On Friday, in the same speech where he declared his intention to drive Melania cross-country in an RV and talked about how the job report figures made it a great day it was for George Floyd, Trump also let everyone know that he had defeated the coronavirus. The pandemic was over, said Trump, or “largely over.” In an astounding rewrite of history that’s too fresh to even be history, Trump explained how he moved quickly to shut down the nation, saved millions, and “made every decision correctly.” Trump has made it clear that the pandemic is done … except for the part where a thousand people a day are dying from COVID-19, tens of thousands more are coming down with the disease, and several states are now reporting cases at their highest rates ever. It’s over, dammit. Because he says so.
But … one thing definitely is not over. That’s how Trump ripped away environmental regulations using COVID-19 as an excuse. That “emergency” is still fully in place.
Back in April, Trump began using the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to roll back regulations of all kinds. That included eliminating enforcement of safety standards on job sites. It meant allowing coal mines to operate without effective supervision. It meant suspending regulations on business that were “an absolute invitation to wage theft.”
It also meant simply telling companies to pollute away, as the EPA would be taking something of a holiday on environmental regulations. Because nothing says taking a public health crisis seriously like letting companies know they can dump anything they like into the air and water.
Oddly enough, now that Trump has declared the pandemic largely over, announced that the economy is a “rocketship,” and stated that things will only get better from here, he is … using the pandemic as an excuse for still more regulatory slashing. As The Washington Post reports, this includes telling power plants that no one is going to monitor their pollution, but it also includes some other changes that are sure to make American life more … interesting.
For example, Trump has determined that the COVID-19 pandemic means that its time to relax regulations that help consumers correct inaccurate information on credit reports. At a time when everyone is making more use of online and over-the-phone purchases from everything from food to, well, vital paper products, there has also been a record amount of fraud, phishing, and plain old theft. And, of course, people are simply out of work, or temporarily laid off, and unsure of how to deal with expenses from mortgages and rent, to medical expenses directly connected to the pandemic. All of which makes this a very puzzling time to decide that this is a great time to make it harder for people to protect themselves from identity theft and fraudulence charges.
This is also apparently the right time to take away regulations that truckers can only go so far in a day and must take regular rest breaks. It’s understandable that there are concerns about the distribution system, and there have been multiple stories about farms dumping produce on the ground. But the first thing that leaps to mind when it comes to finding solutions should probably not be “let’s allow guys driving a 40-ton vehicle at high speed blast down the road no matter how tired they are.” At least, not if those guys are expected to share the highways with anyone else.
And, of course, Trump issued a special executive order on Thursday to wipe away five decades of environmental laws. Coal-fired power plants informed that no one will be checking to see how much mercury, uranium, sulfur, or other pollutants they’re producing. Oil pipelines—pipelines that absolutely no one needs in the midst of a oil glut and a collapse of Canadian tar sands mining—can go ahead without having to fret about impact statements.
The overall effect of these changes are not trivial. They’re also not temporary. Trump’s new executive order completely overturns regulations that gave local communities some control of projects that can be built in their areas. The new executive order means that not just environmental groups, but residents around proposed projects, tribes whose land is directly affected, and basically anyone in the way of a destructive extraction industry like mining, logging, or drilling now has little to no options. Trump’s order takes the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act, which was meant to protect communities and give both locals and outside groups a say in permitting of large projects, and shreds all enforcement.
It’s also worth noting that one of the reasons this law was enacted wasn’t so much about the environment as it was race. This same law is the one that allowed communities of color to stand up for the first time against projects that would pollute their areas, or block federal highways that would cut through their neighborhoods.
Somehow, it doesn’t seem like the right moment for Trump to be removing that protection.