Week 81: Under Trump, National Wildlife Refuges Are No Place for Bees

Plus, Trump’s wildfire hot air and the job-killing effects of fuel efficiency rollbacks.

August 10, 2018

Welcome to our weekly Trump v. Earth column, in which onEarth reviews the environment-related shenanigans of President Trump and his allies.

Bayer Over Bees

Would you be surprised to learn that the federal government allows farmers to grow commodity crops like corn and soybeans on national wildlife refuges, which are supposed to be dedicated to the conservation and restoration of fish and wildlife? If so, then you will be doubly surprised to learn that those farming operations also spray roughly 490,000 pounds of toxic pesticides and herbicides onto federally owned wildlife reserves every year, with the government’s blessing. Among those are the weed-killer glyphosate, a suspected carcinogen that threatens the existence of North America’s monarch butterfly.

The federal government has been pretty generous in these deals. In many cases, the land is offered at no charge; the grower has only to set aside a fraction of the crops for consumption by animals. And pesticide manufacturers have done a pretty roaring business on federal lands, too. Dozens of chemicals were sprayed on the wildlife refuges last year. What’s more, 107,000 pounds were dropped from airplanes, which meant the farmers had very little control over where they landed.

In 2014 the Obama administration added one small condition to this sweetheart deal: Genetically modified crops and neonicotinoid pesticides, which are suspected of contributing to the disappearance of bees, had to be phased out over two years.

That, apparently, was asking too much. This week the Department of Interior revoked the ban in more than 50 national wildlife refuges, inviting bee-killing chemicals back onto federal lands that are supposed to be dedicated to preserving wildlife. The move, while depressing, isn’t surprising. Bayer, which represents a large portion of the $2.6 billion annual profit in neonics through the sale of products like Roundup, has lobbied the Trump administration to ease up on regulations. The administration’s ask-and-ye-shall-receive policy toward corporate lobbyists has paid off handsomely for the German chemical giant.

Not so much for bees, which have yet to pick a K-Street lobbying firm. Come on, bees.

Water, Water, Everywhere . . .

President Trump isn’t an expert on firefighting or water management. But he’s never allowed ignorance to deter him, so he waded into the California wildfire crisis as part of his Monday Twitter thoughtlets.

The initial reaction to Trump’s tweet was bemusement. When asked whether firefighters are running out of water, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Lynette Round said, “Not that I’m aware of . . . but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s pause for a moment to let Round’s retort sink in. It’s perhaps the perfect phrase for the Trumpian post-truth era in which we live. You could easily imagine a presidential spokesperson tossing this line out when forced to defend, say, Trump’s claim that the Paris agreement transfers coal jobs “out of America and the United States and ships them to foreign countries.” Or the conspiracy theory he’s spouted that Twitter is “shadow banning” Republicans from its service. Is either thing occurring? “Not that I’m aware of,” the embattled staffer will say, trying to hide behind the podium, “but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”

But I digress. In fact, when it comes to Trump’s claim that water regulations are hampering the work of firefighters, we can say definitively that it is not happening. After a few hours of trying to figure out what Trump was even referring to, California officials responded, “We have plenty of water to fight these wildfires, but let’s be clear: It’s our changing climate that is leading to more severe and destructive fires.”

We can only speculate what goes on in the mind of Trump, but it appears that the president at some point learned about the complicated process of allocating water to farmers and to the natural environment and somehow concluded that it left the state bereft of water to suppress fires.

Here’s the reality. Firefighters in California lower buckets from helicopters into lakes and ponds, then dump the water onto the forest. There is no evidence to show that those buckets are coming up empty anywhere in California, or that the state’s water management process has in any way hampered firefighters.

Maybe the president is simply wrong. But here’s another possibility: He deliberately concocted this nonsense to undercut the state and undermine Californians’ faith in their government. It wouldn’t even be the first time this month.

Does Anyone Support the Fuel Efficiency Rollback?

The Trump administration announced its plan to freeze automotive fuel efficiency rules last week, but the insanity of that decision just continues to spin off shocking news stories. Here’s my favorite, which emerged this week as journalists dug into the 978-page proposal: Freezing fuel efficiency standards could cost the economy 60,000 jobs, as compared with simply leaving the Obama standards in place. This estimate does not come from an environmental group, a labor union, or a left-leaning think tank. It’s the Trump administration’s own calculation.

Of all the administration’s regulatory rollbacks, the fuel efficiency standards are the most puzzling. Let’s set aside the fact that the rollback is disastrous for the global climate—we know Donald Trump couldn’t care less that transportation recently surpassed electricity generation as the leading U.S. source of carbon emissions. Let’s also ignore that the rollback will exacerbate deadly air pollution. Trump doesn’t appear to care about that, either, even though he talks endlessly about clean air.

But he does seem to care about jobs. He brags constantly about job creation and takes credit for any new jobs even if they lack any connection to his policies. Why would he adopt a policy that, by his administration’s own admission, destroys 60,000 of them?

Plus, the automotive industry doesn’t support Trump’s policy. On Monday, the leading automobile manufacturers’ trade association posted on its Twitter feed a link to an opinion piece titled, “The Trump administration’s fuel-efficiency proposal is unnecessary and harmful.” (The group later deleted the tweet, possibly sensing they had gone too far for political comfort.)

The administration also likes to trumpet “regulatory certainty,” but the fuel efficiency rollback would ensure years of legal wrangling while the divide deepens between states that follow the federal standard and those that follow California’s more stringent rules. Carmakers won’t know what to do.

The only obvious constituency for freezing fuel efficiency is the oil industry. We already knew Trump loves oil companies—apparently so much he’s willing to knowingly put 60,000 people out of work and wreak havoc in the car industry just to prove it.

Stay up-to-date on Trump’s environmental antics by visiting NRDC’s Trump Watch or following it on Facebook or Twitter.

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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