Here are three things we can do to undermine his potentially destructive behavior.
(1) Never speak his name. The newly-elected President has a deep infatuation (perhaps even lust) for hearing and seeing his name spoken and written large. He also has survived financially, in part, by selling his name as a brand. Given the bankruptcy of many of his actual businesses, his name is all he may have left. So we should deny him his name by never speaking it. Instead, henceforth he should be known only as “T Rex,” short for Tyrannosaurus rex, the dinosaur that aside from being one of the largest of the known carnivorous dinosaurs has arguably received the most media exposure
(2) Boycott. The media reports that T-Rex, as President, may not be subject to conflict-of-interest laws. As a result, the T-Rex business empire can proceed while being run by his children. They will have control over assets that include stock in companies building pipelines and investments in foreign countries, some of which include people close to or actually part of a foreign government. T-Rex will of course know all this. The potential conflicts of interest are limitless.
What can we do? Besides keeping a close eye on and objecting to his conflicts, we can boycott his products, his services, his hotels, his golf courses, including anything that bears his name. It does not matter if he does not own an asset, e.g. a hotel or apartment building. If it has his name on it, he makes money off it. If the value of his businesses falls, he may remain impervious but at least our spirits will rise.
Just recently the owners of three large apartment buildings on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which had T-Rex’s real name brandished over the front of the buildings, announced the name would be removed from the buildings and from the uniforms of staff. Tenants had strenuously objected to T-Rex’s name on the buildings.
And let’s not forget that the term “boycott” and the socio-political action it represents started in Ireland during the Irish Land War.
(3) Fight back. If T-Rex reneges on the Paris climate agreement, it has been suggested by Nicholas Sarkozy, former President of France, that the EU could impose a carbon tariff on imports from the US, based on the amount of CO2 emitted in producing the goods.
On the dangers of T-Rex gutting the US Environmental Protection Agency, we have to assume he will try. And that others in Europe may follow his lead. But we should remember this has been tried before. In the early 1980s, President Reagan tried to gut the US EPA. His efforts were most obvious during the unfolding of an environmental disaster at Times Beach, Missouri. Here’s what happened and how Reagan failed over 35 years ago.
Times Beach, Missouri, Environmental Disaster
If you want to visit Times Beach, Missouri, all that remains of the town is a huge mound in a park under which lay buried the town itself. Its demise was caused by a small time waste hauler who, in the late 1970s, sprayed dioxin-contaminated oil wastes from a chemical company over horse farms and dirt roads throughout Missouri.
The dioxin-contaminated soil killed horses and sickened children who played on the horse farms. The owners of one of the horse farms, Judy Piatt and Frank Hempler, confronted the waste hauler who denied any responsibility, claiming he was spreading only used oil. The owners did not believe him so they donned disguises and followed him, documenting everywhere he dumped the oil.
State and federal health authorities, including the Center for Disease Control (CDC), were called in because of the death of the horses and illnesses of children. Eventually they identified the toxic substance as dioxin. Federal authorities, including the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), investigated the chemical plant and began to clean up the plant site.
The challenge was to find the sites where dioxin was dumped, measure the levels of dioxin, determine how dangerous they were, and what to do about the contaminated soil. The horse farmers, Piatt and Hempel, were able to provide documentation of where the waste hauler dumped the dioxin, including on the dirt roads throughout Times Beach.
One major problem that EPA and others had was that in the 1970s there was no federal law that governed such situations – toxic waste sites that the responsible parties had closed or abandoned. The gap in the law was closed in December 1980 through the passage of the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as the Superfund law. The Superfund law established a government fund for the investigation and cleanup of abandoned toxic waste sites, with strict liability provisions that allowed the government to recover the costs of the cleanups from all responsible parties.
As tough as the law was when it passed in December 1980, it immediately ran into headstrong opposition from the administration of newly elected President Ronald Reagan who assumed office in January 1981. Reagan was unsympathetic to environmental issues and immediately set out to diminish the effectiveness of the federal EPA by cutting resources, delaying regulatory actions, and reducing enforcement. These efforts to undercut the EPA, and the Superfund program in particular, were carried out by people appointed by Reagan, particularly Anne Gorsuch, the head of the EPA, and Rita Lavelle, the head of the hazardous waste division. Both Gorsuch and Lavelle joined the EPA from jobs in industries that had been regulated by the EPA, and were viewed as foxes sent to guard the chicken coop.
The Reagan administration cut EPA funding by 17 percent, and Gorsuch abolished the enforcement office, dispersing the staff into other programs. Soon after Lavelle assumed control of the hazardous waste program, she met privately with industry representatives whose hazardous waste sites were being investigated by the EPA. The meetings led to claims that Lavelle was entering into sweetheart deals with companies to relieve them of the obligation to pay for the multimillion-dollar cleanup of these sites. When the Reagan administration refused to surrender EPA documents to Congress, it was seen as an attempt to hide such deals. There were also reports that the EPA was attempting to lower the standard for dioxin cleanups. This, and the reductions in staffing and resources mandated by Reagan, including laboratories needed to analyze samples, deepened the distrust of both the EPA and the Reagan administration, especially among those trying to deal with the dioxin in Times Beach and elsewhere.
While the public demanded that the EPA take action to protect those exposed to the dioxin, Rita Lavelle stated repeatedly that no emergency existed, and that since not enough was known about dioxin, more studies were needed before action could be taken. When asked why some of the sites were not fenced, she infamously retorted that fences merely encouraged children to climb over them. Many saw these arguments as attempts to delay the process, as a denial of the seriousness of the dioxin exposure, and as an unwillingness to spend the Superfund money that Congress had appropriated.
The EPA’s handling of events in Missouri became an embarrassment in the fall of 1982 when an environmental organization, the Environmental Defense Fund, published a leaked EPA document that listed fourteen confirmed and forty-one suspected dioxin sites in Missouri, and reported that the EPA was going to clean up sites only if the level of dioxin exceeded 100 ppb, whereas the CDC was arguing for cleanups where the dioxin level was only 1 ppb.
Since the town of Times Beach had the largest population of all the sites, it received the most attention. Sampling began in late 1982 and residents soon grew accustomed to people in white moon suits taking samples of the dirt on their streets.
By 1983, based on test results, the CDC advised that the people of Times Beach should get out. Within days, police established roadblocks to prevent access to the town, and people in moon suits returned to take further samples.
Despite the growing crisis in Times Beach, officials at the EPA headquarters remained dismissive. Lavelle insisted that there was no emergency. Others closer to the Reagan White House saw Lavelle herself as a disaster in the making because of the public outcry.
Both Lavelle and Gorsuch were dismissed from the EPA for a variety of reasons, including their handling of Times Beach. Gorsuch was cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over certain documents. Subsequently, Lavelle was convicted of perjury before Congress, of obstructing a Congressional investigation, and of submitting a false statement. She spent four months in jail and served five years of probation.
Due to the public uproar about how the people in Times Beach were treated by EPA, President Reagan had to appoint a widely respected former head of EPA, Willaim Ruckelshaus, to replace Gorsuch in the hopes of regaining the trust of the public in EPA’s work.
The waste hauler, Russell Bliss, was prosecuted on a variety of charges, including illegal dumping and tax fraud, and was sentenced to a year in jail. The people of Times Beach were bought out and moved out of harm’s way, and the town itself was demolished and covered with a mound of soil. It lies buried there today.
Attacks on EPA did not miraculously end with the Times Beach disaster, and at that time the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives. So the current control of both the House and Senate and the Presidency by a basically climate-denying party does not bode well.
On the other hand, many business and industry leaders largely understand and accept the nature of and adverse impacts from climate change. Many are also committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to transforming their operations through the use of renewable and low-carbon energy sources, clearly in part for their own economic security. Many companies conduct business in the EU as well as the US and likely will adopt in the US whatever GHG-savings operations are required for the EU.
But it should always be remembered that it was the public protest, the heroic efforts of Piatt and Hempel and other individual citizens, and the concerted efforts of many environmental organizations that triggered the reform of the EPA and the halt to the worst abuses of the Reagan attempts to gut the EPA.
Robert Emmet Hernan, “Times Beach, Missouri,” [excerpts] in This Borrowed Earth: Lessons From the 15 Worst Environmental Disasters Around the World, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010 (English); China Machine Press, 2011(Chinese).
Oliver Milman, “Trump administration could roll back US environmental protection, critics fear,” The Guardian (13 Nov 2016). https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/13/climate-change-trump-administration-environmental-protection
Arthur Neslen and Adam Vaughan, “Trump victory may embolden other nations to obstruct Paris climate deal,” The Guardian (11 Nov 2016). https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/11/trump-victory-may-embolden-other-nations-to-obstruct-paris-climate-deal
Charles V. Bagli, “Trump Won the Election, but 3 Manhattan Buildings Will Lose His Name,” The New York Times (15 Nov 2016). http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/16/nyregion/trump-won-the-election-but-3-manhattan-buildings-will-lose-his-name.html
Coral Davenport, “At U.N. Meeting, Diplomats Worry Trump Could Cripple Climate Pact,” The New York Times (15 Nov 2016). http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/16/world/united-nations-climate-change-trump.html
Justin Andress, “27 Trump Brands to Boycott,” Destination Tips (31 Oct 2016). http://www.destinationtips.com/advice/27-trump-brands-to-boycott
Natasha Geiling, “Business community to climate denier Donald Trump: Climate action is an economic imperative,” Think Progress (17 Nov 2016). https://thinkprogress.org/new-report-details-the-staggering-cost-of-climate-inaction-4f4bc7bff4d#.yilyd9lkm