The Republican Party as Presently Constituted Must Be Torn Down to Its Foundations. The Planet Depends on It.

Even a stunning defeat in the 2020 election will not be enough. (Photo: Win McNamee/ Getty Images)

The Republican Party as Presently Constituted Must Be Torn Down to Its Foundations. The Planet Depends on It.

Our new environmental reality was not inevitable. It is, in many cases, the result of public policy.

So, over the weekend, another child died in the custody of the United States because of the president*'s brainless immigration policy. The president* flew halfway around the world for a 30-minute photo-op with some soldiers because he was shamed into doing so, and this was shortly after he was shamed into submarining a deal on the southern border by Rush Limbaugh and a chorus of lower primates. At this point, I think he could be shamed into jumping off the Truman Balcony dressed as Queen Mathilde of Belgium.

Nonetheless, out in the country, his administration is doing damage that will take years to reverse, even assuming we can, and likely will cost the lives of people he sees only as members of his most recent constituency of suckers.

On Thursday, The New York Times took a vast and comprehensive look at the consequences of this administration's assault on decades of environmental regulation and protection. It is an incredible compendium of neglect and deliberate vandalism. It is a calendar of destruction and disease. And it's only a snapshot. None of these horrors are going to stop until the political power of this administration is broken and scattered to the four winds.

With this running start, Mr. Trump is already on track to leave an indelible mark on the American landscape, even with a decline in some major pollutants from the ever-shrinking coal industry. While Washington has been consumed by scandals surrounding the president's top officials on environmental policy -- both the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior secretary have been driven from his cabinet -- Mr. Trump's vision is taking root in places as diverse as rural California, urban Texas, West Virginian coal country and North Dakota's energy corridor.

While the Obama administration sought to tackle pollution problems in all four states and nationally, Mr. Trump's regulatory ambitions extend beyond Republican distaste for what they considered unilateral overreach by his Democratic predecessor; pursuing them in full force, Mr. Trump would shift the debate about the environment sharply in the direction of industry interests, further unraveling what had been, before the Obama administration, a loose bipartisan consensus dating in part to the Nixon administration.

The feature is broken up into several parts, each of them concentrating on a specific environmental debacle affecting specific people. There are California farmworkers sickened by the use of a once-banned pesticide. There are neighborhoods in Houston running out of breathable air because the administration* has gone long on reviving the doomed coal industry. There's a river in West Virginia that was becoming less of a chemistry set until the country went crazy in November of 2016.

And there is a particularly grim tale of how a Native American community in North Dakota got caught in the nutcracker between short-term money and long-term illness over natural gas drilling on its land.

A 75 percent surge in oil production in the past two years has left Fort Berthold lighted by towering shafts of flame. Hundreds of controlled flares burn so bright in the cold night air that the sky turns a weird orange yellow, even as snow falls onto the frozen ground. An estimated three billion cubic feet of gas is burned or released each month here -- a volume that could heat about 600,000 homes. Energy companies have figured out a way to capture the oil, but their pipelines are not big enough to handle all the less valuable gas that comes out of the ground. Much of the excess is torched.

As oil and gas operations have intensified in this isolated stretch of North Dakota, so have residents' concerns. The venting of unburned methane fouls the air with chemicals that are not only in some cases carcinogenic but over the next 100 years will be 30 times as potent a cause of global warming as carbon dioxide. At the same time, the improper burning of methane can create pollutants that cause a variety of respiratory problems...

The Obama administration, concerned about the effects on health and global warming as well as the wasteful practice of simply burning off energy, moved to curtail leaks and flaring on federal lands and Indian reservations. But in September, under pressure from the energy industry, President Trump's Interior Department eliminated the rule's most important provisions.

The leaks and flaring are an increasing source of tension at Fort Berthold. Many are focused on the cash from the energy industry that is pouring into community and tribal government coffers. The tribes and some families are paid royalties for each barrel of oil pulled from the ground, revenue that has changed many lives for the better.

"Sovereignty by the barrel," is the slogan used by the M.H.A. Nation's Energy Division, which both regulates and promotes oil and gas drilling here. Yet others are backing a lawsuit challenging Mr. Trump's rollback of the federal rule, while also pressing tribal leaders to move aggressively on their own to confront the consequences of the burning and leaking of gas.

It used to be something of a consensus that the country at least could try to straddle economic progress and environmental protections. Those people hand-waving away the idea of a Green New Deal simply because it involves massive systemic changes are ignoring the fact that at the moment, in the middle of a global environmental calamity edging up very quickly on an existential crisis, massive systemic changes are going on in a hundred different places, and many of them are being exacerbated and encouraged by deliberate public policy.

Even a stunning defeat in the 2020 election will not be enough. The philosophy behind these acts of destruction has to be wrung out of our politics, and the vehicle that is the Republican Party as it is presently constituted has to be torn down to its foundations and rebuilt before that philosophy and that vehicle destroy the viability of the planet.

In the words of Walter DeVille, who lives on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota, "This is our reality now."

It didn't have to be.

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