November 16, 2018

We Need More Than Oversight

Titanic

Dear PEER Members,

Don’t get me wrong. For the past two years, congressional oversight has been synonymous with congressional overlook. Scrutiny enforced by subpoena would be a welcome change.

If the past two years show anything, it’s that inside the Trump-sphere of alternative facts information is not always power (“facts aren’t facts”). Moreover, without reliance on a gavel, there is already a firehose of information gushing out of the administration because –

  • Trump-land leaks like a sieve and he often is the biggest leaker, tweeting the instant something comes into his head;
  • PEER and other groups have no shortage of inside informants; and
  • The Freedom of Information Act is in overdrive, with record numbers of requests and lawsuits (Heck, PEER has been filing a new FOIA suit at the rate of one every three weeks) prying emails out of the unwilling hands of political appointees.

Information is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for change, however. Knowledge must be coupled with a plan and the determination to execute it. 

Hearings that produce “gotcha” moments will matter little. Team Trump is not going to be embarrassed into reform with new revelations of wrongdoing. Shame has no currency among the most shameless ruling circle since the court of Caligula.

It is said that elections have consequences. To be consequential, Democrats must assert legislative power to counter ill-considered executive initiatives and to advance initiatives defining what they are for. That, in turn, requires the political will to do things like –

  • Preserve the current scope of the Clean Water Act and Obama’s Clean Water Rule as part of any infrastructure package;
  • Make combating climate change a key component of any disaster relief legislation; and
  • Rebuild the depleted corps of anti-pollution investigators and prosecutors before approving more money for a bloated Border Patrol (now the largest federal police force).

In other words, oversight should be targeted to obtain actionable intelligence that is then robustly deployed to steer our lurching ship of state away from the shoals of Trump. To that end, help us launch a flotilla of “green” riders in the next session of Congress.

Sincerely,
Jeff Ruch
Executive Director

P.S. EPA Doth Protest Too Much

In our last PEER-mail, we detailed EPA’s stealth rollback of ozone protections in a manner that compromises public health.  We had partnered with CNN in breaking the story. For two weeks leading up to the release, CNN’s Rene Marsh verified the story with EPA officials. Unable to kill the story despite strenuous efforts, EPA then attacked CNN in a nasty press release, claiming the story contained “Seven Falsehoods.”

Other than the questionable use of tax dollars to attack the press, the EPA release was notable for two reasons: 1) It was a non-denial denial, as most of what EPA claimed to “correct” was accurately reported by CNN; and 2) Under Pruitt, the EPA press office often attacked reporters.  But these “war-room” tactics largely ceased when Pruitt was ousted (and PEER was happy to have a role in that).

However, one Pruitt holdover, John Konkus, decided to remain as deputy associate administrator for public affairs. This EPA release was a Konkus tantrum that only incentivized us to break more stories guaranteed to give him fits.

P.P.S. Chemical Safety Half-Cocked

President Trump unsuccessfully proposed eliminating the Chemical Safety Board, but he needn’t have bothered because the CSB appears to be self-abolishing. The agency has cut its investigators and investigations drastically and has shrunken the scope of reports to avoid addressing root causes of industrial accidents. Behind boasts of improved staff morale is an unraveling cover-up of deepening staff discontent.

PEER is engaged in legal action to restore competent leadership to the CSB. We just hope the patient survives the cure.

P.P.P.S. Florida's Never-Ending Elections and Red Tides

Florida’s election recounts seem never-ending but not nearly as long as their ongoing toxic red tide crisis. The epicenter of these outbreaks is Lake Okeechobee. Looking at how wastewater going into Lake O is controlled helps explain why this crisis drags on.

P.P.P.P.S. Donald Demento Strikes Again

As bodies are still being recovered in California’s horrific forest fires, President Trump took to Twitter to blame “gross mismanagement of the forests” in California and threaten the state with “no more Fed payments.” This bilious presidential message is not only ill-timed but remarkably ill-informed, even for Trump. Notably most of the major fires in California lands started on federal lands (which cover 60% of the Golden State). The most devastation has been on private brush lands driven by extreme weather and drought conditions. Governor Jerry Brown calls these incendiary conditions the “new abnormal” but he could just as well as been referring to the Oval Office

P.P.P.P.P.S. Giving Tuesday - November 27

Giving Tuesday is a global movement that celebrates all types of generosity. Join individuals, organizations, and communities around the world to celebrate the power of giving. If you're moved to give to PEER to support the work we do protecting public employees and the environment, we are so grateful. But give somehow - time, money, goods, even a smile where it's needed most. Find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as we celebrate the joy of giving.