Protecting Americans: Travel Bans and the ACA

Dr. Kevork N. Abazajian is an associate professor and member of the Executive Board of the Center for Cosmology at the Department of Physics and Astronomy of the University of California, Irvine

Dr. Kevork N. Abazajian is an associate professor and member of the Executive Board of the Center for Cosmology at the Department of Physics and Astronomy of the University of California, Irvine

BY DR. KEVORK ABAZAJIAN

Science has much to contribute to the formation of public policy that benefits us all. We have seen this in everything from regulations maintaining safe drinking water to ones that allow for safe aviation.

As scientists interested in effective policy, it is particularly disheartening to see the implementation of the ban on travel of nationals from seven Muslim-majority nations as a purported way to keep Americans safe. Since September 11, 2001, there have been 94 people killed in America due to jihadist terrorism. The attackers were all either American citizens or legal residents. Over half of the murders were victims of the Orlando night club massacre, where forty-nine people were killed at the hands of a citizen born in Long Island. None were committed by refugees. Such a ban, which is arguably based on racism and exclusion, clearly misses the mark in trying to protect Americans.

Of course, anything above zero in terrorist acts is unacceptable. The number of Americans killed by terrorist acts, about 6 per year, has to be put in context, however. The number of Americans killed by gun violence annually is nearly 12,000. Seven children and teens are killed by gun violence every day. The number of Americans killed in automobile accidents tops 35,000. Both gun laws and car safety policy cause these rates to be reduced. Certainly, the evidence shows that more can be done in those directions given the enormous risks involved.

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Meanwhile, there is a concerted effort now by Congress and the Trump administration to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare). The outright repeal would force 20 million or more Americans to lose insurance coverage. Professors of Public Health who have studied the effect of insurance rates have found that one life is saved per 455 people insured per year. The repeal of ACA therefore translates to the deaths of over 43,000 Americans per year. The Public Health professors are experts, and there has been no substantive counter-analysis of this potential impact. Even if the analysis inaccurate by a factor of ten, the impact on the health and lives of Americans from the repeal of ACA is immense, leading to the preventable deaths of thousands of Americans per year.

As a society, we have limited resources and we need to put them where they are most effective. Science helps guide us to effective policies that can have the greatest impact, and this entails having more representation by those that understand scientific, evidence-based policies.

Two for One Executive Order No Bargain

By the 314 Action Blog Team

Donald Trump began his second week in office by signing off on an executive order mandating the repeal of two existing federal regulations for every new regulation passed by federal agencies.  Trump was surrounded by small business owners Monday morning as he signed off on the "Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs" order.   

While this move is  being touted as a means of stimulating small and large business growth, the imminent effects on departments that regulate the environment, health, and safety is highly troubling.  This administration has already shown a strong disregard for science through its stances on issues regarding climate change and vaccinations, and this vigorous push for deregulation endangers the fact based regulations designed to protect Americans by agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration.

Carlos Barria / Reuters

Carlos Barria / Reuters

The current president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Ken Kimmell,  called the executive order “absurd”, adding that “If, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency wants to issue a new rule to protect kids from mercury exposure, will it need to get rid of  two other science-based rules, such as limiting lead in drinking water and cutting pollution from school buses?” This is a dangerous precedent that extends to every federal agency.

Regulations from the EPA on factors  such as automobile fuel efficiency and carbon emissions are crucial to preserving the environment and curtailing the damages of global warming. Recent FDA requirements on nutrition facts labeling are essential in the fight against obesity and related health risks. These are just a couple of the agencies that rely heavily on ongoing research to direct the implementation of new regulations, and the overarching requirement to remove two current regulations is an attack on the scientific community and a reckless order that flies in the face of existing knowledge and proven facts.   

The current administration and the GOP have staunchly advocated for federal deregulation, and this move in particular is being touted as “the largest cut by far, in terms of regulation” in history by Trump. This executive order continues a consistent pattern of rhetoric and decisions by the Trump administration that undermines the importance of research in policy making.  

Under the Administrative Procedures Act, the cutting of regulations requires the same level of legal and financial analysis and review as proposing new regulations. Additionally, the new executive order  requires that the cost of new regulations be offset by existing rules that will be rescinded. These procedures in conjunction with Trump’s promise to repeal existing policies such as Obama’s Clean Power Plan offer a grim outlook for the health and safety of the country under this administration. The indiscriminate mandate to eliminate two existing rules in order to be able to utilize potentially groundbreaking  research is illogical and irresponsible.

 

Trump Touts National Security But Misses Big Picture

By the 314 Action Blog Team

The war on science has already begun for the Trump administration, and the battle being waged seems to not only focus on domestic entities like the EPA and National Park Service. Trump’s foreign policy, namely his immigration ban targeting Muslims and proposed border wall with Mexico, are just as detrimental to the scientific community and to global efforts to solve environmental problems like climate change, which the recently elected President famously called a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese.

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It is disheartening to hear that scientists, in particular, from the seven affected countries are being dissuaded from coming to the United States and actively being denied access to travel to America. Leading scientists from Iran like Samira Asgari, who was intending to come to the USA to research genetic effects on tuberculosis, have now been left in limbo following the President’s executive order.

Unfortunately, it seems President Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the detrimental effects of this ban both in regards to the global exchange of knowledge and, more generally, America’s ability to attract leading academics will severely impact our country’s role as a world scientific leader. Schools and institutions across the country are warning international students and scholars affiliated with them to stay in the country until the effects of this rushed policy can be determined.

Despite his claims that this policy will provide the nation with increased security, it misses the larger problem posed to both national and international security by issues such as climate change. By effectively limiting the international exchange of scientists and academics Trump sends a clear signal to the global community that the United States will let bigoted fear rhetoric override more pressing concerns.

Coming down the pipeline is Trump’s proposal to build a Mexican border wall, which will not only serve as a costly and ineffective means to solve illegal immigration. Scientists are reporting that the wall itself will prove detrimental to the environment. Not only will there be increased greenhouse gas emissions from building the wall, construction will block animal migration routes and alter the surrounding ecosystems.

Ultimately, the scope of the impact of Trump’s radical foreign policy frightens our international allies and proves a serious threat to scientific progress. As scientists and protesters continue to speak out against this Administration’s actions, hopefully will get the message and do an about face on these policies.

 

Scott Pruitt: A “Breath of Fresh Air”?

By Jean McWilliams

Jean McWilliams is a teacher and pro-science advocate from the Philadelphia area. 

Scott Pruitt at this week's hearing. 

Scott Pruitt at this week's hearing. 

In his book, The Future of Life (2001), eminent scientist, Edward O. Wilson, satirizes the rhetoric of two groups that hold opposing attitudes about environmentalism.  He re-creates monologues within each group, employing the incendiary language each uses when referring to  the other,  illustrating the unproductive nature of name-calling, hasty generalizations, and false claims that characterize environmental debates.  Over the last several weeks, I’ve thought of Wilson’s argument as I listened to public comment in the press and discourse  on social media from both sides of the environmental argument,  as each side reacted to  Donald Trump’s nominee to head the EPA, Oklahama’s  Attorney-General, Scott Pruitt.

I watched on Wednesday as Mr. Pruitt presented his case for confirmation before the Senate Envrionment and Public Works Committee. I vowed  to sift through the damning criticism of Pruitt’s detractors and the inflated praise of his advocates  to assess for myself whether Pruitt was the right man for the EPA, whether he was as National Review claims “a breath of fresh air.”

In the course of the confirmation hearing, Pruitt broke with Trump’s position that climate change is a “hoax,” yet, despite doggedly persistent questioning by Senator Sanders, the Attorney General  fell short of acknowledging  that climate change is indeed caused by human activity. In the past, he has argued that the debate over climate change belongs in classrooms and public forums, not in determinations of public policy. As Oklahoma’s Chief Law Enforcer, Pruitt vigorously defended states’ rights and consistently opposed  EPA’s regulations on carbon emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants, his objections to Obama’s Clean Power Plan,  ostensibly emerging from his opposition to “coercive federalism.”  Pruitt asserted in a statement last year that "The Clean Power Plan is an unlawful attempt to expand federal bureaucrats' authority over states' energy economies in order to shutter coal-fired power plants and eventually other sources of fossil-fuel generated electricity.”   

In the course of the hearing, Senators from states heavily invested in the use of fossil fuels praised  Pruitt’s efforts to oppose heavy and costly regulations imposed on states by the EPA.  What Senator Sheldon Whitehorse of Rhode Island highlighted in his questioning of Pruitt, however, was a long and sometimes shadowy history of financial ties between Mr. Pruitt and the fossil fuel industry, citing evidence of contributions to Pruitt’s  political career from major players in the energy community.

What I saw on Wednesday as I watched the Senate confirmation hearings was a smart, unflappable, articulate attorney arguing for commonsense restraint on federal government’s reach into the energy economies of individual states. I listened to Senators representing states where jobs and economic growth are tied to reducing environmental regulations.  There were moments in his testimony when I found myself sympathizing with coal miners who had lost jobs and  small businesses struggling to meet the demands of environmental regulations.  I can appreciate the need to support these communities and the importance of weighing the necessity and consequences of environmental regulation.

But then I remembered why we were there – to confirm an administrator for Environmental Protection, an individual charged with enforcing laws passed by Congress to protect human health and the long term survival of the planet. Pruitt’s skepticism over climate change in the face of incontrovertible scientific evidence, published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and endorsed by 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists, is alarming and dangerous. His belief in the preeminence of states’ rights jeopardizes the ability of federal agencies to act on behalf of the common good in circumstances that transcend the interests of any one state. Waterways don’t stop at state lines and poor air quality doesn’t fade at the border. 

Also of major concern is  Pruitt’s historically long and  deep financial entanglements with the fossil fuel industry which cast doubts on his capacity to enforce environmental policy with objectivity.   Pruitt stated in his testimony, “First, we must reject the false paradigm that if you are pro-energy, you are anti-environment and if you are pro-environment, you are anti-energy. I utterly reject the narrative." Yet, his record of enforcement in Oklahoma suggests otherwise.  Pruitt, himself an EPA skeptic,  vigorously opposed the EPA, suing it repeatedly as Attorney General.  I wonder then how vigorously he will protect the agency he seems so eager to undermine.

I am not a trained scientist, but I am a science enthusiast, a consumer of science,  a believer in science.  I am drawn to inquiry, to reason, to seeking evidence and drawing conclusions.  I approached this nominee from a scientific stance of inquiry.  In the course of the last month, I have read all I could find on both sides of the Scott Pruitt debate.  On Wednesday, I listened to the man himself as he appeared before the EPW on national television.  

Yes, I  can agree that the 10th amendment is an integral part of our Constitution.   Yes, I  can agree that economic growth and commerce are critical to the welfare of all Americans.  But, the right to breathe clean air and drink clean water and the need to leave our descendants a planet not ravaged by global warming - these rights are fundamental to our survival.   Ensuring these rights will require discipline, restraint, innovation and paradigm shifts that honor scientific truth over the expedience of unfettered capitalism. In considering the long view forecasted by the scientific community, Scott Pruitt hardly qualifies as the “breath of fresh air” we need going forward.