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EDITORIAL

The president’s environmental plunder

Trump's latest moves to open up oil-drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and roll back methane regulations will have lasting consequences.

Can this corrupt juggernaut of an administration be stopped before the damage becomes permanent? In the case of the attempted sell-off of parts of America’s most treasured wilderness, the answer is, well, maybe.
Can this corrupt juggernaut of an administration be stopped before the damage becomes permanent? In the case of the attempted sell-off of parts of America’s most treasured wilderness, the answer is, well, maybe.Getty Images

Perhaps the Trump administration has begun to believe its days in office are numbered — judging from the rate at which its plunder of the planet has accelerated in the past week.

Monday, the administration announced it was ready to open up some 1.5 million acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas drilling, which would end a six-decade-long battle to protect this pristine wilderness.

Days earlier it moved to scrap limits on methane leaks, thus allowing the oil and gas companies responsible for them to make their own decisions about how much can be released into the atmosphere. Methane is among the most potent greenhouse gases— a kind of “super-pollutant” that leaks from wells, pipelines, and storage tanks.

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Together the moves should tell American voters all they need to know about whether they could survive another four years of a president who seems to care not at all about protecting the environment and public health, not at all about climate change, and certainly not about the science that should govern environmental policy. But the question remains: Can this corrupt juggernaut of an administration be stopped before the damage becomes permanent?

In the case of the attempted sell-off of parts of America’s most treasured wilderness, the answer is, well, maybe. There will, of course, be lawsuits aimed at halting the sale of oil and gas development leases in the coastal plain that remains home to polar bears and herds of caribou. And in the end there may be less interest in those leases than Donald Trump seems to think.

ANWR is a big deal that Ronald Reagan couldn’t get done and nobody could get done,” Trump said during an interview on “Fox & Friends,” as he patted himself firmly on the back.

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But the price of oil has plummeted during the pandemic, and some banks and possible investors such as Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase have already announced they’re not interested in projects that, because of the harsh Arctic environment, are going to be difficult and expensive.

Major oil and gas companies also know there will be a major reputational price to pay. There’s no public relations campaign that can counter the image of vulnerable polar bears on thin ice.

For all of those reasons, even the Interior Department is now admitting that the $1.8 billion it expected to realize from those leases is more likely to be half that amount. Of course, that won’t keep this appalling idea down. The best bet for doing that will be the barrage of lawsuits it will no doubt generate.

The more immediate danger is from the Trump administration’s most recent effort to reverse Obama-era efforts to regulate methane emissions. It was surely no accident that the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, signed the new rules in Pittsburgh, Pa., a state won by Trump in 2016 and home to a good deal of shale gas development. Wheeler insisted that the change simply removes “redundant paperwork.”

And if you believe that, there’s a nice patch of land in Death Valley you might like to invest in.

Again, there will be lawsuits — at least one is threatened by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has pledged “aggressive methane pollution limits for new and existing oil and gas operations” as part of his “day one” agenda. And major oil companies — BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell — that have made good on their commitment to cut methane emissions, are sticking with their plans.

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It’s the smaller oil and gas operators, many of which make up Trump’s donor base, who are happy to contribute to a smog-filled world to cut costs — one that disproportionately impacts low-income minority communities.

This steady erosion of environmental protections, from the rollback of fuel economy standards for cars and trucks to this nation’s abandonment of the Paris climate accords, surely comes as no surprise from this administration. The most troubling aspect these days, however, is the accelerated pace of that erosion. It’s as if Trump believes voters dealing with a pandemic and an election won’t realize the extent of the damage until it’s too late — until his cronies get what they paid for.

But it isn’t difficult at all to understand that our health and our planet are in danger. It’s as simple and basic as the air we breathe.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.