Draining Washington of Science and Talent

by Laurie Ristino | September 20, 2018

Donald Trump has, in a sense, made good on his promise to "drain" Washington, D.C. – but not in the way many people probably thought he would. The exodus from our nation's capital has been made up of the scientists, diplomats, and policy experts that a democracy needs to function, not the high-powered, special interest lobbyists voters likely had in mind. Meanwhile, a raft of grifters has gleefully taken a temporary perch in the executive branch. The ensuing debacles, scandals, and assaults on safeguards and agencies have made it stunningly clear how critical a competent, public interest-focused executive branch is to our country's well-being.

One recent example of Trump's war on federal agencies is Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue's surprise announcement last month that he planned to reorganize the Economic Research Service (ERS), an independent economic research agency. Perdue's announcement was a shock to ERS employees, who were told about the plan a mere hour before the proposal was made public. The administration's purported rationale, met with disbelief by ERS economists, is to better align ERS with the needs of the department and save money. However, the reality is that the proposed changes are a one-two punch to undermine the independence and capacity of the agency.

First, under the plan, ERS will report to the Office of the Chief Economist, removing a firewall between the ERS and political appointees. Second, ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Hazardous Waste and Disaster Preparedness

by Victor Flatt | September 20, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. What Happened According to the Houston Chronicle, there were more than 100 releases of hazardous substances into land, air, and water during and after Hurricane Harvey. At least one dozen of the Superfund sites listed in or near Houston were flooded during the storm. On September 3, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledged breaches at 13 ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Emergency Waiver of Health, Safety, and Environmental Rules

by Victor Flatt | September 19, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. On August 23, 2017, Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency as Hurricane Harvey approached the Texas Coast. That state of emergency was ultimately expanded to 60 counties in Texas. Emergency declarations in Texas (as in many states and for the federal government) allow the governor to unilaterally suspend specific rules and regulations if they are ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Worker Health and Disaster

by Katie Tracy | September 18, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. Lachlan Brain, a 22-year-old electrical lineman from Tennessee, traveled to Houston following Hurricane Harvey to help with the relief effort, working for T&D Solutions, a company that specializes in maintaining and repairing power lines and related equipment. While working inside a bucket truck on August 25, 2017, Brain leaned across an electrical line, came into contact with a ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Stormwater Infrastructure and Management: Unsafe for Human Contact

by Evan Isaacson | September 17, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. As millions of Americans in Houston and throughout Florida and Puerto Rico are acutely aware, the most dangerous aspect of a hurricane is the water. In Houston, the 50 inches of water that fell over the course of a few days broke records and overwhelmed the city’s flood control system. In Florida, Hurricane Irma’s storm surge ravaged coastal ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Energy Infrastructure: Beyond Repair

by Joseph Tomain | September 14, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. We have seen the pictures before. A man and his dog, both wet and disheveled, gliding down the middle of a residential street in a rowboat past downed power lines. As they drift, they pass the tops of cars parked at the curb, immobile. As they drift further, they see a woman and child standing on the roof ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Relocation and Migration

by Maxine A Burkett | September 13, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. The 2017 hurricane season demonstrated the “second disaster” phenomenon. Climate-fueled storms are the first, named disaster. The second disaster is the tragedy that results from the lack of preparedness of decision-makers — at all levels — who have failed to plan in a manner consistent with the risks presented.  Perhaps few phenomena underscore that more than the post-disaster ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- State and Local Planning

by Alice Kaswan | September 12, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. Three months before Hurricane Irma hit Florida, the state relaxed what many had considered to be one of the best building codes in the country. That wasn’t an anomaly. A report by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety found that many states along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts either lack building codes or have relaxed ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- The National Flood Insurance Program: Back to the Future

by Christine Klein | September 11, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Eileen and Jeff Swanson faced the unthinkable. They had just paid off the last of the mortgage on their $225,000 home in the Canyon Gate neighborhood of Houston, where they lived with two sons, one of whom is severely developmentally disabled. During the storm, a foot of water inundated their home, and ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- FEMA and Disaster Resilience

by Daniel Farber | September 10, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. “No power, no water, no transport, roads were closed, many streets broken, houses destroyed and people crying.” Those were the words of Maria Meléndez, the mayor of Ponce, the largest city in southern Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. She had good reason to complain. As pointed out in the Economist, “[e]ven ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Federal Resilience Standards

by Daniel Farber | September 07, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. On August 15, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order to expedite federal infrastructure-related decisions by allowing only 90 days for permit decisions and cutting back on flood safety requirements. Enthusiastic Republicans hailed the step. For instance, Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-LA) said he was “thrilled by Mr. Trump’s decision.” He dismissed catastrophic flooding in Louisiana the previous year ...

CPR Member Scholars and Staff Express Support for Sen. Warren's Anti-Corruption Bill

by James Goodwin | September 06, 2018
Today, 18 CPR Member Scholars and staff sent a letter to Sen. Elizabeth Warren expressing their support for her recently introduced bill, the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, in particular its provisions to reform the regulatory system so that it works for all Americans. These provisions are just one component of the bill’s comprehensive effort aimed at restoring the principles of government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” to our policymaking institutions by ridding them of ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Adaptation Planning and Resilience: All Hands on Deck

by Alice Kaswan | September 06, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. By the end of the 2017 hurricane season, the American people were reeling from the impacts of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. The press documented the familiar cycle of compassion, frustration, and anger. As people suffered for days, weeks, and months in communities that were flooded, without power, and in need of food and other basic supplies, the ...

From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery

by Sidney Shapiro | September 05, 2018
This is the first in a series of posts from CPR's new From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report and provides a preview of the preface and executive summary. From September 6-26, CPR will post a new chapter from the report each weekday on CPRBlog. The full report, including a downloadable PDF, will also be available on CPR's website. Preface: An Ounce of Prevention The story is now familiar. An area of the United States is battered by ...

The Socratic Method: CPR Legal Scholars Test Kavanaugh

by Matt Shudtz | September 04, 2018
Today, D.C. Circuit Court Judge and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh begins his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Despite the disturbing lack of transparency around his service to the country during the George W. Bush administration, the show will go on. We asked CPR's Member Scholars and staff what they would ask Judge Kavanaugh if they had the opportunity. Here are some highlights: You Can't Put a Price on Everything Ask a parent what they would pay to ...

The Hill Op-Ed: Brett Kavanaugh's Opportunistic Corner Cutting

by Rena Steinzor | August 30, 2018
This op-ed originally ran in The Hill. Tens of thousands of thoughtful — and not so thoughtful — words have been written about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s substantive positions on issues the court will face. At least one question has not been addressed, however: Is Judge Brett Kavanaugh so ideological about certain topics that he veers toward sloppiness? As a law professor, I spend a lot of time around first-year law students, introducing them to the professional standards that ...

Trump's Proposal to Replace the Clean Power Plan Endangers Public Health and the World's Climate

by Joel Mintz | August 30, 2018
This story was originally published by The Revelator. In his first 19 months in office, Donald Trump has repeatedly defied established presidential norms — so flagrantly that it almost obscures the many ways he's changed national policies for the worse. But despite all the scandals and mean-spirited tweets, it's likely that his most enduring impact will be his administration's systematic, reckless dismantling of ongoing efforts to curtail human-caused climate change. The miseries of global climate disruption are already upon us. ...

The 'Affordable Clean Energy' Rule and Environmental Justice

by Alice Kaswan | August 29, 2018
For disadvantaged communities, the so-called Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE) falls far short of the protections and opportunities included in the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration rule that the Trump EPA is now attempting to repeal and replace. One of the Clean Power Plan's (CPP) essential features was its recognition that the electricity sector operates as an interconnected system. Because of its system-wide approach, the CPP could achieve significant reductions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants by encouraging utilities ...

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