Trump Cripples Science… and Golf?

Photo by Molly Adams | CC BY 2.0

The Trump administration has a nasty habit of issuing “sentences before verdicts,” which is eerily similar to the “off with your head” mentality of the Queen of Hearts in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Off with your head is the Trump/Pruitt/Zinke overriding approach to science, thus leaving America’s best and brightest in a vortex of perpetual bewilderment.

Unfortunately, in addition to bullying scientists, Trump’s henchmen ignore science but approve risks of toxicity to America’s golfers! Here’s what’s happened: It’s all about chlorpyrifos, originally designed as a wartime nerve agent by the Nazis, which is sprayed on golf courses as a pesticide and recently A-Okayed/thumbs-up by anti-EPA guru Scott Pruitt. Contrarily, it was resoundingly thumbs down by the previous EPA administration- ugly details to follow.)

Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s continual reshuffling of senior-level scientists in order to confuse and/or goad to quit is unprecedented ever since the confusing Jimmy Carter era. Dan Ashe, who led Fish and Wildlife Services for decades and closely watched every transition ever since Jimmy the peanut farmer, says: “Anything at this scale is unprecedented.” (Source: Juliet Eilperin and Lisa Rein, Zinke Moving Dozens of Senior Interior Department Officials in Shake-Up, The Washington Post, June 16, 2017)

Predictably, whistleblowers emerge: Joel Clement, former director/highest ranking scientist of the Office of Policy Analysis at the Interior Department, recently wrote an opinion piece published in The Washington Post: “I am a scientist, a policy expert, a civil servant and a worried citizen. Reluctantly, as of today, I am also a whistleblower on an administration that chooses silence over science.” (Source: Joel Clement, I’m a Scientist. I’m Blowing the Whistle on the Trump Administration,” The Washington Post, July 19, 2017)

Clement, a senior scientist, who prepared Alaskan communities for the onslaught of destructive climate change, has been transferred to an accounting job that collects royalty checks from fossil fuel companies. The irony is simply mouth-gapingly overwhelming beyond any and all comprehension! Unless, that is, it’s a not-so-clever ploy to get him to quit and/or muzzle him.

The upshot: Clement’s key position goes unfilled as the Trump administration ‘flips the bird’ at Alaskan native villages of Kivalina, Shishmaref, and Shaktoolik exposed to the risk of melting into the Arctic Ocean. “These Alaska Native villages are one superstorm from washing away….” Ibid.

Clement: “Let’s be honest: The Trump administration didn’t think my years of science and policy experience were better suited to accounts receivable. It sidelined me in the hope that I would be quiet or quit. Born and raised in Maine, I was taught to work hard and speak truth to power. Trump and Zinke might kick me out of my office, but they can’t keep me from speaking out. They might refuse to respond to the reality of climate change, but their abuse of power cannot go unanswered,” Ibid.

Remarkably and unprecedented, National Geographic has created a serial article: “A Running List of How Trump Is Changing the Environment,” by Michael Greshko, et al, National Geographic, August 23, 2017. According to the site: “The stakes are enormous.”

Trump’s hatchet job blows away the EPA, cutting the agency’s budget by 31%. But, hold on here, stop and think about that: Isn’t the EPA the most significant, relevant, successful agency of all time? Yes, it is.

Before EPA, Time magazine ran cover stories about Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River on fire. It was 1969 and the Cuyahoga River was declared a fire hazard because of an oil-slickened feculent, grimy water surface. It caught fire 13 times and thus served as a real-life real-time lobby for the creation of the EPA in 1970 and the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972. Today, the Cuyahoga River water no longer burns.

Metaphorically, the EPA is “Mr. Clean,” 100% crucial to the health of the nation for the past nearly 50 years.
In the olden days of the 1950s-60s the Potomac, Lake Erie, cesspools, Chesapeake Bay, and Hudson River disease, filth, and reprehensible odor, a legacy of industry without restrictions. Fortunately, the EPA came to the fore to rescue capitalism from itself.

Even today, the EPA estimates that one-half of the country’s rivers and streams have “Impaired Waters,” which means no swimming, no fishing. As such, the EPA’s nearly 50-years remains a work-in-progress.

In the 1970s, LA’s air was a brownish haze of smog that could be cut with a knife. Once again the EPA/Mr. Clean saved the day, putting teeth into the Clean Air Act in the late 1970s, adding regulatory weight to mandated reductions of polluting cars, factories, mills, and utilities. Nobody else, nobody other than EPA stood up to the chemical plants, steel mills, and auto manufacturers to say: “We can’t breathe… clean it up or get out of Dodge.”
Back then, the US was headed for darkness, but the EPA brightened the country. In fact, the EPA’s record of accomplishment in the face of horrendous industrial capitalistic damage to the environment is downright remarkable, as follows:

“The EPA has facts to back it up. Since 1970, the agency has reduced the six (6) most common air pollutants by more than 50 percent, reduced air toxins from large industrial sources by almost 70 percent, and eliminated the use of ozone-depleting chemicals And this progress was accomplished even as the country’s GDP tripled, energy consumption increased by 50 percent, and vehicle use nearly doubled” (Source: Andrew Small, Before the EPA, Our Cities Looked Like This, Climate Desk, Grist, March 4, 2017). No other governmental agency has such a strong record of achievement.

Mr. Trump is horribly ill-informed and fanatically ill-advised. He should increase the EPA’s budget, maybe double or triple. He will not make America Great again (assuming it ever was) without a strong, viable EPA. Rather, he’ll fall on his own sword with deep cuts.

Absolutely remarkably, since 1992 the EPA has singularly been instrumental in saving American citizens $362B on utility bills in partnership with the Department of Energy’s Energy Star Program, promoting the creation of efficient product development. That’s an amazing feat and worthy of increasing the EPA’s budget. They’re more than paying their own way.

Nevertheless, according to a recent analysis by the World Resources Institute, Trump/Pruitt’s EPA will cut 3,200 jobs and $2.7B in funding, thereby ending the EPA’s Lead-Risk Reduction (FU Flint) and Radon Detection programs and cut Superfund cleanups as well as slash major programs aimed at cleaning up and restoring the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and Puget Sound, crucial, iconic American natural resources. The EPA is going backward.

A comprehensive review of Trump’s executive orders and departmental changes is simply overwhelming, thus serving an ulterior motive of public confusion.

For example, anti-EPA administrator Scott Pruitt blatantly ignored advice by his own EPA chemical safety experts and rejected a petition to ban “all use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos.” The chemical is already banned from household use, but it is still used on 40,000 farms and on golf courses (hmm). Research indicates that even low exposure may cause brain damage. However, Dow Chemical says it is safe when properly used. What is going on here? Is there a Parkinson’s thread? A cancer thread? An Alzheimer’s thread? No thread at all? Nobody knows for sure, yet years of the study say it negatively impacts the brain and should be banned. That’s what science says.

Chlorpyrifos, a Nazi wartime nerve agent, is an insecticide that stops nerve cells from firing without stopping. If the enzyme is blocked, the nerves don’t send normal signals, and the nervous system fails. It is used in agriculture and on golf courses to kill pests. It kills living things. Okay, so approve it, according to Pruitt.

Chlorpyrifos is no longer patent protected. It is now the active ingredient in dozens of pesticide products made by companies such as Bayer and BASF. More than 80,000 people have submitted comments to the EPA urging the agency to ban chlorpyrifos from use on all crops immediately. (Source: EPA Urged to Ban Widely-Used Pesticide Chlorpyrrifos, Environment News-Washington, DC, Jan. 5, 2016)

Trump should be notified that his own EPA administrator, aka: Anti-EPA guru Pruitt, by going against his own agency’s science, is exposing the president to a chemical that scientists claim is harmful, maybe Alzheimer’s, who knows? Alzheimer’s is only a speculation, but chlorpyrifos is a nerve gas… right?

On March 31st an official EPA ban on “all use of chlorpyrifos” was scheduled to take effect. On that same day, luckily for Dow Chemical, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt intervened and determined it is not harmful. How else could he approve continued use? But, he did not offer any data to back up his determination. Whereas, in November 2016, after years of studies, EPA scientists said the insecticide poses an unacceptable risk to humans when its residue is found in fruits, vegetables, and drinking water. That does not sound good.

Subsequent to Pruitt’s decision, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pesticide Action Network of North America filed a motion in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to “force the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos,” arguing that the agency has not presented any scientific research that justifies reversing its preliminary findings.

Bill Freese, a senior scientist with the Center for Food Safety, said of the reversal: “Another example of the Trump administration’s hostility to science, just like climate change denialism. All scientists who have looked at this agree that there is incredibly strong evidence that the neurological impacts are extremely strong, including reduced IQ and pervasive developmental disorders.” (Source: Paul Koberstein, Pruitt’s Rejection of Chlorpyrifos Ban Seems Based on Alternative Facts, Earth Island Journal, April 5, 2017) This may help explain a lot about the goings-on at Capitol Hill.

“In February state legislators in Hawaii — anticipating Pruitt’s decision — introduced a bill to ban chlorpyrifos in that state, where just last year, 10 workers at a Syngenta GMO research station on Kauai were hospitalized due to chlorpyrifos exposure,” Ibid.

As for golfing, here’s Billy Casper’s toxic story from years ago: “One year, in a tournament near Miami, I had to withdraw after thirty-six holes. The course had been heavily sprayed, and there was weed killer in the lake. When I got to the course for the third round, I couldn’t hit a wedge shot thirty yards—I didn’t have enough strength. My eyes were bloodshot, my complexion was very ruddy, and my right hand was swollen from taking balls from the caddie. My doctor said it was acute pesticide poisoning.” (Source: Caroline Cox, Pesticides on Golf Courses: Mixing Toxins with Play? Journal of Pesticide Reform, vol. 11, no.3, fall 1991)

The Journal News/Lohud (part of USA Today) carries a story about a lawsuit filed against chemical companies by Rich Walsh on behalf of his father, Thomas, who died of leukemia at 56 after working on Pennsylvania golf courses for 30 years. After one of his chemotherapy sessions, Rich told his father the doctor suspected pesticides caused his cancer. (Source: David Robinson, How Dangerous Are All Those Pesticides? The Journal News/Lohud, July 31, 2017)

Anthony D’Amico, the attorney for Walsh, believes that, over time, pesticide lawsuits will be similar to the cases that connected both asbestos and cigarettes to millions of deaths. Meanwhile, Rich Walsh has received thousands of emails and Facebook messages from strangers that “knew something was wrong.”

This is likely a major-major story that is only just beginning. It does not have legs yet, but with Trump in the WH, it’ll get there. Trump will likely make it big, very big for lots and lots of reasons, none of which he’ll boast about at his incessant monotonous lowbrow campaign rallies.

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at