Image via Creative Commons.

The environmental case for a Trump impeachment inquiry

by Michelle Chan, vice president of programs

On July 1, 2019, the boards members of Friends of the Earth and Friends of the Earth Action passed a resolution calling on Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler to begin an impeachment inquiry on Donald Trump.

We believe that an impeachment inquiry is urgently needed — not because we disagree with Trump’s dangerous environmental policies (which we do) — but because Trump poses a much more grave and fundamental threat to our ability to fight for the planet. We focus on two impeachable offenses below:

Profiting from public office

The emoluments clause prevents U.S. presidents from profiting from their office. Our resolution points out that Trump has used the presidency to enrich himself and his family by “allowing foreign governments, including oil-producing nations such as UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Russia, to curry favor by patronizing his businesses.” In addition, since Trump took office, his hotels and resorts have received over a million and a half from Republicans and various federal agencies. But this pattern of self-dealing and ethics violations goes much further than the White House.

Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt was ousted due to his abuse of public office. Pruitt lived in a posh Capitol Hill apartment he got at a cut rate from an oil lobbyist, took first-class plane trips on the public’s dime and used his staff to run outrageous personal errands, such as obtaining special hand lotion. He famously demanded that his driver use the sirens on his government car so he could speed through Washington and not miss dinner reservations.

Former Department of Interior head Ryan Zinke was ousted after 17 official investigations began into his misuse of funds and potential corruption. Notably, Zinke used tax dollars for a vacation and used his office to try to obtain jobs for his wife. And, he was under investigation for apparently persuading Halliburton to set him up with a business after his tenure at DOI in return for deregulatory favors.

These are just two examples of Trump’s Cabinet members and top officials who have abused their office for personal gain. Although Pruitt and Zinke are gone (replaced by other industry shills), Trump — who has set the tone for this self-dealing from the very top — has still not been held accountable.

Obstruction of justice

“Obstruction of justice” is trying to influence or impede a judicial, congressional or agency proceeding in a dishonest way to gain an improper advantage. The Mueller report outlines several instances where Trump has tried to undermine the special prosecutor and the FBI in doing their job of investigation and prosecution. But the Trump administration is also undermining environmental agencies in doing their jobs of environmental investigation and prosecution.

Environmental enforcement includes monitoring, conducting investigations and inspections and bringing civil and criminal actions against polluters and other violators. But under the Trump EPA, which is led by a former fossil fuel lobbyist, enforcement has fallen dramatically. The agency is conducting 60 percent fewer inspections than average, and the Trump EPA refers a dramatically low number of environmental cases to the Justice Department for civil and criminal prosecution. Similarly, the Trump Food and Drug Administration is pursuing similarly low levels of enforcement.

We believe that an impeachment inquiry is urgently needed because Trump poses a much more grave and fundamental threat to our ability to fight for the planet.

Friends of the Earth and our members fight hard to win strong environmental laws, and we expect that our environmental agencies will uphold these laws, not obstruct the implementation of them. Trump administration officials are failing to prosecuting environmental criminals who pollute our air and water and harm public health, and rewarding their fossil fuel donors and (former or future) employers in the process. In January, Congress’s Government Accountability Office began investigation of the agency’s low numbers. It is time for Congress to not only investigate the Trump EPA, but to deepen its investigation of Trump himself.

Congress must act

When faced with such grave threats to our constitutional democracy, Congress is our only hope for recourse and has a solemn duty to act. The Mueller report provides ample evidence for beginning an impeachment inquiry and was essentially a referral to Congress to initiate such proceedings. If Congress does not have the courage to stand up to such fundamental threats to our democracy, we cannot expect they will stand up to polluters or take on the challenge of climate change.

We need Congress to protect our elections, our representative democracy, a free press, the rule of law and our governmental system of checks and balances. What this means for FOE and FOE Action on a daily basis is the ability to elect environmental champions into office, to empower activists to speak up with their elected officials, to pass strong environmental policies and litigate to uphold environmental laws. These are the bedrock ways we and millions of others fight to protect our planet every day.

We need Congress to do their job so we can continue doing ours.

Friends of the Earth U.S. defends the environment and champions a healthy and just world.

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