Wilbur Ross, the “Bankruptcy King,” has rendered a public service to the republic that commands our attention.
Ross is our nation’s Secretary of Commerce. During the last government shutdown he confessed that he couldn’t understand why unpaid furloughed federal workers were going to food banks when they could get loans to put food on the table. Perhaps he just missed something while napping, as he’s rumored to do during government meetings?
Ross did a favor to Donald Trump during one of Trump’s bankruptcies. A Democrat who became a Republican in 2016, Ross still can be counted on for favors.
The Department of Commerce that Ross heads oversees the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA’s mission is to learn what’s happening to the oceans and atmosphere we depend on for our Earthly existence. NOAA and its scientists long have been perceived as setting a gold standard for scientific credibility and integrity, thanks to insistence on independence from politics.
NOAA isn’t in the regulatory business, except for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which oversees commercial fisheries. In the 1990s, when endangered salmon lay dying in farm fields of Methow Valley irrigators, NMFS required irrigators to install fish screens and conserve water.
NOAA has escaped the Trumped-up turmoil visited upon regulatory agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States Geological Survey and the Centers for Disease Control, all of which sinned by mentioning climate change. Then, unexpectedly, Trump locked his sights on NOAA’s National Weather Service.
Rerouting Dorian with a Sharpie
“Everyone complains about the weather, but no one ever does anything about it,” Mark Twain famously quipped. But then, Twain never met Trump, who’s obsessed with doing something about the weather, none of it good.
On Sept. 1 during Hurricane Dorian, Trump tweeted that Alabama “will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.” Shortly thereafter, the NWS office in Birmingham, bombarded by calls from worried residents, posted a Twitter message stating that “Alabama will NOT see any impact from Dorian.”
Oops. The meteorologists lacked two pieces of information: President Donald Trump is infallible, thus incapable of making a mistake. Plus, they did not know that the president had issued a weather advisory.
Trump doubled down on his error — even though he could easily have shrugged it off by hanging it around the neck of staffers incapable of understanding a weather map. But for days, he adamantly clung to this error, insisting he had been right. He even posed with a photo of a hurricane map — suspiciously altered with a Sharpie — showing a trajectory toward Alabama. Sharpie-gate got a lot of derisive laughs, but it’s not as funny as it seems.
Sure, we’ve seen far uglier, more destructive behavior from this president. But here’s an especially stark illustration of how even robust democratic institutions can be undermined.
Five days into this contretemps, leadership at NOAA, a heretofore respected agency, caved. They issued an unsigned statement in effect chastising the agency’s own meteorologists for publicizing facts contradicting the president’s false view of reality.
Turns out Trump ordered his chief of staff to call on Ross to set matters right. Ross forwarded Trump’s demand that NOAA issue a statement supporting Trump, thus reprimanding the meteorologists for doing their vital jobs.
If a president is so incapable of admitting error that he would waste this much effort — and so much of the time we pay him for — on such utterly pathetic, self-absorbed nonsense, where does it end? Hello?
And who needs foreign enemies when we have public servants such as Ross standing at the ready to undermine public trust in essential government institutions?
It’s getting worse
Yes, many Trump wrongs can be righted. But not his maniacal determination to worsen our weather. With climate change, every lost day is irretrievable.
So far, 84 climate change-driven environmental rules have been, or are being, repealed by Trump’s administration. Next year he will finalize our exit from the Paris climate agreement. He’s removed Obama-era restrictions on methane emissions, eliminated Obama’s Clean Power Plan, is opening more public lands and offshore areas to fossil fuel drilling. He’s even making war on LED lightbulbs.
Last week — as millions of children worldwide protested inaction on climate change — Trump announced the U.S. response: adding 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide pollution over the lifetime of cars built starting in 2025.
That’s because auto makers would not be required to improve fuel efficiency beyond today’s 37 mpg to the 54 mpg that would have been required by 2025 under existing law.
Trump’s revocation of California’s federally approved right to impose tougher vehicle mileage and tailpipe emissions standards than are federally mandated — adhered to by 13 other states, including ours — is headed for court. That’s because California, in effect, sets national auto emission standards.
The oil industry wins again, not consumers or auto makers, as Honda, Ford, BMW and Volkswagen realize. They oppose Trump’s cancellation of California’s fuel efficiency requirements. They represent 30 percent of the U.S. market and have agreed to a deal with California to build cars that get 51 mpg by 2026.
Nearly two dozen governors, including three Republicans, have joined California in urging Trump to strengthen auto standards. They represent 52 per cent of the U.S. population and 57 per cent of the economy.
Nonetheless, Trump will use our money to fight them in court, continuing his deranged effort to pour oil on a global conflagration.
Solveig Torvik lives in Winthrop.