Politics

Weekend Reader for Sun., Jan. 28

"The State of the Union is the Most Excellent Ever, That I Can Tell You."

On Tuesday, President Donald J. Trump will take the podium to renew the annual American tradition of the State of the Union Address (SOTU). His audience will include both houses of Congress, some special guests, and most of the memberships of the Supreme Court, Cabinet, and the Joint Chiefs of the military.


There's a tradition of Presidential lip service paid to second- and third-tier issues. Environment usually rates a sentence, maybe two:

1) "I'd like to use that Superfund to clean up pollution for a change and not just pay lawyers." (Bill Clinton, 1993)

2) "We have no intention of dismantling the regulatory agencies, especially those necessary to protect environment and assure the public health and safety." (Ronald Reagan, 1981)

3) "Preservation of our environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge, it's common sense," (Reagan in 1984).

4) "Restoring Nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond factions" (Richard Nixon, 1970).

Clinton, of course, did little to reverse the sputtering failures of Superfund; Reagan's team did a pretty good job of dismantling regulatory agencies -- but 2017 far outpaced his accomplishments; and there was some truth to Reagan's and Nixon's bipartisanism, but that was the 20th century and this isn't.

Tuesday's mystery is whether Trump will go as far as presidents past, or whether he'll do away with environmental lip service entirely. If Trump's Thursday speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland provides a clue, he'll brag about the Administration's regulatory purge as a key to economic growth.

A couple more curiosities: Bill Nye the Science Guy, the owlish nerd who has done yeoman's work battling climate denial, says he'll attend the Address as the guest of a well-heeled climate denier. Jim Bridenstine is a two-term congressman from Tulsa -- a protege and soulmate of uber-denier Senator Jim Inhofe. Bridenstine has a lifetime score of 3% from the League of Conservation Voters and pulled a goose egg for 2016. In other words, he's the perfect guy to run Donald Trump's NASA. He's an enthusiast of missions to Mars and privatization of much of the agency's mission. Bridenstine's nomination hit a snag last year due to bipartisan concern that he has no training or credentials in science or engineering. There's also widespread concern that he would zero out NASA's Earth Science budget, including the agency's critical climate change research. Maybe a tongue-lashing from the Science Guy will turn him around.

And finally, there's the Designated Survivor: the one Cabinet member who's sequestered away from the speech in case of disaster. Is this how Ryan Zinke gets to be President? Since the Reagan Administration, at least seven Interior Secretaries have been the SOTU designated survivor. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has four predecessors as the D.S. And while the EPA Administrator is considered to be a Cabinet-level position, it's not included in the official Line of Succession.

So come Wednesday morning, even in the worst case scenario, Scott Pruitt will not be the leader of the free world.

Top Weekend News

New research with dire implications for corals: They actually prefer the taste of plastics.

EHN Senior Editor Brian Bienkowski on a groundbreaking report: The pervasive presence of pesticides in Great Lakes freshwater tributaries.

Huff Post launched a major, must-read series on "Dirty Air" around the world.

In an interview to be broadcast Sunday on England's ITV, President Trump went full denial. The AP's Seth Borenstein contacted ten climate scientists for a point-by-point refutation of what the President pretty much said was Fake Climate Science.

Tom Henry reports on moves by Ohio-based FirstEnergy's indications that it may dramatically shrink both its nuclear and coal fleets.

Trumpweek: Rollbacks and denial

Pruitt meets the press -- not. A barnstorming tour of the states by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt seems to be missing a traditional element: Contact with the press and general public.

A rare un-rollback: Scott Pruitt's EPA may keep restrictions on the controversial Pebble Mine in Alaska. The massive gold and copper mining project could jeopardize the prolific Bristol Bay fishery. (E&E)

Tim Cama reports on EPA moves to roll back "major" air pollution rules. (The Hill)

High Country News's Elizabeth Shogren reports that former wildlife officials from the Nixon to the Obama Administration oppose Trump's rollbacks on migratory bird protections.

Opinions and Editorials

In a searing piece in the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert tears into Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the "damage done" to public lands.

The Daily Star, the largest English-language paper in Bangladesh, laments the national disinterest in environmental protection.

Canada's most influential newspaper, The Globe and Mail, goes after the Trudeau government on reduced science funding.

Of all the floods in all the cities of the world, it had to be Paris. On CNN.com, historian Jeffrey Jackson looks at why the extreme flooding in Paris should be a cautionary climate tale.

NYT op-ed from a Pacific island facing inundation from high seas.

One worthwhile video

A fox and a snowy owl met on a quiet winter night by the marina in Cobourg, Ontario. A security camera captured their dance.

As EHN executive director Douglas Fischer noted, the interaction is Harry Potteresque: While the world sleeps, magic is happening just outside the window.

Read Douglas' take on the story here. Or check out the town's Facebook feed, where the video has been viewed some 200,000 times.

First ship crosses Arctic in winter without an icebreaker

A ship has made a winter crossing of the Arctic without an icebreaker for the first time as global warming causes the region’s ice sheets to melt. The tanker, containing liquefied natural gas, is the first commercial vessel to make such a crossing alone during the winter months. The voyage is a significant moment in the story of climate change in the Arctic and will be seized on by those with concerns about thinning polar ice and its implications for the environment.
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