Regardless of your position on Donald Trump and his administration, one thing is universal: Our president is impossible to avoid. So far through his candidacy and presidency, Trump has received three times as much average media coverage as President Obama — and it shows. Every single day, it seems that the American public is focused on a new tweet, statement or story from the White House. More than ever, it feels as though Americans are watching every move that this president makes, but the truth is: we’re not.
Beyond the constant noise of the Trump presidency, beyond the rants, beyond the controversy, beyond the spectacle, is a systematic, but often silent, attempt by the Trump administration to tear down vital environmental protections across the United States. While you’ve been watching pundits and Facebook friends talk and post about a military parade, or the Betsy Ross flag, or a feud with Megan Rapinoe, Donald Trump has been removing safeguards on air and water, endangering American wildlife, threatening public lands and dismantling environmental criminal enforcement — and you deserve to know this.
Throughout his administration, our president has completed the rollback of 49 environmental protections. He has canceled requirements for oil and gas companies to report methane emissions. He has stopped a prohibition on dangerous hydrofluorocarbons in air conditioners. He has cut the area of two national monuments. He has removed water pollution regulations on federal and Native lands. He has removed protections from the Great Lakes. He has revoked a directive for consideration of wildlife in development. He has restricted environmental studies. He has weakened protections for endangered birds. He has limited assessments on toxic chemicals. He has allowed coal companies to dump waste into local streams. He has withdrawn groundwater protections around uranium mines. He has opened up reckless logging on public lands. He has slowed the prosecution of corporate environmental crimes. Just this week, he legalized a pesticide that has contributed to a 40% loss of beekeeping colonies in the past year.
As we speak, our president is attempting to remove 34 additional protections, trying to limit fuel economy standards, repeal carbon emission limits, weaken mercury emission rules, open drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, increase harmful drilling in American coastal communities, expand coal mining on public lands, shrink protected waters and lands, strip provisions from the Endangered Species Act, reject a ban on potentially neurotoxic chlorpyrifos, ignore toxic discharge into public waterways, and limit EPA rule-making abilities.
Time and time again, the Trump administration has weakened and destroyed decades of bipartisan measures to safeguard our resources and our environment. And, almost every time, they have done so with little to no public attention or accountability. That should worry every American. The protections that Donald Trump is fighting against exist so that your child doesn’t drink mercury from your faucet at home. They exist so that you don’t breathe in coal ash on a daily basis. They exist so that game and wildlife remains or reestablishes as abundant in our state. They exist so that Wisconsin farms aren’t subjected to the decreased crop yields and devastating flooding brought on by climate disruption.
Environmental protection touches almost every part of the everyday American life. From health, to economic stability, to recreation, to national security, and more. It deserves the attention that we are absolutely failing to give it. You can blame the Trump administration for its lack of transparency. You can blame the media for its lack of coverage. But, at the end of the day, it is our responsibility to hold our government accountable. We have to do a better job of interrogating our politics.
That means, if we want to understand how this administration is attacking our environment, we have to look past the cable news and the social media posts. We have to look past the headlines and the talking points. Our democracy requires diligence. It requires that we do our research. It requires that we speak up and speak out. It requires that we pay attention. If we don’t, we run the risk of losing our clean air, our clean water, our abundant wildlife, our beautiful public lands, and our expansive environmental opportunity to a destructive administration that profits off of your distraction.
Doug La Follette is a scholar, author, longtime environmental advocate, former state senator and the current secretary of state of Wisconsin.
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