In an opportunistic act ostensibly done to hasten economic recovery during the COVID-19 epidemic, President Donald Trump issued an executive order on May 20 to deregulate industry, “rescinding, modifying, waiving, or providing exemptions from regulations and other requirements that may inhibit economic recovery.”
Depending on where you stand, this sounds perfectly reasonable. If you stand in a boardroom where the cost of safe waste disposal is a constant drain on your bottom line, it’s great. If you used to live in the northeast Oklahoma town of Picher, where subsurface mining contaminated the groundwater and nearby Tar Creek with toxic metals, it’s not so great.
It means there are new opportunities to create new ghost towns, just like Picher. It is a signal that the Trump Administration is finding new and exciting ways to give less of a damn about you and your family.
Trump’s neat trick of convincing working people that he had their best interests in mind is one of the grossest acts of political dark arts in recent memory. It allows him to tell lies that are terrible for Oklahoma’s future economy and the wellbeing of its residents.
OpinionFrom George Lang, our lead opinion columnist
On April 2, 2019, while speaking at a National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) fundraiser, he told his infamous lie about wind energy, a perpetual resource in Oklahoma. He told the audience that “if you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations: your house just went down 75 percent in value. And they say the noise causes cancer.” He later repeated the lie during a campaign rally that day in Ohio.
More than a year later, that lie hangs in the atmosphere over Oklahoma and continues to infect discussions over renewable energy. As the recent inversion of oil prices indicated and Chesapeake Energy’s bankruptcy announcement proved, Oklahoma needs to diversify its economy and prepare for a time when petroleum revenues bottom out entirely.
Wind and solar energy could be part of the answer, but just like the mining companies that turned Picher into a Superfund site, Trump poisoned the well on that discussion. To the exclusion of Oklahomans who could benefit financially and environmentally from a move toward renewable energy, Trump always sides with petroleum or mining executives.
It is always instructive to watch who cheerleads Trump’s actions. In this case, the executive order to deregulate industry won rave reviews from U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who never fails to take the wrong side in a debate.
“Good news from @realDonaldTrump amidst this crisis,” Inhofe or someone who works for him tweeted on May 20. “The president signed an Executive Order (sic) to provide regulatory relief to jumpstart the economy and get Americans back to work. These deregulatory efforts are much needed as we continue to combat #COVID19.”
Like Trump, Inhofe views the pandemic through a particular prism. While other senators work to secure and safeguard the individual voters and residents they consider their constituency, Inhofe and Trump give lip service to workers and service members while mainly representing the interests of billionaires. And not just your rank-and-file billionaires: they put in the work for billionaires in dead-ender industries that need propping up in an age of environmental and industrial transformation.
And because Trump performs so strongly among people who have been fooled by his fake populism, mini-Trumps like Gov. Kevin Stitt were able to proliferate in state governments. Stitt, who never took COVID-19 seriously, began talking about reopening Oklahoma nearly as soon as people started socially distancing and taking necessary precautions against the virus.
Much like Trump, Stitt quickly became bored with responsible living, and because he is beholden to industry above all else, he pushed hard for the reopening, and like Trump, refused to wear a mask when touring businesses. Because of his virus-be-damned stance toward the premature reopening, otherwise-reasonable people started partying in public again, and today, May 22, Oklahoma experienced its second-highest spike in new coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
At a time when Oklahoma needs true leadership, Trump, Stitt, and Inhofe are not real leaders. They follow the money every time. At a time of both economic and health crises, Oklahoma should be led by people who care about their residents and will not send them up Tar Creek.
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