How Much Will The Environment Suffer Once Trump Begins His Presidency
“A Trump Administration will focus on real environmental challenges, not phony ones” – Donald Trump: America First Energy Plan
President Elect Donald Trump is not a fan of the EPA (or the Department of Environment, as he dubbed it), nor is he a fan of the Paris Climate Agreement. Trump believes that climate change is a myth perpetuated by China to harm American business interests. His arguments generally focus around the idea that climate change legislation does nothing but restrict the growth of the fossil fuel industry and harm the U.S. economy and job market — which is evidently more important. Welcome to United States of America, Inc.
Trump has selected Myron Ebell, a fossil fuel lobbyist, to head his EPA transition team, and very recently nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt, who seemingly has a tarnished reputation, is known for previously suing the agency he may soon be leading.
Regardless of his picks, dismantling these institutions and repealing all restrictions and legislation will prove incredibly difficult, and Donald Trump could face mass protest and opposition. Will he be able to dismantle all the work that has been done by previous administrations to fight climate change? Are the institutional barriers too great for him to truly succeed? And is the EPA even worth saving?
Trump On Climate Change
Donald Trump has a long history of denying the existence of “man-made” climate change, with Twitter being the easiest way to track and quantify this denial. Over the past four years, Trump has tweeted 55 times (see the full list here) his conviction that climate change theory is a hoax.
For example, in 2012 he tweeted:
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
Trump did back off this particular claim, calling the Chinese link a “joke” after drawing criticism from Bernie Sanders. However, this does not detract from the rest of the rhetoric Trump has employed on the issue to suggest that climate change should not be the world’s top priority. Rather, when questioned about the issue on mainstream, Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox, he discussed his theory on how China benefits from climate change legislation and green energy:
Well, I think the climate change is just a very, very expensive form of tax. A lot of people are making a lot of money … Obviously, I joke. But this is done for the benefit of China, because China does not do anything to help climate change. They burn everything you could burn; they couldn’t care less. They have very — you know, their standards are nothing. But they — in the meantime, they can undercut us on price. So it’s very hard on our business.
However, China has been taking carbon reduction very seriously over the last several years, with their carbon emissions set to peak around 2020 (10 years earlier than previous estimates) — something the US has failed to compete with.
Donald Trump On The EPA
In Trump’s “America First Energy Plan,” he outlines his arguments against the EPA and the Obama administration’s climate change program (that includes the American Clean Energy and Security Act and Obama’s Clean Power Plan) – criticizing Obama’s “stated intent” to “eliminate oil and natural gas production in America.”
Trump’s romantic view on energy policy honors the pursuit of pure free market capitalism; he wants to encourage development of all forms of energy – and according to his energy plan, that includes wind, nuclear, and solar, but not at the expense of other energy. To him, EPA bureaucracy is the equivalent of “death by a thousand cuts through an onslaught of regulations” for the fossil fuel industry.
“Environmental Protection, what they do is a disgrace. Every week they come out with new regulations. They’re making it impossible.” — Donald Trump on the campaign trail.
In retaliation, Trump has vowed to eliminate all of the “job-destroying Obama executive actions” — a move that would put in serious jeopardy the work that Obama has done in transitioning toward a post-carbon economy. Under Obama, renewable energy production has more than doubled, contributing to 13.4 percent of energy production in 2015 — which is still but a small fraction of production. Eliminating these measures threatens to begin “a race to the bottom” in terms of environmental standards, with US land declaring open season for fracking, drilling, and pollution.
Myron Ebell And Scott Pruitt
For many environmentalists, the biggest fears of what a Donald Trump Presidency would mean for the fight against climate change were all but confirmed when Trump announced his pick to head his EPA transition team, Myron Ebell. Ebell is currently director of Global Warming and International Environmental Policy at the CEI (Competitive Enterprise Institute), chairs the Cooler Heads Coalition (a coalition built to “question global warming alarmism”), was a former lobbyist for tobacco companies in Congress, and an active climate change denier.
The CEI is a fossil fuel funded lobby group/think tank designed to spread misinformation about climate change. In 2013, the Washington Post obtained a list of donors for CEI’s annual dinner, one that included donations from Marathon Petroleum, Koch Industries, American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, and American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers.
Ebell appeared in the “Climate Chains” video that claimed “One of the greatest threats to freedom and prosperity in America is climate change legislation.” He stated in the PBS Climate of Doubt documentary that he believed the “so-called global warming consensus was not based on science, but was a political consensus,” and even pointed out in a 2006 BBC interview that Exxon Mobil would probably not fund his organization if they were to change their position on climate change. Ebell has been described as a “sound-bite artist” and an “oil-industry mouthpiece” – so it seems Trump will, at the very least, attempt to push through his anti-EPA agenda via Ebell.
His selection to head the EPA, is unfortunately just as bad. Scott Pruitt has a long history of fighting against EPA regulations, and has even sued the EPA on numerous occassions. Pruitt’s selection was “a sucker punch; it was a gut punch. He was a horrible choice,” Denise Deason-Toyne, president of the nonprofit Save the Illinois River told the Detroit Free Press. “It’s an oxymoron, Scott Pruitt and the environment.”
In National Review earlier this year, Pruit wrote about how “Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” he went on to state “That debate should be encouraged — in classrooms, public forums, and the halls of Congress. It should not be silenced with threats of prosecution. Dissent is not a crime.” A horrifying proclamation for anyone who thinks climate change is a serious problem, and that includes the United States Military.
Eliminating The EPA
Most of what Trump has threatened is contrary to the Paris Climate Agreement, an agreement he has threatened, on numerous occasions, to withdraw from, as it “gives foreign bureaucrats control over how much energy we use right here in America.” The Paris Climate Agreement, signed in December 2015 by 195 countries, is the first universal and legally binding global climate deal; it aims to keep temperature rises below two degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, in an attempt to keep the global climate stable. However, it won’t be so simple for Trump to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, and abolishing the EPA will take a lot more than just a simple act of Congress.
There is historical precedent that suggests that Trump’s wishes to remove all environmental protections might not gain as much support as he might be anticipating – especially since environmental legislation tends to be bipartisan, bringing together ideas from both sides of the aisle. In 1995, Newt Gingrich attempted to push a “dirty water” bill through the house; a bill that would allow factories and sewage treatment plants to pump more pollution into our rivers, lakes, and coastal waters, destroying work done by the Clean Water Act. The bill (that died in the Senate) became a political disaster for the Republicans. All the public saw was a Congress who wanted to remove basic protections and didn’t care about the American people.
So it seems that Trump could feel more push back from Congress, and the public, than he realizes, if he attempts to remove basic environmental protections.
[Editors Note: While researching the film Vanishing of the Bees, I researched the EPA. Like David Hackenberg, the main beekeeper in my film says, “It may as well be called The Environmental Protection Whatever.” While there are certainly employees who carry out their job with integrity, the EPA is rife with misdeed and corruption.
Furthermore there are regulations that make absolutely no sense like leaving it up to chemical companies to conduct studies on their own products when they have a financial interest to skew the science to show they’re safe. The science perimeters itself is often rife with error. One Forbes article put it this way: “The EPA often tailors its science to justify what it wants to do and shields key research from peer review.”]
Created under a re-authorization of the Reorganization Act of 1949 in 1970 by Richard Nixon, it absorbed work from several other departments including the Bureau of Solid Waste and the National Air Pollution Control Administration — continuing to enforce legislation that was already in place and enforce rewritten legislation like the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.
Pre-1977, presidents only had to ask Congress for approval to reorganize government departments by simply submitting their plans. However, following the Reorganization Act of 1977, presidential reorganization plans could no longer create, eliminate, or transfer powers of a new cabinet-level department, nor a regulatory agency.
Today, it’s become so tough to gain this sort of reorganizational power that both George W. Bush and President Obama asked for reorganization authority to reduce the number of government departments, but were refused. Donald Trump does not have the authority to reorganize the Executive Branch (an Executive Order isn’t sufficient), and even if that power was afforded to him by Congress, he still wouldn’t be able to eliminate the EPA without further amendments to the 1977 Reorganization Authority Act first.
This isn’t simply a right wing issue; the EPA has been funded and supported by every President since Nixon. Under George W. Bush it employed more people and held a roughly equal yearly budget (around $8 billion) when compared to the Obama administration, except in 2010 when Obama pushed spending up to $10 billion. This suggests that, although climate change is in dispute from 182 Members of Congress (according to a 2014 report), the EPA is not as easy a target for Trump as he may think.
I spoke to International Politics Blogger, and former employee of US Immigration, Jess Simonds, to get her take on how much impact Trump could have on the EPA.
“Although Trump has vowed to ‘cancel’ the international Paris climate accord Obama championed, Trump would also rearrange domestic energy and environmental priorities.” She commented, “Many are outraged by this, but I think it’s an overreaction. The worst Trump could do is minimize the role of the EPA to merely advisory.”
With regards to the Paris Climate Agreement, a withdrawal would take four years, unless President Trump decided to remove the U.S. from the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change as well, in which case it could only take a year. However, this would be a highly dangerous and provocative move that could irreparably damage U.S. international relations.
Even Bill O’Reilly urged Donald Trump to accept the Agreement in order to maintain peace:
“President-elect Trump should accept the Paris Treaty on climate to buy some goodwill overseas … It doesn’t really amount to much anyway. Let it go.”
Political blogger, Jess Simonds, doesn’t even believe that the world should be too worried if the U.S. doesn’t uphold the Paris Agreement:
“We also don’t need to be scared of the U.S. not signing up to an international agreement — America never even signed up to the Kyoto agreement so one more kick in the climate lobbyists’ face isn’t going to make much more of a difference.”
Opposition To Trump’s Plan
There is an incredible list of organizations, unions, nations, and international organizations that have already come out in opposition to Donald Trump and his climate denial rhetoric.
Here are some of the most influential:
- 376 members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences signed an open letter in September that voiced their concerns about Trump’s promise to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement.
- U.N. Climate Chief, Patricia Espinosa has expressed hope that Trump will honor the treaty as it “carries an enormous amount of weight and credibility.”
- Christian Aid warned that Trump would be committing “economic self-sabotage” and that “The global transition to a zero-carbon economy will not be held-up by one man. The rest of the world will not risk a global climate catastrophe because of one man’s opposition.”
- French presidential candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, pledged to enact “revenge” on the U.S. if Donald Trump withdraws American support for the Paris Agreement via a 1-3 percent carbon tax on American imports.
- China, India, Japan, and Russia warned Donald Trump that he will be defying the wishes of the entire planet if he attempts to withdraw from the Agreement. Russia’s lead negotiator, Oleg Shamanov said “This issue is bigger than life. This is a long-term issue, longer than any mandate of any president of country X or Z, even if that country is a big one.”
- Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and numerous other Democratic politicians have vowed to fight Trump every step of the way if he continues to downplay the importance of climate change.
Climate change is real and caused by human activity. Our job is to aggressively transform our energy system away from fossil fuels.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) February 9, 2016
So, Trump will be forced to fight extreme opposition on all fronts if he is to continue to implement the plans he laid out on the campaign trail. Despite his seemingly destructive appointments, there have been signs of him caving into pressure already; in his recent New York Times interview Trump admitted that “there is some connectivity” between Co2 and climate change and that he is not committed to withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, saying “I’m looking at it very closely. I have an open mind to it.” We will just have to wait and see how damaging Donald Trump
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