediate threat of the virus, Trump’s team has been rushing to complete this smash-and-grab that will, as The New York Times reports, throw a billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere. Not only will it generate a cost to the environment, it also represents a threat to public health. And automakers don’t like it, because it places the United States far outside the rules being set for other nations, setting the stage for automakers to have to create U.S.-only models in a race to the bottom for the least efficient, highest polluting vehicles.
If automakers don’t want it, consumers are going to hate it, and the economy suffers from it, why is Trump so anxious to get it passed under the shadow of the virus? That would be because of exactly how the rule-gutting does its work. Thanks to this change from Trump, American consumers can expect to use 80 billion more gallons of gasoline in the cars built under Trump’s rules than Obama’s.
So there definitely is someone who loves these changes that Trump is sneaking in—the oil and gas companies. But it’s not just the rules that are changing, it’s the enforcement. Or rather, it’s the lack of enforcement. Last week, the EPA let polluters know that, since everyone was all concerned about the virus and looking the other way, they wouldn’t be bothering to enforce even the most basic rules on polluting air, water, and soil.
As the head of Obama’s EPA made clear, this is a no-smog-barred abdication of any enforcement, a “nationwide waiver of environmental rules for the indefinite future.” So long as companies can make any claim—any claim—that their pollution is somehow related to the pandemic, the EPA has promised not only that they won’t be subject to regulation now, but that they won’t be hit with fines later. In fact, they won’t even be required to monitor how much pollution they’re creating because … didn’t someone say “virus?”
It’s open permission to allow methane to leak, allow coal slurry to flow, to do everything without concern for the spills, the smoke, the permanent harm that will be done by looters cracking open sky, sea, and earth while the nation is focused on Trump’s daily self-praise sessions. And it’s not just the fossil fuel companies that are reveling in their newfound permission; chemical companies are also giving their thanks for the virus free-for-all. After all, who’s going to be concerned about rivers slimed with toxic waste, or environments burned by excess pesticides. Everyone’s inside anyway.
The real looters are hard at work, stealing everything of value under a cloak of protection provided them by Trump. And the really funny thing is, if someone actually cracks a storefront to steal a television, you can bet it will make the news.
Around the world, there have been images that show the air or water being so much cleaner as the isolation and slow-down necessitated by the pandemic generates one unexpected benefit—a moment’s respite in the polluting of the planet. Donald Trump is doing everything he can to make sure that doesn’t happen here