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Jan. 22, 2020 by Katie Tracy, Robert Verchick

EPA Staff Clap Back at Trump with Workers' Bill of Rights

​It's no secret that President Trump has harassed staff at federal agencies since his first moment in office. Days after his inauguration, he blocked scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from talking to the press and the public. He famously cracked down on federal labor unions and chiseled early retirees of their expected pension benefits. Now he's requiring hundreds of staff from USDA's Economic Research Service and the Bureau of Land Management to leave their homes in the Washington area and move to offices out West or risk losing their jobs.

The administration has been particularly disdainful of the professional staff at the EPA – the people who work every day to make sure you can take a dip in the lake, fill your lungs on a morning walk, or drink from the tap without some nagging fear of toxic contamination. Environmental science was one of the first targets of Team Trump, as the gag rule noted above illustrates, and the administration has continued its broadside on science at the EPA in other ways, too. According to a recent exposé in the New York Times, "In addition to shutting down some programs …

May 7, 2019 by Robert Verchick
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Pop quiz: What do marshes, pipelines, forests, and underground parking structures have in common?

The answer is they are all infrastructure – part of the "underlying foundation," as my dictionary puts it, "on which the continuance and growth of a community depend." A lot of that foundation, like pipelines and parking structures, is artificial. But most of the goods and services we rely on come from the natural environment, itself, like clean water, breathable air, and a stable climate.

Ideally, both kinds of infrastructure – gray and green – would work together to provide the food, transport, and energy we need. But the story of gray and green infrastructure is often one of conflict. In the Upper Midwest, oil pipelines tear through important forest habitat and spoil wetlands that filter water and are vital to the ecosystem. In Houston, six-lane highways have covered grasslands that used to slow …

Oct. 2, 2018 by Sidney Shapiro, Robert Verchick
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Originally published in The Regulatory Review as part of a series on social justice and the green economy. Reprinted with permission.

The reactions to our article, Inequality, Social Resilience, and the Green Economy, have a clear message: We, environmentalists, have our work cut out for us.

We wrote our article to start an overdue conversation about environmental policy and social and economic well-being, and we thank our commentators for joining us in starting this conservation. In response, we would note that, although protecting the environment and achieving justice has never been easy, the United States has made progress over time. We are persuaded, despite the caveats our commentators have identified, that the country can do so again.

Michael P. Vandenbergh warns of the political danger of tying the environmental agenda to social well-being in our current political state, and we agree with this warning for all of …

Sept. 24, 2018 by Sidney Shapiro, Robert Verchick
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Originally published in The Regulatory Review as part of a series on social justice and the green economy. Reprinted with permission.

A green economy will generate thousands of new jobs — many more than will be lost to regulations on carbon pollution. But a green economy may also increase wealth inequality in some parts of the United States because people who lose jobs to carbon controls are not the same as those who will get them when the green economy blooms. For example, the kiln operator laid off from a cement plant in Virginia will probably not end up installing rooftop solar panels New Mexico. And based on the demographics of today's fossil fuel industry, job losses due to environmental regulations will likely affect whites, Hispanics, and African-Americans in significant numbers.

Nevertheless, when regulatory advocates have responded in the past to critics who thunder against "job-killing" regulation, they …

Sept. 12, 2018 by Alice Kaswan, Alyson Flournoy, Robert Verchick
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This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report.

Three months before Hurricane Irma hit Florida, the state relaxed what many had considered to be one of the best building codes in the country. That wasn’t an anomaly. A report by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety found that many states along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts either lack building codes or have relaxed them in recent years.

When jurisdictions fail to plan, or plan too little, they squander the opportunity to avoid or mitigate significant problems. Houston and surrounding Harris County, have seen massive in-migration and development in the last 20 years on some of the least absorbent soils in the nation, but has not developed adequate stormwater infrastructure. Behind Orleans and Jefferson parishes in Louisiana, Harris County ranks third in the nation for the …

June 6, 2017 by Robert Verchick
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Tomorrow, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will examine and likely vote on President's Trump's selection for Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). OIRA is the most important government office most Americans have never heard of. It is the depot through which all regulatory freight must pass, the place where ideas go to be sorted, weighed, green-lighted, or buried. It's the ganglia of the president's bureaucratic brain. At the center of those fluttering gray cells, if Trump gets his way, will be Neomi Rao.

Rao comes to the position with scant management experience and little in the way of a record. But as a professor at George Mason's Antonin Scalia Law School, she has managed to raise serious questions about how she would evaluate the health and environmental protections we all rely on.

Following Rao …

March 28, 2017 by Robert Verchick
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Donald Trump has been in office only 68 days, and already I've passed the threshold from shock to boredom. His order to erase climate change from federal policy, preceded by a speech before captive members of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), only seals the deal. I served at the EPA during President Obama's first term, helping that agency and others prepare for the hazards of climate change. That work is serious and complicated and subtle. Trump, of course, is anything but. The man is as formulaic as a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. 

First there's the over-the-top infliction of trauma with blindness to reason. He'll launch an executive order rescinding climate change policy! Forget the decades of studies and empirical data confirming an era of rising seas, heavier rains, and stronger storms. Science is for nerds with thick glasses. Only a "loser" would stop an expensive …

Dec. 31, 2016 by Robert Verchick
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My, but the year 2016 has been a humdinger, a whopper, a real sockdolager. Donald Trump is measuring drapes for the White House. His allies in the Republican Party hold both chambers of Congress. At the state and local levels, Democratic influence is at historic lows. Did I mention there are more than a hundred vacancies on the federal court to be filled by a soon-to-be President Trump, including an open seat on the Supreme Court? 

I will not lie. In the weeks after the November election, my brain and body felt like an empty husk. I camped out on the couch grading papers, watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and talking to my cats. Later, I pulled out the books. I browsed through works by Desmond Tutu, read Tich Nhat Hanh's meditation on fear, and, of course, revisited Orwell. Not as fun as Swing Time …

March 23, 2016 by Robert Verchick
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Earlier this week in Havana’s Gran Teatro, President Obama urged Cubans in this new century to keep their eyes on the prize of “sustainable prosperity.” His remarks focused on the foundational role of political freedom, but not before underlining the importance of environmental protection too. That’s no surprise. Economic growth in Cuba will depend heavily on the natural systems that keep the island’s 11 million people fed, sheltered, and buffered from storms. Indeed, the U.S. State Department’s negotiations with Cuba stressed this very point: two of four agreements reached since the re-opening of diplomatic relations involved resource protection and preparing for the impacts of climate change. The expected influx of U.S. tourists, businesses, and developers—another key to economic success—promises to add a corresponding layer of environmental stress.

Last spring I traveled to Cuba as part of a New Orleans …

Feb. 22, 2016 by Robert Verchick
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Justice Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court chair sits empty, draped in black wool to honor a man whose intellect and fire-breathing keyboard helped reshape the nation’s political landscape. Depending on how things go, that chair could be empty for a while. Unlike more recent nominations to replace a Justice, a nomination from President Obama could reorient the Court away from its long-standing conservative tilt toward something more progressive or even merely moderate. In the current session alone, important cases involving affirmative action, abortion, birth control, and immigration hang in the balance.

Add the environment to your list of hot topics. Simmering questions about climate change, water quality, and wetlands will be bubbling up very soon. And the next occupant of that vacant chair will have a lot to say about the planet’s fate, although I’m sure less vividly than Justice Scalia might have put …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Jan. 22, 2020

EPA Staff Clap Back at Trump with Workers' Bill of Rights

May 7, 2019

Connecting the Dots Among Infrastructure, Community Needs, and Climate: Season Two of CPR's Signature Podcast

Oct. 2, 2018

Environmental Justice Is Worth Fighting For

Sept. 24, 2018

Regulating the Green Economy

Sept. 12, 2018

From Surviving to Thriving: State and Local Planning

June 6, 2017

Questions Arise as Senate Prepares to Take Up Nomination for Key Trump Regulatory Post

March 28, 2017

Sowing Confusion and Doubt, Trump Attempts Climate Policy Rollbacks