Commentary: Trump’s team is blowing smoke over our natural assets


It goes and goes and goes — the stretching of credulity by the team of scoundrels President Donald Trump has assembled to oversee our air, our forests, our waters.

We have Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt with his $3.5 million round-the-clock security detail and the $43,000 soundproof phone booth he had built in his own office.

We have Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke seeking to lease property for fracking in the pristine Sangre de Cristo Range, not a mile from the silent shifting of the Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado.

In either case, we have ironclad industry control of agencies formed to be honest brokers regarding public assets – our lands and our environment. Yes, the word is “our.”

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In the meantime, we have Republicans in control of Congress who are abiding by their partisan oath to cut taxes, thereby straining the fiscal resources we have to protect or maintain our wild assets.

There’s that “we” and “our” again.

Facing a $12 billion backlog in maintaining national parks (and we wonder why …), I’m not sure what Zinke expected when his department proposed more than doubling the fees for entry to a host of national parks.

The idea was pelted with pine cones. Back to the drawing board.

Now Republicans have proposed addressing those fiscal needs with something loftily called the National Park Restoration Act.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., calls it a “long-term commitment to the parks” by his party. Forgive me, but as I read those words, all I can hear is, “Let’s do this on the cheap. We have Big Energy to serve.”

Which is exactly what the act would do.

The revenue Gardner and proponents envision would come from energy development on public lands, things like the fracking Zinke wants on Bureau of Land Management property near the Sand Dunes.

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The act is nothing more than a justification for more energy development in those public lands. At the same time, it makes the well-being of national parks contingent on an unstable and unpredictable revenue source. And after all, that revenue would go somewhere else, so this is simply a shell game for what the general fund should do.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the natural world, Pruitt has signed on a dramatic increase in the use of wood-burning power plants, declaring it a “carbon-neutral” means of providing energy.

Pruitt’s argument is that if trees are cut for biomass operations and replanted, the new trees will cancel out the carbon lost from the logging and that released from incineration.

Not surprisingly, a whole lot of scientists call this bunk. Not surprisingly, Pruitt is ignoring the science.

For one thing, regrowth of natural forests takes a century or more, while the planet stews in its juices.

For another, biomass ranks with coal in emitting carbon dioxide and particulates.

And burning wood to generate electricity is hardly cost-effective, and in fact is costlier than utility-scale wind and solar.

EDITORIAL: It’s time to probe details of Austin’s biomass power plant deal

What this is, not surprisingly, is a “giveaway to the forest-products industry,” writes a trio of top environmental scholars in a New York Times commentary. Of course, like the National Park Restoration Act, it is framed as something that’s good for us and our wild assets.

The team Trump has assembled to oversee these matters has only one set of assets in mind — as do those in Congress in neglecting their role of serious natural stewardship. The assets that matter are those measured on corporate ledgers.



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