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The Final Straw: Trump’s Trashing Of Environmental Regulations

D Coetzee/flickr creative commons

President Trump’s official campaign website features a new product for sale: Red plastic drinking straws with the word “Trump” emblazoned on their side.

The price: $15 for a pack of 10. The website advertises them this way: “Liberal paper straws don’t work. STAND WITH PRESIDENT TRUMP.”

Apparently, Trump voters are snapping them up – despite the fact that, at the price of a dollar and a half for each straw, the Trump straws are about 75 times more expensive than biodegradable paper straws. Politico reports that the Trump campaign has already raised almost half-million dollars selling plastic straws.

Now, you might think, well that’s just funny. Trump supporters are gleefully trolling liberals and environmentalists by saying, in effect, “You say the ocean is full of plastic trash?  Your beaches are covered in litter? Stick a Trump straw in your political correctness …and your biodegradable straw mandates.”

Following reports that whales, sea turtles, seabirds and other creatures were washing up dead with plastic trash jamming their throats and stomachs, Seattle was the first city to ban plastic straws in 2018. It was followed by, among others, Washington DC; Berkeley, California; Fort Myers, Florida; and this spring, Garrett Park, in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Straws may seem like a trivial and ridiculous issue. But the fact that President Trump is campaigning on the issue is part of a more serious and disturbing trend.

For example, on Monday, the Trump Administration announced a major rollback in the Endangered Species Act.  New regulations introduced by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt – a former oil and gas industry lobbyist – would make it easier for oil and gas drillers, as well as mining and timber companies. They could develop wilderness areas without having to worry so much about having their hands tied by concerns about killing off threatened species.

Historically, the 1973 Endangered Species Act – signed by Republican President Richard Nixon – was implemented with regulations that said decisions about whether to protect animals should be made only according to science, “without reference to possible economic or other impacts.”

But under the new regulations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies could weigh the economic benefits of – for example, permitting a strip mine – against the economic losses anticipated by exterminating the rare salamanders that would be buried beneath rubble in the stream beds that would be filled. 

Of course, this is not a fair comparison, because salamanders don’t earn paychecks or contribute to the Gross Domestic Product. But they do have just as much right to keep existing as we do.

In May, a United Nations report warned that a million plant and animal species around the world are on the verge of extinction, in part because of over-development, habitat loss, pesticides, and climate change.

Republicans in Congress this week cheered the weakening of the Endangered Species Act, claiming that drillers and other industries have been harmed by the law.

But there’s little evidence to back that up. The U.S. oil and gas industry, for example, has boomed over the last decade to become the largest and most profitable in the world – despite the Endangered Species Act.

What there is evidence of… is a pattern of regulatory rollbacks by the Trump Administration – to fuel efficiency standards, coal ash regulations, and more – that signal the President is running for re-election by fanning the flames of anti-environmentalism. He’s making it acceptable and even normal among his followers not to care about trashing our planet.

Worried about plastic straws? There’s a lot more than that at stake.  The election next November could be the final straw.

Tom Pelton, a national award-winning environmental journalist, has hosted "The Environment in Focus" since 2007. He also works as director of communications for the Environmental Integrity Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health. From 1997 until 2008, he was a journalist for The Baltimore Sun, where he was twice named one of the best environmental reporters in America by the Society of Environmental Journalists.