Accountable.US Remarks from House Natural Resources Forum on Trump Policy in Coronavirus Era

President of Non-Partisan Watchdog Exposes the Administration’s Giveaways To Industry and Attacks on the Environment Under the Guise of COVID-19 Response

Accountable.US President Kyle Herrig spoke at the House Natural Resources Committee’s livestreamed forum Behind the Curtain: The Trump Administration’s Fossil Fuel Agenda During the Pandemic. The event focused on the administration’s giveaways to polluting industries and its political allies in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Accountable.US, a non-partisan watchdog group, has been tracking the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic with a focus on how agencies are responding to the crisis and recently launched to keep the public informed of the administration’s efforts to bail out corporations. 

Read the entirety of Mr. Herrig’s remarks below and watch a recording of the event here

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Accountable.US President Kyle Herrig at the House Natural Resources Committee Forum: Behind the Curtain: The Trump Administration’s Fossil Fuel Agenda During the Pandemic. 

Accountable.US President Kyle Herrig  Remarks at House Natural Resources Committee Forum: Behind the Curtain: The Trump Administration’s Fossil Fuel Agenda During the Pandemic. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

As Prepared:

Good afternoon Chairman Grijalva and members of the committee.  I am Kyle Herrig, President of Accountable.US.  

We are a non-partisan government watchdog committed to exposing corruption and educating the public about malfeasance across all levels of government.  

In recent months, our organization has been keeping close track of the Trump Administration’s response to the pandemic with a focus on how agencies are responding to the crisis.

I appreciate the opportunity to discuss our findings today. 

Through our work, what we have found are examples of systematic abuse and mismanagement. Not only that, we have also seen the Administration use this crisis to quietly gut rules and push forward policies that benefit special interests at the expense of our clean air and water, and public lands. 

To be clear, these wide-ranging actions have nothing to do with the pandemic, protecting vulnerable populations or anything to do with the global health crisis. 

Here are just a few examples, many of which our organization helped to uncover. 

In April, with our economy in freefall and our health system on the brink of collapse, the Environmental Protection Agency quietly released a rule that weakens regulations of life-threatening mercury pollution. 

This rule threatens to undercut the regulation of many other toxic pollutants. This is setting a dangerous precedent whereby the Environmental Protection Agency can now effectively justify loosening restrictions on any pollutant that their industry allies say is too hard to regulate. Coal billionaire Robert Murray, a top fundraiser for President Trump, personally requested this measure.  

The Environmental Protection Agency and The Department of Justice also recently implemented new policies to ease the enforcement of environmental regulations and civil settlements. These policies taken together may help polluters avoid liability on a wide range of violations, such as for devastating oil spills. 

Similarly, Trump’s Interior Department is using the crisis as an opportunity to enrich extractive industries and other special interests by making more of America’s public lands available for commercial exploitation on top of its already historic rollbacks to public land protections. 

Interior, for example, is pushing ahead with oil and gas leasing, even in the middle of an international oil crisis that has led to record-low gas prices and a glut of reserves domestically. The Interior is offering public lands for drilling, even though industry isn’t interested.  For example, in March, the Bureau of Land Management received bids on just 40% of the acres offered for leasing in Wyoming, Nevada, and Montana.  Meanwhile, oil and gas companies are sitting on nearly 10,000 unused permits.   The result of all of this is that public lands are being nearly given away, with leases often going for less than a cup of coffee.  

Interior is also pushing public land management plans that open up acres and acres of land to private developers, while offering no new meaningful conservation and public land protections in Montana, Colorado and Oregon. It has also been working to approve harmful mine expansions in Arizona and Nevada

In many cases, including in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, which is sacred to numerous tribes in the Southwest, the administration is ignoring calls from elected officials, tribal leaders, and communities to pause planning efforts. Instead, the administration is moving forward with its energy dominance agenda, canceling public meetings in the process or offering “virtual” online meetings as substitutes, even though places like New Mexico have some of the lowest access to the internet in the entire country.

Each of these moves jeopardizes iconic landscapes that families use to hunt, fish, and camp, driving the outdoor economy. 

Add to it a radioactive idea by Trump’s Nuclear Fuel Working Group, which recently recommended revoking uranium mining protections and approving uranium mining around the iconic Grand Canyon, threatening the National Park itself, the Colorado River and surrounding watersheds and tribes

But there’s more. Since the pandemic started, oil producers have banded together to request a bailout. All indications are that Secretary Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Powell are priming the pump to shower the oil and gas industry with billions more in public funds. 

If there’s one thing that we should all agree on, it’s that big oil should not get a bailout when mom and pop businesses are closing up shop. 

But that’s not what’s happening.  Extractive industries are already having a heyday scoring bailouts from Trump’s Payroll Protection Program — a program purportedly meant to help small businesses, not big oil companies. So far, extractive resource corporations have received over $3.9 billion in these bailout funds. 

And, those extractive resource companies with ties to the Trump administration are doing especially well. Coal company Hallador Energy, which hired former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt as a lobbyist, received a $10 million dollar bailout. And Ur-Energy, a Canadian uranium mining corporation previously represented by Secretary Bernhardt, got a nearly one million dollar bailout

K Street lobbyists are profiting at least as much as they ever have under this administration.  

They’re bringing in lucrative new clients as companies are trying to influence the government’s response to COVID-19. Federal disclosures have shown that in the last couple of months lobbyists have registered nearly 200 new clients

It’s clear that, while the average American suffers, industry is using the coronavirus pandemic to squeeze all it can out of the Trump administration — and the administration is happily obliging. Not only is it problematic that taxpayer dollars are going to well-connected industries instead of struggling Americans, our environment and public lands are getting hurt in the process. 

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss these important issues.

Join the effort to strengthen the American West.