Trump Puts Power in the Hands of Polluters


President Donald Trump seems determined to take power out of the hands of the people and place it in the hands of polluters.

And also create a less secure world.

In the short time he has been in office, Trump has considered abandoning the Paris climate agreement, proposed slashing funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and supported other pro-polluter measures. In addition, he has proposed more defense spending.

In somewhat of a relief, the congressional agreement on a spending bill reached on May 1 to keep the government running through September averted the deep cuts Trump proposed. The budget deal cuts the EPA by $81 million, or about 1%, to $8.06 billion, but Trump had proposed $230 million in cuts to the EPA, including $48 million from climate-related research, $49 million from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and $30 million from efforts to clean up contaminated superfund sites,Science Magazine reported.

Trump’s agenda asks a question about control – who controls the ecological systems that humans depend on for health and survival? The Trump Administration seems to think that corporate America owns those systems.

While the polluter lobby regularly talks about the costs of environmental regulation, it does not address the issue of who is paying for the costs of their pollution. Environmental regulation often internalizes the costs of pollution and makes polluters pay their own way. The past actions of new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt prove the point. In 2011, Pruitt, then attorney general of Oklahoma, filed a lawsuit along with Murray Energy, Peabody Energy and Southern Power Company, against the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. That regulation aims to limit emissions from coal-and oil-burning power plants in 27 states, pollution that drifts into other states in the form of soot and ozone, sometimes called smog. According to the regulatory impact analysis done by the EPA, the rules created $800 million in costs for the regulated energy companies. However, smog and soot cause illnesses and sometimes even death. Limiting emissions can amount to between $120 and $280 billion in health savings annually. The sum represents various forms of human suffering — 400,000 cases of aggravated asthma, 1.8 million days of missed work and school, 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks and up to 34,000 premature deaths.

On climate change, Trump has suggested pulling out of the Paris climate agreement and has also cancelled funding for the Clean Power Plan, a regulation passed under President Obama that required states to slash carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Greenhouse gases – like carbon dioxide – lead to an increase in global warming. According to a Department of Defense report, global warming could exasperate problems, such as poverty, weaken political institutions and also keep governments from meeting basic human needs in a number of countries. These issues could cause lots of problems for states that are already fragile and have limited resources to deal with such problems. The report also said the Department of Defense must consider the impacts of global warming on areas, such as sea level rise, shifting climate zones and more frequent severe weather events. The fallout from climate change can already be observed in stresses to certain nations and communities such as Africa, the United States, the Arctic, Middle East, Asia and South America, said the report. Increased fallout could lead to more US military deployments, more military spending and more global unrest.

Concern for the environment didn’t start on Earth Day in 1970. In 530 A.D., Roman Emperor Justinian established a legal code called The Code of Justinian. Portions of the code protected the ecological systems humans depended on. The code protected the air, water, sea and sea shores, as no individual could take away a citizen’s right to flourish from those things.

Those who advocate environmental legislation are trying to protect what some call the commons – portions of our economy that cannot or should not be reduced to private property. Without the commons, and ecological systems can and should be included in the commons, humans can’t flourish. When polluters take away human flourishing through the impacts of pollution, it is theft — plain and simply. The innovative ideas that push our economy forward are rightly considered private property. They are protected by copyrights, patents and trademarks, but the environment doesn’t fit into the same category. It’s hard to argue that polluters created the environment we all depend on.

Just as our government considers assembly, speech and religion civil rights, an ecology that allows humans to flourish can and should be considered a civil right that our country should work to secure.

Trump’s policies on climate change could cause a less secure world that is more prone to war. In turn, the military budget could spiral upward. The civil right of peace, something we should all work toward, would be infringed.

The Code of Justinian broke down in the Dark Ages when feudal kings began to gain control over public resources. An example - in England, King John began selling monopolies to fishing waters and he said the deer belonged to nobility. Something similar is happening today with the agenda pushed by polluters.

The public rose up and confronted King John at the Battle of Runnymede and forced him to sign the Magna Carta, which marked the beginning of constitutional government. In addition to earning the rights we have in the Bill of Rights, the Magna Carta included free access to fishing waters. After the American Revolution, those ecological rights descended to the people in each state. Every state constitution included, as fundamental rights, the waters, the fisheries, the wildlife and the air. They are not owned by the governor, the legislature or corporations. The men who founded this country didn’t think anyone had the right to use the commons to diminish or injure others.

Something similar to the Magna Carta seems to emerging in our times – witness the March for Science and the People’s Climate March. Maybe those who are interested in the commons can defeat the new King John.

Jason Sibert worked for the Suburban Journals in the St. Louis area for over a decade and is currently executive director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis, Mo. Email

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2017

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