At this point, during our chat about her work, Southerland tells us something rather extraordinary about a man named Bob Murray.
Murray is one of the most powerful coal magnates on the planet. He’s corresponded with the President on several occasions about financial aid for his industry, and as Southerland says, he recently composed a “three-page action plan” that only a handful of people in the administration have seen.
“One of the first things on that front page was to repeal the Clean Power Plan, which of course Pruitt has just done,” Southerland explains. Apparently, they've only got through the first page.
This is a plan that, written by one of the President’s largest campaign sponsors, reportedly outlines the systematic removal of the government’s environmental protection programs. In effect, Bob Murray is “running [part] of the federal government.”
When asked what else is in this three-page plan, Southerland told us she didn't know, but it's going to follow a similar theme.
“Congress needs to require Donald Trump to turn this three-page action plan over,” Southerland stresses. “The public needs to see this.”
Regardless of what Murray's eventually goals may or may not be, the resuscitation of coal isn’t going to happen, no matter how hard anyone tries. The reality is that there are around a quarter of a million jobs in the United States of America in the clean energy sector right now, while coal is down to about 55,000 people. It peaked in the 1920s, and it’s been in a death spiral ever since.
Market forces, the cheapness of natural gas, and the proliferation of wind and solar power have ensured that coal is never going to be saved. The idea it will be is a "false narrative," Southerland says, and environmental regulations have very little to do with it.
Industry Is Now In Charge
Koman, who has been working at the EPA since the early days of the Clinton administration, left in 2012 to join the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. She spent her days working on air pollution directives and spearheaded nationwide programs designed to investigate its effects on our health.
She points out that her old job was never filled when she left, partly because Congress was already failing to fund the EPA adequately.
“The new cuts, then, will substantially hobble the agency. Even the rumor that budgets will be cut this badly is enough to damage the EPA’s ability to attract and retain new scientific talent.”
Either way, “different programs waxed and waned over these administrations, but science was always applied to protect public health,” she explains. “Industry was always trying to remove our ability to do this sort of work,” but no matter what party was in power, these interests never represented “a threat”.
“The changes taking place now are on an unprecedented scale.” As part of this changing of the guard, it's expected that “industry people are put in charge of science advisor panels... and they will move slowly,” or frame things in a pro-corporate way.
“They are fundamentally deconstructing the institutions of the EPA, and as a result, it won’t be able to do its job, to protect human health and the environment.”