It affects Hays County

Climate change is affecting Hays County every day and puts its citizens – our readers – at risk.

So it’s jarring when the man nominated by the president to take over the nation’s environmental scientists and regulators says he doesn’t believe the hard science behind climate change, and says he doesn’t think of global warming as a crisis. 

Andrew Wheeler is President Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Previously, he worked as a lobbyist for coal companies seeking to weaken environmental regulation. That work doesn’t disqualify him, but it does at least raise questions about whether his number one priority is the health and safety of the nation’s citizens – or Hays County’s.

That’s especially true when Mr. Wheeler and his boss are committed to financial cutbacks and regulatory rollbacks that are explicitly designed to weaken environmental rules that protect Texans and the natural resources we treasure.

Add these red flags to Mr. Wheeler’s statements this week before the Senate committee reviewing his nomination – his reluctance to acknowledge climate change, his refusal to describe climate change as a great crisis or a national threat – and the picture becomes clear: Hays County and Texas will suffer with Mr. Wheeler at the wheel.

That’s because we are in the path of climate change here. We’re seeing it already with increased probabilities of extreme weather, and virtually every scientist and every depth analysis of the data and the trends tells us that conditions will get worse, our challenges will get harder.

More extreme heat and drought, but punctuated by ever-more ferocious storms that relieve the drought with previously unheard of intensities of rain and flooding. We’ve seen it here in Texas. We’ve felt it right here at home, with fatal consequences.

Tragic events in Hays County and across Texas are following the trends predicted by the data.  Yet the president is suspending relief efforts from the work still underway to repair Hurricane Harvey in order to shut down the government over his border wall – refusing a Democratic measure to open the government, ridiculing the compromise efforts of moderate Republican senators, unwilling to address other departments while the border differences are resolved, refusing now even to negotiate.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration is rolling back regulations that require cleaner emissions, more efficient cars, and that protect air and rivers and underground water from pollution generated by the most aggressive and least regulated forms of things like coal mining. At the same time, clean fuels like solar are being de-emphasized. And the clear, unambiguous, increasingly dire forecasts of scientists are being ignored at the top, even reports, like the one noted by the Edwards Aquifer Conservation District this past week, that warn of highly localized climate threats to our water and our way of life right here in Central Texas.

Yes, regulations come with a cost. Of course, we should be open to pruning them. But what’s going on here is different. It is a philosophical attack on the very nature of conservation and the stewardship of natural resources. It’s a throwback to the Gilded Age of the 19th century when short-term profit trumped concern over long-term consequences.

The costs – direct and indirect – of these policies are more than we can afford. We need more future-focused energy – the kind Texas produces with its wind turbines, its solar farms, and its natural gas production. And we need leaders in our science and environmental agencies who aren’t afraid of science and plain talk, people who care about the future of places like Hays County just as much as they care about next quarter’s profits for the coal companies that paid for the president’s lavish inaugural parties.

We need an EPA director who’s not afraid to hear the truth – or to speak it.

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