Orange Hair, Ozone Repair, & 400+ ppm in Midair (part 3)

Be sure to read the first and second part of this three-part blog if you missed either of them.

So here we go…2016’s Most Significant Coastal Science and Conservation Story is:

The Election of Donald Trump and Ascendency of Anti-Science/Anti-Fact/Fake News

The Election and our Brave New World (Story Rank: 1.17 out of 25)

The Buffalo News Political Cartoon by Adam Zyglis on November 18, 2016.

The 2016 presidential election obsessed much of the news media for the entirety of 2016.  It might come as something of a surprise to some that the successful campaign of Mr. Donald Trump for the Office of the President of the United States is my top Science and Conservation Story of 2016.  But the Brave New World we courted throughout the campaign and committed to on November 8 seems undeniable at this point.  The science of conservation is not immune to the ramifications of this new world.  It does indeed seem likely that we will bearing the brunt of this changed landscape.

The Columbus Dispatch Political Cartoon by Nate Beeler on November 20, 2016.

First and foremost this election cycle put an exclamation mark on the divisiveness and lack of comity that has spread, cancer-like from the childish discourse in our capitols into more and more of our cities and towns.  Our two major party presidential candidates each set records for their historic unpopularity.  It became easier than ever to see our fellow citizens who might disagree with us on a given topic as “arrogant” or “stupid” and as coming from somewhere unrelated to our own life and work.  Earlier this year Pew found 58% of Republicans had a very unfavorable view of the Democrats and a statistically identical 55% of Democrats reciprocated.  We saw that animosity manifest time and time again throughout the seemingly endless, intensely negative campaign.  Disappointingly that ugliness and loathing has only grown over the last month as post-election celebrations, protests, and post-mortems have highlighted the extremely divergent views of the direction our national policies should take.
Democrats and Republicans more ideologically divided than in the past

Our national dialog these past many months has been about a great many things.  But fact-based environmental challenges and the appropriate response to those challenges took a front seat in that debate for many of us who deal with natural resources and the health of our planet.  As someone for whom facts, objective analysis, reasoned debate, and finding collaborative solutions by truly working together with disparate groups are central to every aspect of his professional life as a teacher, scholar, and manager, 2016 amounted to dark days indeed.  Our presidential election was more often that not dominated by contradictory hyperbole rather than detailed discussion or reasoned debate.  Much too much darkness and heat.  Way too little light.

It is part of our job to retain an open mind, even under these circumstances.

-Captain Picard to alien scientist Rabal; Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode “Force of Nature”

Yellow Journalism Then and Now. The front page (l) of William Randolph Hearst‘s New York Journal stoking the fires for what would become the Spanish American War in 1898 and a 2015 headline (r) from Breitbart‘s attempt to stoke racial tensions in the early months of the 2016 presidential campaign.

source: BuzzFeed News, November 16, 2016.

We saw a tidalwave of conspiratorial, extremist websites peddling yellow journalism with all the slickness their West Los Angeles social media mavens could craft.  That wave broke alongside unapologetically mendacious clickbait spewed online by an array of teenage and twenty-something authors from locales spanning Long Beach to the former Soviet Bloc.  Those propagandists and opportunists quickly figured out they could turn amorality into an income stream thanks to the Brave New World of social media and Web 2.0.  Of course many are calling such concerns hand-wringing and naval gazing and argue that such worries disrespect the public and insult their ability to make informed, independent decisions.  And God knows way too many a bastion for free speech and supposedly open dialog can be pale imitations of what they claim to be, having morphed into mere echo chambers for safe, tepid discussions–full of “trigger warnings” and political correctness run amok–these days.  But several independent metrics suggest that we have indeed crossed something of a Rubicon in 2016 when it comes to objective information and our public discourse:

  • So-called “fake news” outperformed “real news” engagements by a huge margin on Facebook.
  • All 17 U.S. intelligence agencies agree that Russia was involved with hacking and subsequently releasing both real and faux information via Wikileaks and burner social media venues, although as of this writing there appears some disagreement as to how much was orchestrated directly by the Kremlin vs. their proxies.  While federal agencies only went so far as to say Russia was attempting to influence the election, it is clear the intent here was to both further poison the well of public trust/drive disengagement of the electorate and (in the short term) favor one Presidential candidate over the other while fomenting distrust broadly writ.  On one hand, this is nothing new to the United States.  We were experts in such modern propaganda and screwing with other democratic elections for many years after all.  But the invisibility and ease with which such bias can be introduced into our public discourse has reached a new watermark in 2016.  (Mid-January 2017 update: it became increasingly clear over the first two weeks in January 2017 that Russian Federation President Putin directed an orchestrated propaganda campaign against the U.S. with hacking and “fake news” releases as a key tools.  We now have U.S. Intelligence agencies in agreement with this, President-elect Trump admitting Russia’s role, and troubling accusations about everything from Russian-Trump collaborations to potential Russian influence over Mr. Trump…the very discussion of which Mr. Trump himself claims to be an instance of–as if we aren’t through the looking glass yet–”fake news“).
  • The growth with which artificial intelligence (now mostly relegated to semantic twitterbots and the like) and machine learning networks are evolving to create ever-more clever click-bait and harder to distinguish real time engagements with “near thinking” agents portend an ominous world fast approaching.  We’ve already seen how confusing faked photos of Natural Disasters can be.
  • Members of the presidential transition team–including President Elect Trump himself–are actively sharing and promoting unsubstantiated propaganda about election fraud and erroneous claims about the final election returns.
  • Many folks with whom I have shared a boat or beer over the past year have argued passionately and with clear-eyes that Mr. Trump’s embracing of dubious positions armed with facts that are anything but is in no way a cause for worry.  Dozens of folks have soberly argued Mr. Trump “doesn’t actually think that stuff is true,” heroically “tells it like it is” by “pulling no punches,” that “he is just saying that to get elected,” he will “mellow out when he gets into office,” that his positions on natural resources “don’t matter because whatever he does will be better than what we have now,” and he “can’t possibly be worse than the disaster we have now, plus it sure will be fun to see what happens.” At a minimum these arguments amount to a disappointingly low bar for the soon-to-be leader of the United States.
Mr. Trump and Climate Change

The clearest and most widely-touted concern surrounding Mr. Trump’s election is his penchant to ignore scientific consensus and objective reality (aka facts) when it comes to climate change (what I like to call global weirding) and large-scale environmental challenges.  Mr. Trump’s basic science and natural resource-related policies remain largely unknown short of his general, consistent aversion to regulations.  We have therefore been left to stare at the tea leaves of his various missives, campaign bluster, and historically contradictory positions as 2016 draws to a close.

A large part of the reason it is so hard to dissemble what Mr. Trump will do in regard to climate change when in office is the fact Mr. Trump believed in it before he didn’t.

Open letter advertisement run in the New York Times on December 6, 2009 by the now-defunct environmental NGO

Mr. Trump joined the open letter published in the New York Times that urged Congress and the President Obama pass and sign legislation restricting greenhouse gas emissions on December 6, 2009:

In every conceivable way, the letter contradicts Trump’s current stance on climate policy. On the campaign trail, Trump has said he is “not a big believer in man-made climate change.” Last fall, after Obama described climate change as a major threat to the United States and the world, Trump said that was “one of the dumbest statements I’ve ever heard in politics — in the history of politics as I know it.”

The 2009 ad also argues that a shift to clean energy “will spur economic growth” and “create new energy jobs.” But these days, Trump contends that U.S. action to limit greenhouse gas emissions would put the country at a competitive disadvantage. In 2012, he went so far as to claim: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

The Copenhagen conference that inspired the open letter was part of the same two-decade-long U.N. negotiating process that led to a global climate deal in Paris last year. But whereas in 2009 Trump supported the process via the ad, now he wants to sabotage it, promising recently to “cancel” the Paris accord.

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

-excerpted from Adler and Leber’s June 8, 2016 Grist story

Then there has been his taking climate change-induced sea level rise seriously when it comes to his own coastal holdings (more on that below).

More recently (in 2012), Mr. Trump appears to have migrated squarely into the empirical evidence-rejecting climate skeptic camp with the likes of tobacco propagandistsflat-earthers, and outright fake news pushers erroneously claiming climate change is either a hoax dreamed up by the Chinese:

November 6, 2012 Tweet from @realDonaldTrump

…something localities like Miami can spend their money on (“if they want to…I guess”):

…or red meat to foment his base while dualistically (schizophrenically?) arguing he has “received many, many environmental awards” (again, more on this below):


Political Rhetoric At Odds With Overall Opinion

Gallup’s March 2016 installment of their ongoing Climate Change Poll showing 90% of American voters think climate change has already begun or will happen in the near future.


In truth, the vast majority of Americans and virtually the entire world understand climate change to be reality, expect increasingly bad outcomes from climate change, and want all sectors of our society to do more to actively address this global concern (especially with regards to decarbonizing our energy systems).  Our own annual polling here at CSU Channel Islands has for more than a decade clearly demonstrated residents from coastal California (78% as of September 2016) to Hawaii (71% as of October 2016) see climate change as a serious issue we need deal with as adults.  While the intensity of such opinions about and support for policies well tracks the extremes of political camps and educational attainment, in the wake of our election (i.emid November 2016) the overall majority of registered voters want Mr. Trump (62%) and the U.S. Congress (63%) to do more to address climate change.

That is primarily because most folks 1) trust what science tells us and 2) see increasingly see the consequences in their daily lives.

Many in U.S. expect negative effects and life changes due to climate change

Pew’s 2016 exploration of our public expectations for a future world showed most Americans see bad things on the horizon.


Many Americans expect harms from climate change


Newfound Powerbroker: Fake News Now Helps Drive Policy

The real story here in the context of our Top Stories of 2016 is the now well-demonstrated ability of a comparative handful of active, well-financed misinformation campaigns to lather up the small, but vocal and visible minority of the public to derail efforts to responsibly deal with the unfolding challenge that is climate change and other management issues.  Fake news has already impacted a growing list of votes and policy decisions from impacting senatorial elections in Massachusetts to New Jersey’s gubernatorial decisions during public health crises.  Now a global phenomenon, we are seeing fake news cause political rows between numerous players from Russia’s foreign minister chastising Germany over non-existent treatment muslims to the Italian government threatening Kremlin-controlled Russia Today over their fallaciously arguing pro-Italian government rallies were instead evidence of a movement to overthrow of the Renzi government.

More fake than real Brazilian news was published this year related to the Operation Car Wash scandal, helping to drive the impeachment of Brazil’s President Rousseff.  The resulting replacement Brazilian administration and associated ministers have rolled back a variety of environmental protections and reversed energy policy.

In the immediate wake of our 2016 election China ominously clucked in their state-controlled Global Times tabloid that fake news justified their Great Firewall of the internet censorship.  They argued Chinese “internet management” was clearly superior to freedom of speech given our “western democratic system appears to be unable to address” fake news and an increasingly misinformed populace.  All blustering aside, China itself has its own apparent fake new crisis focused on extorting money from companies and groups lest they be dragged under by malicious innuendo.  One well-publicized case brought to light showed fake news authors can make as much as $70,000 per story.

Perhaps most disturbingly, fake news has progressed into the province of spurring outright violence and murder.  Just this month we saw reality free news spur a disturbed man to shoot up a Washington D.C. pizza parlor in a delusional hunt for non-existent, shadowy threats.  President Duterte of the Philippines has gone so far as to invert the fake news tool, claiming legitimate reporters who dare to question his policies are purveyors of illegitimate reporting rather than truth tellers. Those reporters are therefore fair targets for assassination says the populist leader of this democracy.

Even if you are a journalist, you are not exempted from assassination if you’re a son of a b!^@&…You cannot invoke free speech. The Constitution cannot help you if you defame someone.

-Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, May 31, 2016

President-elect Trump’s Coastal Development History

One way to discern President Trump’s potential approach to environmental stewardship is to examine his track record to date.  His development projects within the coastal zone appear often influenced by a heady mix of reality show economics, running fast and loose with facts, and a frequently adversarial relationship with constraining regulations and regulators owing to his penchant for celebutante-driven permitting and planning.

I have known and worked with many developers in my time.  Most are great folks whom I have found to be easy to work with professionals that respect the system.  Then there are the minority of developers who see reasonable regulatory constraint and well-crafted landuse planning as vile enemies which in turn justify active deception and their attempts to defeat them at all costs.  I am not pollyannaish about the often surrealistic, Byzantine maze of bureaucracy of overlapping local, state, and federal rules governing development, but I nevertheless see a clear difference in how various developers tackle this reality.  And while I have never worked directly with any of Mr. Trump’s properties or representatives, it seems many things related to permitting and regulations quite often blow up into huge hullabaloo with Mr. Trump’s projects.  And Mr. Trump truly seems to see lawsuits (and the inevitable non-disclosure clauses once concluded) and confrontation as primary bargaining chips rather than a tools of last resort.

Trump National Golf Club

An undated image of the Ocean Trails Golf Course. Image: Earth Consultants International.

I am most familiar with his Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in southwestern Los Angeles County, California.  This story is a classic case of the types of problems and insane costs we all too often see when folks utterly ignorant of coastal hazards and basic geomorphology seek to develop in geologically tenuous zones along the California coast.

Mr. Trump shows off the golf course he purchased on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in 2005. Image: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times.

I spent much of the 1990s SCUBA diving off of Santa Catalina Island while pursuing my Ph.D. in Marine Population Biology.  Los Angeles Harbor was my home port in those days and whenever the 405 Freeway was locked up (an all too common occurrence), my go-to alternative route to the harbor was the scenic Palos Verdes Drive which hugged the peninsula’s coastal edge.  I discovered that roadway skirted the boundary of what was then known as the Ocean Trails Golf Club on June 2, 1999 when a massive slumping event pulled parts of the 17th and the entirety of the 18th hole down the bluff towards the waiting Pacific Ocean.  Way too much irrigation on these unstable and friable bluffs greatly magnified that instability.  The media had been covering catastrophic slumping in this general region of the Palos Verdes Peninsula since at least 1929 with some Portuguese Bend-area homeowners unable to secure homeowners insurance due to the near certainty of the loss of their property via geologic instability.  Despite studies being conducted on the site prior to opening, the golf course owners clearly figured rigorous scientific analysis of their property and objective vulnerability analysis was unnecessary and so were caught unawares when their investment eroded quite literally overnight.  The slumping appears to have been exacerbated by the kind of chronic irrigation and water infiltration you find where homeowners of sprawling, xeric properties decide they want polo field-like lawns.  And by the kind of irrigation/soil saturation you find rampant on many golf courses.  Consultants hired by various investors/plaintiffs found evidence for proximate sources of water immediately preceding the large block-glide slump and suggesting they came from 1) water seeping from improperly lined ponds elsewhere on the golf course and 2) sewage infiltration from a underlying 1950s era 69 cm (27″)-diameter concrete sewage trunk line fractured during the building of the course by inept contractors (don’t get me started on the damage we have seen from hiring cut rate ‘dozer drivers).  Suffice it to say the then-owners quickly learned the necessary shoring up of the 17th & 18th hole alone would be an engineering nightmare, run at least $20 million dollars, take years to fix, etc. and so eventually declared bankruptcy after hitting fiscal and permitting hurdles.  The property went dormant and entered receivership.  Many of us thought at the time that subsections of the property would be converted to public open space and the remainder developed as home lots given the expense of trying to resurrect a full golf course on the crumbling and unstable bluff.  Mr. Trump’s development partners had other ideas.

Ocean Trails Golf Course Landslide in 1999. Image: LA Magazine.

Donald Trump Properties would go on to purchase the property from bankruptcy court for $27 million, formally acquiring the 106 ha (261 ac) parcel in October of 2002.  They almost immediately began to slowly modify the scope and design of the project via a series of phased permit modifications.  On May 20, 2003, the Rancho Palos Verdes City Council approved the relocation of several golf course tees, the addition of water-hungry ponds and waterfalls, and an expanded clubhouse, day spa, and restaurant spaces.  The Council would go on to approve various changes to the building permits and somewhat reduced natural vegetation extent until granting their final approval for the opening of the full golf course on January 17, 2006.  Much of the development’s open space credits are associated with a previously agreed to public park (Founder’s Park) on otherwise unusable or difficult to develop land right at the cliff edge, below the main golf course area.

All told Mr. Trump’s associates would allegedly invest a reported $260 million in the project over the next five years to deal with the landslide and general topographic instability, secure political support for the project, and totally overhaul the amenities of the built environments on the property.  The 18th hole alone cost them something allegedly north of $87 million owing to an insanely complex geoengineering effort that centered on sinking 115 soil shear pins (1 m in diameter, 33 m deep) to literally bolt the bluff together.  Such hard engineering approaches to environmental challenges are common across the coast, but also amount to old thinking.  Living shorelines and “green” infrastructure are the new mantras of developers from coast to coast and (while too early to tell) are likely to amount to more effective and resilient approaches to infrastructure and sustainable coastlines in the decades to come.  Suffice it to say such “green” approaches were not on the table (at least based on the news emanating from the project over the years I have followed it).

Mr. Trump’s initial approach to dealing with problems is to try to define yourself out of being in a problem.  Here, his approach to dealing with this challenging environmental management situation was to simply minimize the potential constraints by destroying as much sensitive habitat as possible.  This included reducing the extent of coastal sage scrub which provided habitat for  birds such as the California Coastal Gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica californica) and the Coastal Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus), conducting offsite mitigation for local impacts, etc.  He would also simply decided not to secure or pay for Coastal Development Permits, such as when he decided to plop down a flag pole with the associated concrete pour with the justification “Since when do you have to pay to put up the American flag?” designed to both gain media attention and further stave off needing to deal with securing construction permits (which he eventually was forced to do, but only years later).

Mr. Trump’s entrance into the golf course development was initially met with positivity and glowing support from local officials.  Then came the head butting over everything from his wanting to name streets after himself to claims of discriminatory business practices to Trump’s suing the city for $100 million. As the Los Angeles Times chronicled in 2008:

Now the mogul is suing the small town, and suing big. He wants $100 million from a city with an annual budget just shy of $20 million.

In a lawsuit filed this week, Trump accused the city of fraud and civil rights violations, contending that the city was refusing to allow improvements needed to maintain the “Trump image,” including a clubhouse terrace and a row of ficus trees he was forced to cut down earlier.

“I’ve been looking forward for a long time to do this,” Trump said of the lawsuit Friday in a phone interview from New York. “The town does everything possible to stymie everything I do.”

But city leaders and some residents said the lawsuit was just another attempt by the real estate mogul to bully the community and avoid playing by the rules. They call it the culmination of his history of run-ins with officials from the upscale, picturesque city of nearly 46,000 set amid the coves and beaches of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

The city’s mayor, Larry Clark, dismissed the charges and said the lawsuit may cause residents’ already simmering ill will toward the developer to explode.

“We have bent over backwards many, many times to work with Donald Trump,” said Clark, who said he had spoken with Trump about the lawsuit. “I’m sure this lawsuit is really going to anger a lot of the residents.”

Coastal San Pedro, approaching Palos Verdes Estates and Trump National Golf Course from the South on March 29, 2011. Image: Greg Bishop.

Mr. Trump would even taken issue with the public park he was required to hand over to the city.  Part of that agreement translated into his golf course handling the booking for events/weddings on the then city-owned park.  Mr. Trump has apparently long been roiled by the public coming to this site and being able to rent it for a reasonable price and so began seeking permission to charge higher fees since 2010.

And then there is the whole creative accounting thing.

Funny thing about the reported investment.  A $260 million estimate is frequently touted in press releases and general media reports as an unverified background factoid (yet another trend that would blow up this election cycle).  But no clear audit of expenditures is public nor findable (by at least my hours of hunting through online databases).  In 2008, The Washington Post tracked down that Mr. Trump requested the Los Angeles County Assessors Office tax the Golf Course as if it were worth a mere $10 million (4% of the alleged investment).  Since that first request, Mr. Trump’s holding company has won three appeals to lower their property taxes.  As of 2016 it was appraised at about $14 million.  This is far below the value claimed value of more than $50 million listed in Mr. Trump’s recent election filings (hosted on an amazingly slow server, by the way…the key document is hosted elsewhere such as here).  Someone sure seems capable of understanding “obscure” details when it works to their fiscal advantage.  This is the candidate who bragged about working the system after all:

Unfortunately, the Palos Verdes story was not an isolated happenstance.  Mr. Trump’s coastal developments have more often than not become embroiled in resource protection controversies large and small.  Here are a few of the more obvious coastal zone ones.

New Jersey Golf Course

Even on developments where Mr. Trump’s team has collaborated with agencies and environmental NGOs, the project seems to go awry.  For example, Mr. Trump’s holdings company purchased his Trump National Golf Club at Bedminster, New Jersey in 2004 and quickly moved to expand it from 18 holes to 36.  In the process they voluntarily entered into a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the New Jersey Audubon Society that included pledges to remove non-native vegetation, restore native wetland plants, and bolster bird habitat and populations.  In 2012 the USFWS commended “Trump National’s interest in creating and restoring wildlife habitat on their property.”  New Jersey Audubon President Eric Stiles was similarly praise worthy saying that the New Jersey golf course was “solidifying a symbiotic relationship with the surrounding community to foster environmental awareness and a conservation ethic while enhancing wildlife and natural systems in New Jersey.”  Indeed this has become one of the primary examples to support the President elect’s oft stated “I have a great environmental record. I have a record that, in my opinion, everybody would love.”  This promise to restore wetlands is touted on the golf course’s webpage.  Interestingly, while the rest of the webpage is updated frequently, this page about the proposed wetland restoration has not been updated in years and cites the laudatory press releases from 2012 as the only evidence that they are good stewards of their land.

Trump National Golf Course website on December 30, 2016 showing only documents from 2012.

Disappointingly, Mr. Trumps tendency to veer towards controversy seems to have again ultimately carried the day.

Most critiques of that New Jersey golf course have centered around hydrology.  Trump National is “like eco-Disney up there,” said New Jersey’s Upper Raritan Watershed Association executive director in the Washington Post in 2011, noting the 69 million gallons of water per year needed to maintain the verdant course amounted to overdrafting of the local aquifer.   The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection would cite the Trump National in Bedminster golf course for a series of violations continually over the years.  Clear explanatory documentation is hard find, but it appears that at least some of the violations/commitments from previous years have not yet been fully addressed.  These include mitigation for cutting down trees, diverting water for to be used for agriculture to golf course irrigation, degrading wetlands, and failing to follow through on owl and other bird habitats.  And while evidence of management progress is hard to find (for example curiously completely absent from the Trump’s Golf Course, USFWS, and NJ Audubon websites), I did manage to find one reference from July 2014 (in a news blurb in the Messenger-Gazette) that reported additional native plant seeding had taken place on the course periphery.

Virginia Golf Course

Trump’s team purchased the Lowes Island Golf Club on Sterling Island in Cascades, Virginia in 2009.  As with our California story, Mr. Trump’s organization would quickly move to change the landscape to suit their short-term needs.  In 2010, the newly named “Trump National Golf Course” quietly cleared a huge swath of 465 riparian trees (local residents counted the stumps left behind) to improve their views of the river from the course.  Trump officials argued that their operatives were “artists with bulldozers” who were merely removing native elms, ashes, and black locusts that were somehow hurting (!?!) the Potomac River.  Local authorities admitted a small subset of those trees may have not been in peak condition/robust but at best those few individuals were a tiny fraction of the hundreds felled by Trump’s team.  Local government also noted the obvious; that the Trump team had removed a key riparian buffer and would likely negatively impacting water quality by reducing the buffering capacity of the riverside vegetation.  Benjamin Freed echoed this sentiment when he wrote in The Washingtonian that “[w]ithout the [2.4 km (1.5 mi of trees)], and their extensive root systems, acting as a buffer, the Potomac stands to receive much more runoff from farms and other nearby land, while the land around it suffers more topsoil erosion.”   Potomac Conservancy President Hedrick Belin argued Mr. Trump missed an opportunity to “build a world-class golf course, protect the environment, and be a good neighbor and responsible member of our community.”  Local residents responded with a signature gathering campaign that ultimately garnered 6,432 signatures.  That request to have the golf course donate 500 trees to northern Virginia parks as compensation and a measure of good will has gone unanswered.

While Mr. Trump has not formally responded to the community anger and petition drive, his lead environmental consultant Ed Russo told The Washingtonian that the herbaceous plantings they replaced the woody vegetation with were an improvement as “[n]ot only do they stabilize the soil, it’s a fantastic habitat for grassland birds and shore birds,” he says.  He mystifyingly added that “the trees along the Potomac were not environmentally sound or sustainable.”  As someone who has worked on such projects for years, I find Mr. Russo’s justifications for their clearing effort a unique interpretation of the dynamics of riparian vegetation and hydrology.

Interestingly Mr. Russo apparently “speaks with the same kind of bluster as his boss.”  He would also say in the The Washingtonian that “I have given this [environmental controversy] interview at least six times…Not one of them was fair.  This is a spectacular environmental net gain we did [in Virginia].  Nobody required Donald Trump to do it.  He did it because it was the right thing to do.  Everyone agrees with me except Hedrick what’s-his-name.”

Scottish & Irish Golf Courses

Mr. Trump’s overseas subsidiaries own three coastal golf courses in the British Isles; Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeenshire, Scotland purchased in 2006, Trump Turnberry Golf Course in Ayrshir, Scotland purchased in 2014, and the Trump International Golf Links & Hotel Ireland in County Clare purchased in 2014.

All of these projects have engendered controversy, incited public conflict over development activities, and brought exotic legal tools such as the equivalent of eminent domain to bare to push increasingly unpopular developments.  But the Aberdeen course set a new standard of controversy and antipathy towards environmental preservation and may well serve as a case study for a future analysis/comparison for Mr. Trump’s approach to the environmental issues.

Trumping Scottish Dunes. Image: Globe & Mail.

Mr. Trump was empowered to do more or less what he wanted to at first on his Aberdeen parcels.  As the New York Times described it in 2012;”Environmental protection was pushed aside for economic development, and the government supported the [initially-promised $1.5 billion investment] project, which Mr. Trump declared would bring 6,000 jobs to the area.”  Waiving environmental restraints apparently seemed like a good idea a decade ago given the Scottish oil industry was imploding and there was desperation for new economic stimuli in the region.

I recall the first reports mentioning that Mr. Trump’s agents obtained rights for a section of an adjacent protected area.  But even with his environmental carte blanche, he still managed to launch an environmental brouhaha comparatively early in the process (at least compared to some of his other projects).  Essentially Mr. Trump was seeking to destroy a large swath of the Foveran Links (dunes) a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) under Scottish environmental law.  This dune complex on a coastal terrace has been present for at least 4,000 years.  The dunes are dynamic and migrate perhaps a few meters per year and in so doing comprise a unique habitat that harbors some plant and animal combinations found nowhere else in the British Isles.

To build on any of the ~1,400 SSSIs in Scotland, developers must first secure special permission from the corresponding local planning council.  That body is tasked with weighing the potential economic benefit versus the environmental cost of the proposed project.  In November 2007, the local Aberdeen committee rejected Mr. Trump’s proposal to develop the dunes on an 8–7 vote.  In characteristic style, Mr. Trump ignited a firestorm in the local planning establishment that burned all the way up into the higher reaches of government.  Among other things he sparked the firing of the local committee chairman who rejected the project and recriminations against all seven committee members who voted against Mr. Trump.  In a highly unusual and surprise move in December of 2007, the Scottish national government “called in” the plan, taking away local control, and summarily approving it on the grounds that it was considered essential to the economic well-being of the country.  Mr. Trump’s typical political intrigue and divisiveness would continue for years.  That included trying unsuccessfully to use eminent domain (what the Scots call Compulsory Purchase Orders) to oust four private home owners who were unwilling sellers.  Their houses chaffed with Mr. Trump’s viewshed for his now-sprawling golf course even though those houses were not on his property.  When that and additional intimidation wouldn’t work he took to building an earthen berm to “wall off” the homes from view of his golf course.  The whole incident is recounted in the 2011 documentary You’ve Been Trumped.

Politics aside, a coalition of environmental groups pointed out that Scotland had few remaining migratory dune complexes and that this area should have been preserved, with at the most allowing a smaller (e.g. 9-hole) golf course to be built on the property Mr. Turmp’s holding company purchased.  As quoted in the Los Angeles Times in 2009 and echoing now-familiar tone-deaf bluster and “why can’t we” attitudes:

“They think we could damage or destroy this site of interest.  But those two words are incorrect,” said Neil Hobday, Trump’s project director. “Alter, yes. Change, yes.  But alter and change in a way that people who live beside the sea around the world and here in Scotland have done for centuries.

“What we’re talking about doing is simply planting [non-indigenous] grass, which would stop this highly mobile sand from traveling northerly, where it has essentially been gobbling up farmland like a giant sand slug.

To be clear, stopping the sand movement is a radical alteration of this ecosystem which has evolved with dynamic geomorphology.  The notion of permanently fixed dunes is an artificial construct created by engineers who have no regard for healthy, well-funcitoning coastal strands and understand nothing of coastal ecosystems.  But I digress…

More recently Mr. Trump attempted to block an adjacent renewable power project due to his aesthetic concerns.  The Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group first proposed the Energy Futures Centre in 2003 as an offshore wind farm harboring 20 2MW turbines in a single row 8 km-(5 mi-)long and 1 km (0.6 mi) offshore.  Mr. Trump began to take issue with the turbines soon after his acquisition in 2006 saying “I want to see the ocean, I do not want to see windmills” in what is perhaps a classic example of NIMBYism.  In 2011 another proposal would surface that as of this writing proposes to install 92 MW of production in 2017.  Mr. Trump began testifying personally in 2012 in an effort to appeal the government’s issuance of permits allowing the installation of the offshore turbines.  He would go on to formally sue and file appeals when unsuccessful, the last of which were soundly defeated in December of 2015.



Perhaps most concerning here was the President elect’s willingness to go out on a limb and employ hyperbole simply to try to win an argument.  He described the wind farm as a “monstrous” project that would simply “destroy Scotland.”  If you watch his testimony (the above video), you will hear him go on about how rolling green hills (read visual aesthetics) are the greatest natural resource Scotland possess.  Recall this is coming from someone whose professional career is focused on transforming landscapes into intensively built and managed ones.


Switching gears to his Irish property reveals another difficult to square approach to environmental stewardship.  Surprisingly (or not at this point?), Mr. Trump actively sought permits to construct a seawall to combat climate change-induced coastal erosion at his Irish course thanks to high tides and winter storms being made increasingly powerful in our era of rising seas.  His proposed coastal armoring would amount to a 200,000-ton structure obliterating 2.8km (1.74 miles) of coastal dunes.  The President elect has been happy to deny the reality of climate change in recent years…until it is his property at risk.  Then he apparently feels “global warming and its effects” are real enough.  While not exactly “fake news” this surely qualifies as another example of active muddling of the waters and a lack of honest discourse over the true risks associated with the goings on in the coastal zone.  It also appears to have echoed the Janus-like approach to public vs. internal positions on climate change taken by the corporation that employed Mr. Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State (more on that below).

Politico ran an interesting piece in May about Mr. Trump’s efforts at his Irish course:

Donald Trump says he is “not a big believer in global warming.” He has called it “a total hoax,” “bull$&!*” [obscuring added] and “pseudoscience.”

But he is also trying to build a sea wall designed to protect one of his golf courses from “global warming and its effects.”

The New York billionaire is applying for permission to erect a coastal protection works to prevent erosion at his seaside golf resort, Trump International Golf Links & Hotel Ireland, in County Clare.

A permit application for the wall, filed by Trump International Golf Links Ireland and reviewed by Politico, explicitly cites global warming and its consequences — increased erosion due to rising sea levels and extreme weather this century — as a chief justification for building the structure.

The zoning application raises further questions about how the billionaire developer would confront a risk he has publicly minimized but that has been identified as a defining challenge of this era by world leaders, global industry and the American military. His public disavowal of climate science at the same time he moves to secure his own holdings against the effects of climate change also illustrates the conflict between his political rhetoric and the realities of running a business with seaside assets in the 21st century.

“It’s diabolical,” said former South Carolina Republican Rep. Bob Inglis, an advocate of conservative solutions to climate change. “Donald Trump is working to ensure his at-risk properties and his company is trying to figure out how to deal with sea level rise. Meanwhile, he’s saying things to audiences that he must know are not true. … You have a soft place in your heart for people who are honestly ignorant, but people who are deceitful, that’s a different thing.”

…But Trump has encountered obstacles to that vision. Days before he concluded his purchase, a single storm eroded as much as eight meters of frontage in some parts of the golf course. Since acquiring the property, Trump has been trying to build coastal protection works to prevent further erosion.

Earlier this month, after failing to win special approval from the national government for the structure, Trump re-submitted a planning application with the Clare County Council seeking permission to build the wall, which would consist of 200,000 tons of rock distributed along two miles of beach. As part of the application, Trump International Golf Links submitted an environmental impact statement — prepared by an Irish environmental consultancy — which argues that erosion is likely to accelerate as sea levels rise more quickly.


In sum Mr. Trump’s dealings seem to show a clear disdain for mandated, reasonable environmental impact statements such as those required by our California Environmental Quality Act and National Environmental Policy Act.  He has also shown a willingness to engage in what we might at least call “hyperbole” in pursuit of his goals, employing whatever legal, rhetorical, or other strategy needed to achieve his ends.  I am sure many will laud such single-mindedness and apparent interest in winning at all costs.  But in my experience, anti-science thinking over the long-term and “us vs. them” tends to leave us all losers and our environment poorer because of it.  I hope Mr. Trump governs differently than he has pursued his coastal development projects over these last many years.


President Trump’s Cabinet-Level Appointees

The other tea leaves into which we can gaze to glean the topography of the new environmental policy and management landscape we will soon face are Mr. Trump’s high level administration appointees.  These folks are widely viewed as having a strong anti-regulation bent who frequently have strong track records of contesting efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, promoting fossil fuel extraction and use, and have generally worked in opposition to the agencies the are slated to join or lead.


Myron Ebell helming EPA Transition Team

Mr. Trump has put Myron Ebell in charge of his transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Mr. Ebell is currently the Director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Washington D.C.-based Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).  CEI exists to promote “limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty” and consistently rails against “overregulation” supported by an undisclosed membership populated by many industries.

Mr. Ebell describes himself as an advocate “for climate policies that reflect the scientifically-supported view that affordable, plentiful, and reliable energy make the world safer, the environment more livable, and should be accessible to those who need it most.”  In reality Mr. Ebell is a well known climate skeptic who has often accused climate scientists of “manipulating and falsifying the data.”  The New York Times describes Ebell as “one of the most vocal opponents” of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.  Climate change experts and advocates such as Bill McKibbenDavid Roberts and Brad Plumer are concerned.

Disappointingly Mr. Ebell runs the innocuous-sounding website.  This is a classic disinformation-painted-as-objective-information website that exists to downplay the ecotoxicology of numerous industrial chemicals.  Amongst other things Mr. Ebell rejects the most important insight of modern toxicology: the decoupling of dose and response first brought to our attention by endocrine disruptors such as the estrogen-mimiking breakdown products of DDT.  Mr. Ebell has charged such concerns about endocrine disruptors to be merely muck raking from “anti-chemical activists” and so rejects a vast body of literature spanning thousands of peer-reviewed papers over the past two decades.

Similarly, Mr. Ebell’s website totally refutes the growing correlation of honeybee dieoffs with greater neonicotinoid insecticide usage.  The federal EPA is nearing the end of their labyrinthine chemical assessment bureaucracy that is the federal EPA review process for several neonicotinoids, slated to be published in 2017.  It seem reasonable to assume that Mr. Ebell will have some influence on this and related rule making.

Competitive Enterprise Institute website accessed January 1, 2017.

E. Scott Pruitt nominated for EPA Secretary

Mr. Trump has nominated E. Scott Pruitt to be the 20th Environmental Protection Agency Administrator.

Mr. Pruitt is currently the state attorney general of Oklahoma.  He is a longtime climate skeptic and adversary of the federal EPA.  He feels that climate change is some kind of conspiracy and recently argued that the “debate [over the existence of climate change] is far from settled,” and that “Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.”  Both of these statements are factually incorrect.  Moreover he fits in well with our fake news and anti-science milieu and penned a May Op-Ed that pushed for bringing propaganda and intentional misinformation into schools and Congress saying disingenuously that “Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.  That debate should be encouraged—in classrooms, public forums, and the halls of Congress” in the National Review.  In that same piece he furthermore charged his fellow state Attorney Generals who were exploring prosecution of Exxon for their intentional deceptions and misrepresentations related to climate science as acting as “like George III” and implied they were “not governed by the rule of law” for beginning investigations into this multinational oil company’s apparently deceptive practices.

In what has to be one of the most amazing biographies I have ever seen of a head lawyer representing a state in the union, Mr. Pruitt speaks to nothing of his legal history or major in-state programs in his one-paragraph biography, referring to his constituents in a single sentence.  It is almost as if he has sought to use this office as a platform to move into the federal government that he by all indications loathes.

Scott Pruitt was elected the Attorney General of Oklahoma in November 2010. As attorney general, he is dedicated to fighting corruption, safeguarding Oklahoma’s vulnerable citizens, championing public safety measures to reduce violent crime and and protecting the interests of the State of Oklahoma and its citizens. Pruitt established Oklahoma’s first federalism unit to combat unwarranted regulation and overreach by the federal government. He is a national leader in the cause to restore the proper balance of power between the states and federal government, having served two terms as president of the Republican Attorneys General Association. Pruitt filed the first lawsuit challenging the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and is a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda. Before being elected attorney general, he served eight years in the Oklahoma State Senate where he was a leading voice for fiscal responsibility, religious freedom and pro-life issues. Pruitt and his wife, Marlyn, have been married 25 years and have two children, McKenna and Cade.

Oklahoma Attorney General website accessed January 1, 2017.

There is little doubt as to where Mr. Pruitt will seek to take the agency one confirmed.  In his own words “I intend to run [the EPA] in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses” and appears to want to drag us back into the ill-advised and false “environment or jobs” dichotomy.

Ryan Zinke for Interior Secretary

Mr. Trump has nominated Montana state congressman Ryan Zinke to be our 52nd Secretary of the Interior.  This former Navy SEAL really wants you to know that he served in the military.  Fifty-four percent of his official biography on his Montana congressional website is devoted to his military service (with a whopping 6% dedicated to his academic training and his experience in environmental/energy matters).  Even setting aside his expansive narrative of his military career, his history does not strike one as an expert in natural resource management.  It is noteworthy that an individual who seems to have spent something close to half of his life overseas on military deployments is the choice to lead our national parks and to shepherd our domestic natural resources.  Indeed, looking over his self-generated biography, the entirety of his qualifications for the Secretary position appear to be a three decade old B.S. in Geology.  He devotes more attention to his interests in “finance and claims,” “strong family values,” and restoring “economic freedom” than key issues such as protected area management, habitat fragmentation, managing often limited budgets, access to public lands for hunters, and the importance of sustainable economic development for folks living working the land and engaged in extractive industries.

Montana Congressional Website Accessed January 12, 2017. Note: this is an updated screen grab as the previous December 30, 2016 version had a less complete version of Mr. Zinke’s biography.

Elsewhere Mr. Zinke is described as a “hunter” and “outdoorsman” who favors the protection of federal lands whenever he can’t get them turned over to state control and increased recreational access to public lands.  Significantly, he has consistently voted in favor of oil and gas drilling projects on federal lands and supported controversial energy projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline.

On the apparent Trump Administration litmus test of Climate Change, Mr. Zinke falls squarely on the “need to study it more” (aka I’m actually an anti-science climate skeptic but am desperately trying to convince you otherwise) side of the ledger.  He argued in the Billings Gazette in October 2014 that “[Climate change is] not a hoax, but it’s not proven science either…But you don’t dismantle America’s power and energy on a maybe.  We need to be energy independent first.  We need to do it better, which we can, but it is not a settled science.”

Thomas Pyle helming the Energy Department Transition Team

Mr. Trump has placed the President of both the innocuous-sounding American Energy Alliance (AEA) and the Institute for Energy Research (IER)–Mr. Thomas Pyle–in charge of his transition team for Department of Energy.  The Washington D.C.-based AEA is part of the current wave of 501(c)(4) tax-exempt-but-we-can-lobby-anyway K Street lobbyist efforts.  While technically these two organizations are “separate,” the AEA exists solely to serve as the PR and primary lobbying firm for their confederate organization.  As explained by the Energy and Policy Institute:

IER was founded in 1989 from a predecessor nonprofit organization registered by Charles Koch and Robert L. Bradley Jr.  The American Energy Alliance was founded by the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute to fight the BTU tax proposal in 1993, and in recent years has been funded by Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries.  One of IER’s directors is Steven Hayward with the American Enterprise Institute and the Pacific Research Institute.  In 2007, Hayward was exposed for offering to pay scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change $10,000 for written critiques of the IPCC’s newest findings.  In recent years, IER has unsuccessfully worked to prevent extensions of the federal government production tax credit and investment tax credit for wind and solar energy.  IER also echoes flawed industry-funded reports attacking the EPA’ Clean Power Plan.”

Prior to his leading AEA and IER, Mr. Pyle was a Koch Industries lobbyist.  An early December Los Angeles Times profile described him as someone who for years:

“has led a coordinated national assault on renewable power…Pyle’s groups…reject the findings of most mainstream scientists regarding climate change.  They specifically dismiss as overblown the warnings from scores of published academics that a global temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 Fahrenheit, would be devastating.  Preventing a rise in temperatures of that scale is at the root of the global climate agreement the United States and 195 other countries signed last year in Paris. Pyle’s groups are pushing for Trump to make good on his vow to scrap that deal.”

American Energy Alliance website accessed January 12, 2017. This updated screen grab was added to indicate the Alliance had begun formally, actively campaigning for Mr. Pyle’s nomination as of January 12.

Disappointingly this political scientist by training appears to have been central to the witch hunt by the Energy Transition team within the Energy Department begun in December.  Pyle’s team asked departmental officials “to list employees and contractors who attended United Nations climate meetings, along with those who helped develop the Obama administration’s social cost of carbon metrics, used to estimate and justify the climate benefits of new rules” via a 74-question inquiry.  Mr. Pyle’s transition team questionnaire churned up a storm of outrage.

Energy Department leadership quickly rejected the request for information by informing the transition team that the Energy Department wouldn’t be providing the names of climate change researchers for their evaluation, citing the illegal nature of the request and associated implication that engaging in science and doing one’s job should disadvantage one’s future employment opportunities.  Despite the fact Trump transition officials such as Anthony Scaramucci repeatedly defended the questionnaire, the President-elect’s team quickly backtracked on their litmus test approach to evaluating Energy Department employees.  By December 14, incoming Trump administration officials released an official statement to The Washington Post saying “The questionnaire was not authorized or part of our standard protocol,” and noting “The person who sent it has been properly counseled.”  Those of us interested in impartial analysis and objective science should take heart in this outcome as it suggests that the massive, consistent denounced by a wide swath of academics, scientific societies, and NGOs did indeed have an effect.  The Trump administration apparently will reverse course when it is relatively easy to do so, opposition is forceful and unified, is fact-based, and when that reversal does not risk their losing much face.

The Washington Post described the resulting tempest on December 9th as:

Thousands of scientists have signed petitions calling on the president-elect and his team to respect scientific integrity and refrain from singling out individual researchers whose work might conflict with the new administration’s policy goals.  This potential clash could prompt a major schism within the federal government, with many career officials waging a battle against incoming political appointees.

While there have been many instances of political appointees and career scientists clashing in various administrations, what is novel is the request for the names of so many individual scientists, and the fact that it comes during the transition period, before the Trump administration has even taken power.  This may be a signal of even more intense politicization after the inauguration.

Yale University environmental historian Paul Sabin said in an interview that previous administrations have worked to install like-minded energy and environmental experts in key agencies, often at the expense of employees from previous administrations.  “But what seems unusual is singling people out for a very specific substantive issue, and treating their work on that substantive issue as, by default, contaminating or disqualifying,” Sabin said, adding that officials can now track a civil servant’s past activities “in such a systematic way.”

…The questionnaire was first reported by Bloomberg News. The Washington Post has obtained its own copies of both the initial document and one with some of the agency’s replies filled in, in addition to confirmation from other people in the department that the documents are legitimate.

…The document spanned a broad area of Energy Department activities, including its loan program, technology research program, responses to Congress, estimates of offshore wind and cleanup of uranium at a site once used by the military for weapons research.  In many cases, the inquiries meshed with the priorities of conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation, which held a meeting on energy and environment issues in Washington on Thursday, as well as priorities outlined in a recent fundraising pitch sent by the American Energy Alliance (AEA), a wing of the Institute for Energy Research.

Thomas Pyle, who heads the AEA, leads Trump’s Energy Department transition team.  In a recent fundraising pitch, Pyle wrote supporters: “After eight years of the Obama administration’s divisive energy and environmental policies, the American people have voted for a change — a big change. We expect the Trump administration will adopt pro-energy and pro-market policies — much different than the Obama administration’s top-down government approach.”

…The questionnaire also appeared to take aim at the national laboratories, which operate with a high degree of independence but are part of the Energy Department. The questionnaire asked for a list of the top 20 salaried employees of the labs, the labs’ peer-reviewed publications over the past three years, a list of their professional society memberships, affiliations, and the websites they maintain or contribute to “during work hours.” Researchers at national labs focus on a range of issues, including renewable-energy development and climate analysis.

…The questions called to mind past cases of conflicts between Republican administrations and federal agency scientists, on the environment and other matters.

In Reagan’s first term, Anne Gorsuch was appointed to head the Environmental Protection Agency amid a major push for regulatory rollback. But after Gorsuch resigned amid controversy in 1983, Congress opened investigations into supposed “hit lists” at the agency used to track the views of members of scientific advisory boards, according to contemporary news reports.

During the George W. Bush administration, there were complaints that scientific documents had been edited to raise doubts about the science of climate change and that researchers had been prevented from speaking openly to the media and sharing their expertise.

In late 2010, the Obama administration issued governmentwide “scientific integrity” guidelines aimed at shielding federal scientists from political interference, part of an effort to distinguish itself from the Bush administration. The four-page memo, written by John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, included a prohibition against agency leaders or public affairs officers asking or demanding federal scientists to alter or suppress their findings. It also instructed agencies to “involve science and technology experts where appropriate” to craft “policymaking of the highest integrity.”


Rick Perry nominated for Energy Secretary

President elect Trump has nominated former Texas Governor Rick Perry to be our 14th Energy Secretary.  Mr Perry was the longest-serving governor in Texas history, former two-time presidential candidate, and a fellow reality TV star of Mr. Trump’s thanks to his 2016 appearance on Dancing with the Stars.  In yet another is-this-actually-happening nomination, Mr. Trump feels that the person the leader of this agency should be someone who once sought to disintegrate the entirety of the Energy Department.  …until his problematic memoryhis presidential aspirations.  In that amazing 2011 Republication presidential nominee debate incident which famously imploded his presidential aspirations, Mr. Perry stumbled and was repeatedly unable to name the Energy Department–something he repeatedly claimed was a central tenant of his campaign:

Actually supporting the institution you hope to lead is clearly unimportant to Mr. Trump, but–as we have seen with the other member’s of Mr. Trumps team–being a climate skeptic clearly is.  During Mr. Perry’s 2011 Presidential bid he argued that he did:

“believe that the issue of global warming has been politicized.  I think that there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.  And I think we are seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that manmade global warming is what is causing the climate to change…The cost to the country and to the world of implementing these anti-carbon programs is in the billions, if not trillions, of dollars at the end of the day.  And I don’t think, from my perspective, that I want America to be engaged in spending that much money on still a scientific theory that has not been proven and, from my perspective, is more and more being put into question.”

As with other nominees, Mr. Perry’s own website (which still seems to be campaigning for the Presidency by his banner, but I digress) and autobiography provides no reference to any background or disciplinary expertise that would qualify him to lead the Department he now seeks to helm.  It is also rife with misstatements such as Texas being “America’s economic engine” when the state in fact receives more federal funding than it contributes annually (a “taker” in Mr. Perry’s parlance) . website accessed January 1, 2017.


Wilbur Ross nominated for Commerce Secretary

Mr. Trump has nominated Mr. Wilbur Ross for our 39th Commerce Secretary.  Mr. Ross is a billionaire investor perhaps best known for aggressive moves to acquire, merge, and then liquidate failing steel- and coal-businesses.  Mr. Ross’ “king of bankruptcy” and “vulture capitalist” monikers speak to the pathway to his estimated $2.9 billion fortune gleaned from faltering companies.  His proficiency with bankruptcy catalyzed their first meeting when Mr. Ross helped Mr. Trump keep control of his imploding Taj Mahal casino in the 1990s by persuading investors not to completely push him out.  From what I can discern, Mr. Ross’ deepest experience with resource management appears to be overseeing coal mining operations in American coal country.  His holding companies pursued acquiring only non-union mines, leaving out union mines and the associated oversight.  In the wake of the 2006 Sago Mine Disaster that killed 12 miners in West Virginia, investigators found the focus on production targets over safety appears to have been a contributing factor to the subpar environmental and health management.

Rex Tillerson nominated for Secretary of State

Mr. Trump has nominated Exxon Mobil’s Chairman of the Board Mr. Rex Tillerson to be our 69th Secretary of State.  He joined Exxon right out of college in 1975 as a production engineer and would remain with the company until January 1, 2017 (41 years).  He would move up the engineering management ranks (although apparently more management than engineering per se) steadily until becoming the head of the North American Central Production Division in 1989 (concurrent with the landmark Exxon Valdez Oil Spill disaster).  By 1992 he began his corporate move into overseas divisions in Yemen, the greater Middle East, and former Soviet Bloc.  Among his many experiences over the past two decades are being the National Chairman of the Boy Scouts of America, a member of the United Negro College Fund board, chairman of the oil industry lobby the American Petroleum Institute (which, by way of full disclosure, I have respectfully disagreed with in peer-reviewed publications in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill) and being on such good terms with Vladimir Putin he received the Russian Order of Friendship.

Exxon Mobil webpage accessed December 12, 2016.  Note: after January 1, the website was been altered.  To see an archive of this now-deleted page, please click here.

Mr. Tillerson’s time at Exxon correlated with the period of their most active support and funding for anti-science, climate change denier organizations that would primarily fuel the climate skeptic movement.  Exxon was also contracting with Public Relations firms continually throughout this period in an effort to sew doubt about the necessity of taking decisive actions of minimize greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonizing our energy systems and actively attempting to undermine political support for rational climate policy from Washington D.C. to Sacramento.  Much of what we now know about Exxon’s efforts to actively cover-up research that ran contrary to their current corporate profits and their active public misinformation campaigns around climate change since the 1970s is due to two landmark investigations by InsideClimateNews and our own Los Angeles Times.  These revelations led several state Attorneys General to launch a fraud inquiry into the company (and Mr. Pruitt to in turn pen his opposition to those lawsuits as noted above).  Tillerson only acknowledged climate change was indeed a reality four years ago but continues to downplay its increasingly dangerous planet-wide effects.

For example at the 2007 Cambridge Energy Research Associates conference, Mr. Tillerson disappointingly and disingenuously chose to emphasize “uncertainties” of climate change with arguments such as “[w]hile our understanding of the science continues to evolve and improve, there is still much that we do not know and cannot fully recognize in efforts to model and predict future climate behavior.”

Under Mr. Tillerson’s leadership, Exxon signed a 2011 agreement with the Kremlin-owned Russian oil company OAO Rosneft that will in all likelihood keep them at the forefront of global oil production for years to come.  This partnership gave Exxon access to as yet untapped petroleum reserves in the Russian Arctic and gave Rosneft a share of Exxon’s operations outside of Russia.

He would next re-enter the greater public spotlight when he sought to carry the torch for climate skeptics in his high-profile address to the Council On Foreign Relations the following year (in 2012).  Here Mr. Tillerson finally admitted that fossil fuel combustion was a central driver of climate change, but argued that environmentalists’ worries about the negative consequences of climate change were greatly overblown.  He suggested the answer should not be to stop or minimize oil and gas extraction.  Rather Mr. Tillerson argued our global society should be focused on merely adapting to the new climate changed-world we were inheriting; “We have spent our entire existence adapting.  We’ll adapt.  It’s an engineering problem and there will be an engineering solution,” he said.  This is the classic Technofix of the engineer.  At AMG the following year he would double down on that “don’t worry”/Technofix line, telling the crowd that we can as a species only exist with a highly carbonized economy.  “What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?” he asked sardonically.

Below is Mr. Tillerson’s most recent (December 2016) explanation of his views surrounding climate change.  In this exchange he (at best) mischaracterizes “consensus,” dates, etc. surrounding climate change and seems to argue that he is mostly concerned with the 1.7 billion humans without electricity rather than profits or status quo per se.  He also notes that he is “most disheartened” over the “extremes of public discourse.”  I respectfully suggest that these comments are puzzling given the fact his company has been actively working to cultivate those very extreme positions he now claims to be so disconsolate over:


In sum, 2016 was a crazy roller coaster of a year and I fear this top story is likely to only loom larger in the 2017 (and beyond).  Tighten those seat belts.  We are in for both an increasingly bumpy ride and a world in which we will all need our baloney detectors set to maximum.

Happy New Year!


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