Rep. Huffman and North Bay eco-warriors preach hope and lawsuits
By Tom Gogola
Trump may have the Winston Churchill bust in the West Wing but the people own the legendary British leader’s Nazi-stomping message in the North Bay and nation of dissent at large. Speaking to an overflowing crowd at Santa Rosa Junior College in Petaluma last Thursday, environmental lawyer Michael Wall merely alluded to the famously spine-tingling Churchill quote, but here it is in full:
“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
Wall, an attorney at the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), was joined on the panel by Drew Caputo of EarthJustice and Ann Hancock of the Santa Rosa-based Center for Climate Protection. U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, recently named Vice-Ranking Member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, organized the event.
The meeting mirrored the spirit of recent protest actions and marches—a demonstration of resiliency, of decency and solidarity, of immediate pushback in the courts and of respect for the differently-abled, in the form of a sign language interpreter, and pussy hats scattered in the audience, which Huffman noted—and lots of questions that boiled down to: What the heck is going on in Washington with that maniac tweeter-in-chief, and what is to be done?
Huffman noted the “unprecedented threats facing our environment” which very much included state efforts at carbon-gas emissions and his own eco-awesome bills aimed at carbon sequestration in the cattle fields, and his “keep it in the ground” act, which says that we should do exactly that with fossil fuels, whenever possible. The fate of those bills is up in the air, to put it mildly, as is Huffman’s bill to permanently ban all offshore drilling. “I’m going to keep trying to move the bills, keep the conversation alive—those bills are unlikely to get hearings in this Congress, they are not supported by this administration—its environmental policy is in exile right now.”
Below are the topics that Huffman and the panelists addressed.
Trump picked the former Texas governor to be his Secretary of Energy after Perry himself couldn’t recall the name of the agency during a 2012 GOP primary debate, while vowing to eliminate it—all the while, never understanding that the Department of Energy (DOE) is responsible for the nation’s nuclear arsenal. Gulp. Huffman described him as “a guy who combines Texas swagger with a memory problem.” The Senate has hit pause on his full confirmation vote “indefinitely,” so there’s that.
OBAMA’S ECO-FRIENDLY EXECUTIVE ORDERS
Huffman warned that Congress can override regulations that were put into effect by the previous administration, in the short and long-term. Any of Obama’s last-minute regulations can be repealed without review—if they were implemented in the last two months of his administration—and others will be. The proposed REINS Act (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny), would be “the kill switch on any regulation of any kind,” Huffman said. “This is a very aggressive and ambitious agenda that they are setting and they are going to get a lot of help from … Trump.” In the short-term, new and stringent regulations that set standards for venting and flaring of natural gas on public lands are on the firing line, and on toxic slag removal from coal-blown mountaintops.
THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY
Huffman noted on two occasions that besides the courts, local leaders and state government leaders, the business community should be acknowledged as he highlighted the good corporate citizens “who have done exciting things,” have bought into the Paris Agreement that Trump wants to ditch, “and can be an important part of the discussion moving forward. We’re not powerless or hopeless; we’ll get through it.”
“If we’ve learned anything in six days—it’s, worry,” said Drew Caputo, Vice President of Litigation for Lands, Wildlife and Oceans for EarthJustice, which is representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in its battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Obama Administration stopped the pipeline from crossing sacred Sioux land in the waning months of his presidency, and ordered a full environmental review on its eventual forward progress as he denied a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers easement. Last week Trump signed an Executive “Blather” declaring that the pipeline would be built, and the Obama-rejected Keystone project would go forward as well. “We have the honor” to represent the tribe, Caputo said. “Earth needs a good lawyer.”
Caputo described the Trump executive order as a “wink wink nod nod” gesture to expedite a now-process and compared it to King Henry VIII, “won’t someone relieve me of this troublesome priest,” to nervous chuckles from the audience. “If and when the Army Corps does the wrong thing and grants the easement without the review, we will sue them,” Caputo said.
Trump’s financial interests in the Dakota Access Pipeline project have been widely reported, and Huffman joked that attendees—live or on Facebook, where the event was live-streamed—should sell their stock in Energy Transfer Partners. “Get out of there!”
OBSTRUCT OR ACCOMMODATE TRUMP?
“We’ll give him a chance for success that the Republicans never gave president Obama,” Huffman said. “I’m skeptical but I always leave open the possibility. Speaking as a Democrat, obstruction worked across the board for [John] Boehner and Mitch McConnell—they shut it down. That’s not my brand. We want government to be good and to do good things for people. That said, most of what is coming at us is really bad and we have to work to defeat it.”
WHAT’S BEING DONE TO STOP SCOTT PRUITT?
Trump’s choice for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has sued the agency a dozen times. Huffman pointed to his colleague’s “heroic nature to spotlight the terrible choice. He is the possible person you could imagine to head the EPA … [but] this is a 51-vote question and every GOP member is going to vote for Scott Pruitt. I don’t think there is realistically a chance to stop Scott Pruitt.”
SEE YOU IN COURT
The speakers noted generally that while voters put Trump into office, they did not vote against the environment. They celebrated Obama’s move to ban drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans even as the soon-to-be Secretary of State leaves a multinational energy concern that plans to drill in the Arctic. If Trump’s EPA won’t defend attacks on the environment from an unloosed corporate community, “looking over the long-term, we have the capacity to fight everywhere we can in the Federal court system,” Caputo said.
“People know there is a difference between fact and fiction,” he said before tearing into Trump. “The president is going to try and undo a lot of good things,” he noted. We’ll fight in Congress, in the court of public opinion—and most importantly, in the courts. Every step of the way when he does things that are illegal, we will meet him here in court, and that is a genuine cause for hope,” Huffman ranted, to the delight of all in attendance.
The massive Women’s Marches, the rolling resistance to Trump’s administration of maximum cruelty, and as Wall said, “American Democracy at some level is under attack.”
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
“The American people didn’t vote against the environment but not enough people voted for the environment,” Wall said. State, local and regional efforts at greenhouse-gas reductions are the new normal, as are gas-efficiency standards and a roaring wind and solar power economy that sparked the much-cited observation that the number-one in-demand job in the country right now is wind power tech.
CAN’T WE JUST IMPEACH THIS GUY ALREADY?
It’s coming, folks, Huffman says it’s coming. “This president is like a walking target for impeachment, so stay tuned.” He cited Congressional and outside investigations in declaring, “I think there is reason to believe there will be the most credible case for impeachment you’ll ever see, in the short term.”