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Mary Mazzoni headshot

3p Weekend: We're Keeping Up With the White House So You Don't Have To

By Mary Mazzoni

Another week in office for U.S. President Donald Trump, another patch of grey hair for environmentalists and social justice advocates the world over.

The hottest news items centered around Trump's proposed budget and the tax return revelation that wasn't. But that's far from all that happened this week. Don't feel badly if you don't know. Staying on top of the new administration is turning into an Olympic sport.

Luckily, we're stretching those muscles so you don't have to. I'd make a "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" joke, but honestly I'm too exhausted. Let's just get right down to it.

Budget drops like an anvil

Trump's proposed budget dropped in the wee hours of Thursday morning. By the start of the business day, it was all most people could talk about.

The proposal calls for a boost in funding for the departments of Defense and Homeland Security. It also puts a $2 billion downpayment on that "big, beautiful" border wall. All other federal agencies will see their funding cut, some drastically.

Programs related to climate science, public health and poverty alleviation are among the hardest hit. Later on Thursday, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney defended cuts to climate programs -- calling them "a waste of your money."

3p's Leon Kaye took a closer look at the Trump budget. You can read his coverage here.

EPA faces steep cuts

Drastic cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency were in the works weeks before the budget was released. Insiders initially projected a 25 percent cut to EPA funding. The most recent figure tops 30 percent.

Among other changes, the budget "discontinues" $100 million in funding for several climate change programs, reported Timothy Cama and Devin Henry of the Hill. This includes enforcement of Barack Obama-era climate rules, climate change research and support for international climate programs.

Insiders cautioned that such drastic cuts will impede the EPA's ability to protect air and water. Others warned it could endanger public health.

But not everyone is sad to see the agency cut down to size. Perennial climate change denier and snowball aficionado Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) was quick to add his two cents. In a TV appearance on Thursday, Inhofe accused the EPA of distributing "propaganda" that is "brainwashing our kids." Nice.

Plans revived for nuclear waste dump in Nevada

Trump's budget doles out $120 million to revive plans for a nuclear waste repository in Nevada. But there's one problem: Local stakeholders don't want it. Like, at all.

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) came out quickly in opposition to the revival of the proposed Yucca Mountain site.

“Washington needs to understand what Nevada has been saying for years: We will not be the nation’s nuclear waste dump,” Heller said, as quoted by the Hill. “This project was ill-conceived from the beginning and has already flushed billions of taxpayer dollars down the drain.”

Other lawmakers joined Heller in opposition to the plan, including Democrats Rep. Dina Titus and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, both of Nevada.

Trump asks energy companies if U.S. should stay in the Paris agreement

Advocates say the Paris climate agreement is the single biggest step the global community has taken to address climate change thus far.

It represents the collective work of nearly 200 nations from all corners of the world. These governments brought the agreement into force months ahead of schedule. And many are already making progress on fulfilling their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But never mind those scientists and policy experts working tirelessly from the fjords of Norway to the islands of the South Pacific. The Trump administration would rather hear what oil and gas companies have to say.

The administration has been contacting U.S. energy companies to ask them about their views on the agreement, Reuters reported on Wednesday. Two sources who spoke anonymously to the paper said many energy companies voiced support for the agreement.

This isn't too surprising. Even ExxonMobil called the agreement "an important step forward" when it came into force last year. But, also unsurprisingly, several companies said they would "support reducing U.S. commitments in the deal," according to the sources.

Obama fracking rule will get the axe

It seems this administration gets a whole lot done in the dead of night. Justice Department lawyers filed documents with the Denver-based Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit late Wednesday. The contents? A forthcoming repeal of an Obama-era fracking rule. (In case you're not familiar with fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, you can find more info here.)

Obama issued the first federal regulations on fracking back in June of 2015. The regs hit legal trouble almost from the start. A U.S. District Judge issued a temporary injunction on the rule a few months later.

The legal battle continued to unfold in the following years, with the Tenth Circuit court being the prime battleground. But this last move may be the final nail in the coffin. Attorneys said the Department of Interior will formally propose a repeal within 90 days, reports Timothy Cama of the Hill.

See ya, fuel standards!

The president paid a visit to Michigan this week. Many speculated that he'd use the occasion to announce a rollback of Obama-era vehicle efficiency standards -- and that's just what he did.

Obama bolstered the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard in 2010, requiring vehicles to average over 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The administration tasked the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with reviewing the rule. Another Obama regulation related to greenhouse gas emissions from transportation is also on the chopping block.

3p's Gina-Marie Cheeseman unpacked the decision and its impacts. You can read her coverage here.

Climate change impacts? Pfft... those are for losers

The feds consider a bevy of factors before making government decisions. This includes an environmental review process. The Obama administration directed federal agencies to include climate change impacts in their environmental reviews of new legislation or federally-backed projects.

But that's all about to change, according to recent news reports.

Trump is poised to sign a "sweeping directive" that will remove climate impacts as a factor in federal agency decisions, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday. The change centers around the government's use of a metric known as the social cost of carbon. A federal court upheld the use of this metric last year, but it seems the days of carefully weighing such decisions in court are far behind us.

EPA to reconsider chemical plant safety rule

In December, the Obama administration passed a new rule to mitigate accidental spills at chemical plants. Sounds innocuous enough, right? Such disasters are PR nightmares for chemical companies. Not to mention all the, you know, people, who could see their water and land sullied by a spill. But apparently the regulation is more controversial than we thought.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt delayed the rule earlier this week and "kicked off a formal process to consider repealing it," reported our friend Timothy Cama over at the Hill. The decision came two weeks after a coalition of industry groups petitioned Pruitt for a repeal.

“As an agency, we need to be responsive to concerns raised by stakeholders regarding regulations so facility owners and operators know what is expected of them,” Pruitt said late Monday. Congress is considering legislation by our good buddy Sen. Inhofe and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) to overturn the rule, Cama reported.

Trump doubles down on Obama's drilling folly

Barack Obama compiled a strong environmental legacy in the final years of his presidency. But, as 3p's Nithin Coca reports, "One glaring black mark remains on his record: He oversaw a huge expansion in domestic oil drilling."

And while the Trump administration seems hell-bent on dismantling Obama-era programs related to climate and efficiency, the glut of domestic oil and the rise of 'Saudi America' are poised to continue.

Trump plans to keep the previous administration’s moves to expand offshore drilling in place. Needless to say, environmental groups are not happy.

“Bottom line, we think this is a terrible idea, whether it was done by the Obama administration or the Trump administration,” Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club’s Lands Protection Program, told the Washington Post. “It’s time to keep oil in the ground.”

The bottom line

For many, the past few weeks have seen uncertainty surrounding the new administration give way to straight-up panic. But amidst the questions, there's one thing we know for certain: This is only the beginning.

And just like everyone's favorite fatherless "Game of Thrones" character, as the night gathers, so our watch begins. We'll have our eyes fixed on the horizon of our newswires -- for better or for worse -- and we'll keep whittling it down so you don't have to.

Stay tuned for more, if you can bear it.

Image credit: Flickr/Diego Cambiaso

Mary Mazzoni headshot

Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as executive editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of organizations on sustainability storytelling, and VP of content for TriplePundit's parent company 3BL. 

Read more stories by Mary Mazzoni