In his latest installment, Bend’s outspoken climate change skeptic, Paul DeWitt, turns his attention to the significant progress made by the U.S. over the years to reduce a range of harmful pollutants. We’re doing fine, he seems to suggest. (“The U.S. has made great strides in the environment,” The Bulletin, Nov. 21)
Not mentioned by DeWitt is that those improvements didn’t occur in a vacuum. Industry didn’t suddenly see the light and decide to clean up its act. DeWitt fails to acknowledge that this progress was largely the result of bipartisan legislative efforts, over nearly five decades, to tackle the country’s environmental problems. Through landmark accomplishments such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, the Superfund bill and other regulatory measures, Democratic and Republican policymakers together employed scientific scrutiny, cost/benefit assessments, and public rulemaking to make measurable progress in improving our air and water.
In fact, the U.S. Senate approved the Clean Air Act of 1970 by unanimous vote. In the U.S. House, only one member opposed the bill. Other enlightened nations took similar steps during the period to make environmental cleanup a major priority, but it’s important to recognize that the United States didn’t wait for others to act first. A lesson for the current climate debate, perhaps?
Some of the regulatory efforts in the U.S. had an almost immediate impact in improving our daily lives. For example, Congress took the initiative, vehemently opposed by the tobacco industry and its political champions, to ban smoking on airplanes, and states and localities acted to prohibit smoking in restaurants and other public places. It’s easy for some to criticize government regulation, but how many Americans would like to turn back the clock on these policies?
As he shifts to more partisan ground, Dewitt states that “Oil prices averaged $100 per barrel well into Obama’s second term and, under Trump, have dropped to about $60 per barrel.” No surprise, his statistical averages don’t tell the full story. As fracking revolutionized the domestic oil and gas industry, the price of West Texas Intermediate crude plunged during the Obama administration from over $100 barrel in the summer of 2014 to an incredibly low $26.21 per barrel in early 2016, before settling into the $55-65 range that generally prevails today.
DeWitt credits the greater use of relatively clean-burning natural gas as a positive development in our drive for cleaner air. Indeed, thanks to lower costs, natural gas, rather than coal, is increasingly the fuel of choice among utility plant operators. We’re left to wonder why then, Trump, at every opportunity, promotes the use of “beautiful, clean coal” — Trump’s description — with no apparent dissent from DeWitt. The only way to reduce the harmful emissions from burning coal is to utilize improved technology in coal-fired utility plants. But that is unlikely to happen with Trump’s recent proposal to roll back Obama era standards aimed at cleaning up dangerous heavy metals and ash from coal plants.
Although he cites natural gas as a cleaner burning fuel, Dewitt ignores Trump’s 2018 order rolling back an Obama initiative to prevent methane, a potent, heat trapping greenhouse gas, from escaping into the atmosphere as it’s flared from natural gas production facilities.
In the meantime, we continue to witness a revolving door under the Trump administration as top political appointees are forced out of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior due to scandal and mismanagement and are replaced by individuals who come from the very industries they are charged with regulating. This is draining the swamp?
If DeWitt is serious about improving the environment, perhaps he can use his influence as past chair of the Deschutes County Republican Party to urge county and state Republicans to go on record in opposition to Trump’s cheerleading for increased consumption of “beautiful” coal, and against Trump’s efforts to green light polluting coal plants.
— Tim Galvin lives in Bend.