Quick Takes: The EPA vs the Pentagon

A roundup of news that caught my eye today.

This seemed like a good day to revive an old friend in order to highlight some news that might have otherwise flown under the radar.

* It can be refreshing to be reminded that the world is sometimes more complex than our good/evil binary allows. That was my reaction to news that the EPA, which has otherwise been deplorable in its efforts to roll back climate change regulations, is taking on the Pentagon over clean water.

Facing billions of dollars in cleanup costs, the Pentagon is pushing the Trump administration to adopt a weaker standard for groundwater pollution caused by chemicals that have commonly been used at military bases and that contaminate drinking water consumed by millions of Americans.

The Pentagon’s position pits it against the Environmental Protection Agency, which is seeking White House signoff for standards that would most likely require expensive cleanup programs at scores of military bases, as well as at NASA launch sites, airports and some manufacturing facilities.

Despite its deregulatory record under President Trump, the E.P.A. has been seeking to stick with a tougher standard for the presence of the chemicals in question in the face of the pressure from the military to adopt a far looser framework.

* A lot of ink has been spilled over the last two years in an attempt to explain Obama-Trump voters. One common refrain we’ve heard is that they must have been motivated by economic anxiety because, since they voted for a black man, they can’t be racist. That has always been an erroneous assumption, as this Pennsylvania voter demonstrates.

Bob Bolus, a 76-year-old local businessman in the trucking industry who owns semitrailers covered with pro-Trump and anti-Hillary Clinton paraphernalia, said Mr. Trump was a champion for white interests. Mr. Bolus voted for Barack Obama in 2008, but said he became enraged when Mr. Obama weighed in on issues of racial bias among law enforcement.

Mr. Obama “was prejudiced against white people,” Mr. Bolus said. “Trump has put the reins on the horse.”

Like others, he mentioned a 2009 incident in which Mr. Obama took issue with the police conduct in the arrest of the Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, who is black. Mr. Bolus said it was a turning point in his personal politics.

* Back in the fall of 2015, I highlighted the Obama administration’s work on expanding the role of the U.S. Digital Service. They were recruiting young tech professionals to give up their big salaries to devote some time to improving the way various federal departments interfaced with Americans on line. In addition to providing better, more accessible services, the project had a profound effect on the young people who answered the call.

The most sobering thing about my time in government is to really understand on an emotional level that this country belongs to you and me and it is exactly as good as we make it. Grownups are not going to fix it for us and billionaires are not going to fix it for us. We either do it ourselves, or nobody does.

Apparently this is one Obama-era initiative that the Trump administration hasn’t eliminated. And Kamala Harris has introduced a bill to replicate the program in states.

Democratic presidential candidate and California senator Kamala Harris is introducing a bill on Thursday that would give state and local governments access to a pool of $15 million a year in grant funding, which they could use to set up tech teams and overhaul the often outdated tools and websites their constituents use every day.

The bill, called the Digital Service Act of 2019, is modeled after the United States Digital Service, an elite team of geeks inside the White House working on ways to make federal government technology less clunky and confusing—and maybe even good. Launched in 2014, USDS is one of the few Obama-era passion projects to survive the Trump administration. Now Harris wants to build on its success by giving state and local governments the resources they need to set up similar teams.

* The kids are alright.

A movement that began with a single teenager distributing homemade fliers outside the Swedish parliament last summer became a global phenomenon on Friday, as students worldwide skipped school and took to the streets to urgently demand that adults combat the perils of climate change.

Starting in the South Pacific and moving west with the sun, the protests blanketed grand city centers and humble village squares. Organizers said they were expecting demonstrations in at least 112 countries, in more than 1,700 locations.

The coordinated demonstrations were planned as the largest manifestation to date of the Fridays for Future movement, in which students forgo classes each week in favor of something they have said is more important: pleading for action on an issue that will affect every person on the planet, but young people most of all.

* Representation matters.

* Finally, today is Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s 86th birthday. Given recent events, this might be a good way to honor her on such an auspicious occasion.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.