Drain the Swamp: Trump’s cabinet is best at being WORST for the environment.
When presidential candidate Donald Trump promised to hire only “the best people,” no one thought to ask him what they’d be best at. Trump himself has set standards for corruption, dishonesty, bullying, and callousness that seem unsurpassable, yet that hasn’t stopped his subordinates from trying, including the three men doing his environmental dirty work: Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, and Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. They’re all bad, but who’s the best at being worst?
At the Energy Department, Rick Perry has struggled. Although he may aspire to malevolence, he has managed only mediocrity. Like the proverbial hedgehog, Secretary Perry knows one big (actually, bad) thing: He’s supposed to promote dirty fuels no matter what. So far, he’s failed miserably. His plan to resurrect the coal industry by forcing consumers to subsidize failing coal plants was shot down by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and his attempt to get the government to subsidize dirty fuels for bogus national security reasons also stalled. Although he deserves demerits for dishonesty (national security? really?), he clearly needs to try harder.
That leaves Andrew Wheeler at the EPA and Ryan Zinke at Interior as the current contenders for being the best at environmental awfulness. It’s quite a matchup.
Acting Administrator Wheeler, of course, is following in the fossil-fuel–fetishizing footsteps of his old boss, Scott Pruitt, whose legendary corruption was as inept as it was self-serving. Thus far, Wheeler’s been shrewd enough to avoid Pruitt’s most obvious missteps, although his vile and racist social media activity did earn headlines.
Nevertheless, in an impressively short time (just over 100 days), Wheeler has brought his own flair to turning the EPA into the agency that Every Polluter Adores. He’s attempted to roll back protections from methane emissions, mercury pollution, and toxic chemicals; cooked up a sham scheme to replace the Clean Power Plan; attacked clean car standards; moved to remove public health concerns from pollution safeguards by censoring science; and, for good measure, fired the head of the Office of Children’s Health. One recent and particularly Trumpy Wheeler move was to claim credit for Obama administration resultswhile simultaneously undermining the policies that produced them. No wonder the boss loves him.
Wheeler’s past experience as coal lobbyist probably helped him hit the ground running. Coming from a brief stint in Congress, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had to be more of a self-starter in Trumpworld. Yet of Trump’s three environmental attack dogs, it’s Zinke who has truly excelled at emulating the boss.
Bullying? Zinke reportedly went so far as to threaten retaliation against a senator from his own party if she didn’t vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and he has tried to intimidate his department’s career staff and scientists into keeping silent about climate change.
Callousness? Zinke’s attacks on national monuments and other public lands have been breathtaking in their disregard for science, public opinion, community stakeholders, and common sense.
Dishonesty? When Zinke said shortly after being confirmed, “You can hear it from my lips: We will not sell or transfer public land,” it wasn’t even the first time he made that pledge. Yet he was caught red-handed trying to do exactly that with part of the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument in Utah.
That’s all impressively appalling, but it’s corruption where Zinke really stands out among his pro-polluter peers. As of last week, 15 different ethical investigations had been opened into Zinke’s conduct as Interior Secretary, with six still ongoing (another three are pending because, frankly, there aren’t enough investigators to handle the workload that Zinke’s created). That’s a record that would almost put Scott Pruitt to shame — if these guys knew what shame was. Things are so bad, in fact, that Zinke apparently tried (unsuccessfully) to replace his department’s inspector general with a party hack working for Ben Carson at Housing and Urban Development.
So, who’s best at the job of being bad? Zinke and Wheeler are each so uniquely awful that it’s impossible to choose between them. The sooner both are gone, the better (and the same goes for the guy who hired them).