Ruth Bass: Dumping environmental rules becomes a stormy issue

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RICHMOND — As soon as we could write and spell fairly well, my brother and I started our bird lists every year on Jan. 1. Because we were kids and had many other things to do, we probably never reached warbler migration season, but we did manage to list crows, chickadees and downy woodpeckers. But not a tufted titmouse. We'd never seen one.

Perhaps the tufted titmouse, a handsome visitor at our feeders for years now, was the canary in the coal mine. Decades ago, what my son called the "me-mouse," apparently unable to get his newly verbal tongue around "tufted," decided it could forage further north. Other birds that my grandmothers didn't have on their lists appeared on ours — they apparently knew something about climate change.

It's obvious, as the latest report on climate change hits front pages and TV news shows, that people like Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma and D.C. never kept bird lists and, if they had, they would lose interest quickly. The new report clearly blames the speed of climate change on humans, citing especially the cars we drive (endlessly), the power plants we operate (coal?) and the forests we slice down.

The scientists went back to the beginning of the 20th century when only a handful of the present population was even alive, never mind writing down what was on the thermometer. What they found is that, despite what the present administration wants to believe, global warming is happening, climate is changing, storms are worse, oceans are warming, spring comes earlier and fall lingers past the date when we change the clock and eliminate evening light.

Still, the White House will probably choose to walk past this new report, compiled by scientists from academia and the government and reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences. Its publication verifies the absurdity of the United States backing away from the Paris climate accord that was reached with 195 nations. And it verifies that two federal appointments are as dangerous to our survival as the danger to hens when a couple of foxes are put in the chicken coop.

One is energy secretary Rick Perry, who last week asserted that "the science is out" on whether humans cause climate change. Not so, he believes. And every week since his appointment as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt has been a threat to the environment. Journalists have struggled with the stories of his actions because he is secretive, doesn't want to be interviewed, doesn't respond to official requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act and has rolled back many protective regulations without consulting the 15,000 career employees at the agency. Those employees do know things because they've seen a thing or two.

Pruitt has replaced some scientists in the agency with people who tend to favor industry, removed nearly 2,000 pages of the agency's web pages on topics like climate change and operated in great secrecy, which tends to keep him under the radar. A Rolling Stone article, however, offered these specifics about some of Pruitt's actions: Approved the use of millions of pounds of a toxic pesticide that causes neurological damage in children; delayed tougher ozone air-pollution rules; damaged Obama's Clean Power Plan, which would cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 32 percent by 2030; rescinded the Clean Water Rule, allowing countless streams and rivers to be exempted from pollution controls; undermined regulations on the release of mercury, a potent neurotoxin, from power plants and other sources; submitted a budget that would wipe out more than a third of the funding for the agency, including cutting money for scientific research in half. And so on.

A friend and Trump supporter has counseled me not to listen to what the present administration says but to look at what it does. I tried that. In Scott Pruitt's case, he says nothing and does all kinds of things, protecting neither humans nor birds. I hope Florida's painted buntings aren't getting optimistic about a northward move to my list.

Ruth Bass feeds titmice and others in Richmond. Her website is www.ruthbass.com.

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