Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: We're just pretending not to see

Under the Trump administration, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration has ended a publicly accessible accounting of most work-related deaths. For example, OSHA now reports a grand total of two work-related deaths in Georgia since Oct. 1, 2016, while an AJC investigation reports 33 work-related fatalities in that same time frame.

Why cease the public reporting of those additional deaths?

Trump officials have explained it as an effort to protect the privacy of the deceased and their families, although no evidence of such privacy-related complaints has been offered. On the other hand, there is ample evidence of complaints from employers and industries that don't like the negative publicity that comes when their workers were killed on the job.

If OSHA doesn't report them to the public, it's almost like they didn't happen.

Under pressure from the Chamber of Commerce and other groups, OSHA has also stopped announcing major fines that it imposes on employers, again to save them from embarrassment. An agency with a legal mission to protect workers is being transformed into an agency that instead attempts to protect the reputations of slipshod employers.

Two weeks ago -- and just 10 days before Hurricane Harvey hit -- the Trump administration also killed a pending regulation that barred federal financing of new projects such as highways and hospitals within 100-year flood plains.

"The revoked standard required public infrastructure such as subsidized housing to be built 2 feet above the 100-year flood standard, while critical infrastructure like hospitals and fire departments would need to rise by 3 feet," according to the Houston-based E&E News, which covers the energy and environment industries.

That decision was the result of hard lobbying by the National Association of Home Builders and other development groups. As a result, federally funded infrastructure built to replace damage done by Hurricane Harvey will not be rebuilt in accordance with that higher standard, meaning that we'll once again be spending tens of billions of dollars to build infrastructure in areas that are more prone to flooding, which will put lives as well as public investment at risk.

The regulation rescinded under the Trump administration was proposed in part as a response to rising sea levels caused by climate change. In the Houston/Galveston area, for example, the sea has already been rising at a rate of more than two feet per century and is expected to accelerate.

As NOAA warns:

"The effects of rising sea levels along most of the continental U.S. coastline are expected to become more noticeable and much more severe in the coming decades, likely more so than any other climate-change related factor. Any acceleration in sea-level rise that is predicted to occur this century will further intensify nuisance flooding impacts over time, and will further reduce the time between flood events."

Of course, according to the Trump administration, climate change isn't happening, which means the seas aren't rising. Except of course they are. As with work-related deaths, we're just pretending not to notice.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.