Pittsburgh-based podcast Trump on Earth tries to keep pace with changing environmental policy | Green Light | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh-based podcast Trump on Earth tries to keep pace with changing environmental policy

“They’re not easy topics to talk about in five minutes.”


When the environmental journalists behind WESA 90.5 FM’s Allegheny Front launched their new podcast, Trump on Earth, in January, they didn’t know how long it would last. Sure, the new president was a climate-change denier who’d vowed to strangle the Environmental Protection Agency. But how much could there really be to say that others weren’t already covering?

 “I was worried that we’d run out of things to talk about,” says Reid Frazier, who co-hosts the podcast with Kara Holsopple and Julie Grant.

“Initially we just thought, ‘We’ll just see for the first hundred days,’” says Holsopple.

But it didn’t take 100 days. “We got just a couple weeks in, we realized we were going to be going a lot further than that,” says Holsopple. 

Unfortunately for people concerned about the environment, Trump on Earth might prove a long-running show indeed. Allegheny Front executive producer Kathy Knauer says the idea emerged after the November election as a way to focus the team’s expertise not just on the local stories the radio show covers, but on matters national in scope. The podcast format accommodates in-depth interviews with policymakers, scientists, journalists and other experts that are nonetheless quicker to produce than radio pieces tightly limited by time and format. Most of the 14 episodes have run from 20 to 30 minutes each.

 “They’re not easy topics to talk about in five minutes,” says Knauer. “We thought there would be an appetite out there [for getting] beyond the headlines of some of these changes, and what does it mean for people and the country and the impacts on people’s daily lives.”

“I think it’s really important to get into the real details of what’s going on,” says Chris Rolinson, who heads Point Park University’s new environmental-journalism program, Allegheny Front’s partner in the podcast.

Despite their collective decades of experience, TOE staffers still had a lot of questions about a Trump presidency — like what he could and couldn’t do in terms of repealing environmental laws and rules. The latter was the subject of episode one, an interview with Jody Freeman, founding director of the Harvard Law School Environmental Law and Policy Program. (Freeman’s answer, condensed: While only Congress can void an environmental law, like the Clean Air Act, Trump can unilaterally undo executive policies, like the Clean Power Plan, and the White House can attempt to starve regulators for funding, or order them to loosen enforcement.)

Other episodes have featured Christine Todd Whitman, EPA administrator under President George W. Bush; former New York Times journalist Andrew Revkin, now with ProPublica, who supplied context from his three decades of reporting on climate change; and both outspoken Penn State climate researcher Michael Mann and Myron Ebell, the climate-denier who headed Trump’s EPA transition team. Themed episodes have tackled threats to food-safety protections and the story of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which Trump has vowed to scrap.

It’s been an education. “I’ve learned more about federal environmental policy in the last six months than I ever learned before,” says Frazier. Podcast team members say they’re also learning how much public comment and deliberation go into environmental regulations (the Clean Power Plan has its roots in the 1990s) and how big a role the courts play.

Knauer characterizes Trump on Earth’s audience as “small but growing.” The show is sharing content with Stanford, Calif.-based podcast Generation Anthropocene, and is seeking other cross-promotional opportunities. The current production schedule is about thrice monthly; new last week was “Will This Land Still Be Your Land?”, about proposals to use public lands, including national monuments, for drilling and mining.

One thing’s certain: In a time when the EPA is dismissing scientists from science panels, and suggesting they’ll be replaced with industry representatives, Trump on Earth will likely stay busy.

As co-host Grant says, “There’s just so much going on all the time, you can’t keep up.”

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