One year ago, on January 20, 2017, Donald J. Trump was inaugurated 45th president of the United States. That same day, we got to work:
“Today is the first day of the Trump Administration. And the first day of the biggest citizen movement the country has ever seen – committed to protecting our democracy from oil insiders, willful ideologues, and cynical corporate profiteers. The day when millions and millions of Americans witness the denial poisoning our politics and stand up to say, ‘We’re better than this.’”
As those first days turned to weeks and then months, we stayed true to our word, training more new Climate Reality Leaders than in any year before; encouraging our friends and supporters to call their representatives, declare #IAmStillIn, and add their name to important petitions and public comments; and hitting the streets to march for climate, justice, and jobs.
This despite the fact that across-the-board deregulation seems to be the guiding principle of the Trump Administration across numerous areas (net neutrality, anyone?). This troubling and misguided policy approach is perhaps most pronounced in the environmental realm, where the systemic elimination of safeguards both new and old has put the health of citizens and the future of our shared planet at risk.
And the reasons could not be more transparent.
CHOOSING PROFITS OVER PEOPLE
A rule preventing coal companies from dumping mining debris into local streams. Revoked. A ban on offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. Repealed. A proposed rule asking mines to prove they can pay for potential future cleanup efforts. Reversed. Guidance for federal agencies to include greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews. Withdrawn. Review of strong fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. Reopened. An Obama-era rule regulating royalties on oil, gas, and coal extracted from federal or tribal land. Rescinded.
We could go on and on – indeed, the (thriving!) New York Times did, collecting “60 Environmental Rules on the Way Out Under Trump” – but you get the idea. One industry stands to benefit from this brand of deregulation: Fossil fuels.
So who loses? Pretty much everyone else.
To start, burning fossil fuels pollutes our air directly and immediately with irritants like particulate matter and soot, and as these greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere and average temperatures rise, they also contribute to higher levels of ground-level ozone that can cause acute and long-term respiratory problems.
But wait, there’s more. According to the World Health Organization, “Climate change is among the greatest health risks of the twenty-first century. Rising temperatures and more extreme weather events cost lives directly, increase transmission and spread of infectious diseases, and undermine the environmental determinants of health, including clean air and water, and sufficient food.”
But instead of listening to the scientists at WHO and elsewhere, the administration seemed to be listening to, well, fossil fuel executives. The White House went even further and directed federal agencies to stop using the “social cost of carbon,” a tool for estimating the real monetary damage that comes with spreading disease, rising asthma rates, and other impacts of carbon pollution and climate change.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND NATIONAL SECURITY
In December 2017, the White House dropped climate change from the list of global threats to the nation included in the official National Security Strategy (NSS). Like so many other actions undertaken by the Trump Administration, this action stands in stark contrast to the NSS under the Obama Administration, which “placed climate change as one of the main dangers facing the nation and made building international consensus on containing global warming a national security priority,” according to the Guardian.
What’s shocking about these moves is that they directly contradict the public stance of the current (and well-respected) secretary of defense, James Mattis.
“Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today,” Secretary Mattis wrote in response to follow-up questions posed after his public confirmation hearing January. “It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning.”
Secretary Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are said to have also argued against President Trump’s decision to begin the process of withdrawing the US from the Paris Agreement (read on for more on that).
There are countless ways the climate crisis impacts the internal stability of nations around the world. But don’t take our word for it. Just listen to some of our nation’s greatest military minds.
Not even a week before releasing the new NSS, the president signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes a section titled “Report on Effects of Climate Change on Department of Defense,” where Secretary Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, among others, elaborate on the various and numerous threats climate change poses to the safety and security of America’s military.
The conclusion: “It is the sense of Congress that climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States and is impacting stability in areas of the world both where the United States Armed Forces are operating today, and where strategic implications for future conflict exist.”
EPA LEADERSHIP: NOT THAT INTO PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT
“EPA has faced many challenges over its nearly 50-year history, but the president and Administrator Pruitt are putting at risk its effectiveness and even its survival to an extent that is unprecedented,” Bob Sussman, former senior policy counsel to the EPA administrator during the Obama Administration and adjunct professor at Georgetown Law Center, wrote in a recent guest blog for Climate Reality.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has set his sights on undoing America’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), in particular. In October, the Trump Administration proposed repealing the CPP, a centerpiece of President Obama’s commitment to tackle climate change by reducing the carbon footprint of US power plants.
Repealing the CPP moves the United States in exactly the opposite direction as the rest of the world is heading in increasingly shifting from fossil fuels to renewables. It’s also yet another example of the US abdicating its traditional role as a global leader (and the White House sacrificing real business opportunities for American companies and workers in the growing clean energy revolution).
Sadly, the writing was always on the wall once Pruitt was nominated to lead EPA. Prior to becoming administrator, Pruitt was an outspoken denier of climate science who led the coalition of state attorneys general suing the agency over the CPP during his tenure as attorney general of Oklahoma. He also received nearly $300,000 in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, and took industry messages straight from lobbyists for official state correspondence to President Obama and EPA.
While in office, his close relationship with the very industries his agency regulates has only deepened while environmentalists and public interest groups have struggled for access. The consequences couldn’t be clearer in the growing list of environmental regulations now on hold, under review, or simply repealed. Which raises all kinds of questions about what happens to the EPA’s important mission of protecting human health and the environment in 2018.
WHO NEEDS PUBLIC LANDS ANYWAY?
The Antiquities Act gives presidents the authority to designate national monuments and protect public lands for public use, setting them off-limits to exploitation by energy and mineral companies. After some members of Congress alleged that Presidents Obama and Clinton had abused the act by creating the Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah, President Trump shrank the two sites by 85 percent and nearly half, respectively.
The effect was to open nearly 2 million acres of once-protected lands for exploitation. This action came at approximately the same time as the administration’s decision to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to new exploratory oil- and gas-drilling operations. Not long after, the administration made moves to make nearly all off-shore waters open to drilling.
“The arguments in both cases were the same: America needs the energy buried beneath these lands — oil in the case of the refuge, coal in Utah,” the New York Times reported. “And both arguments were equally spurious: Coal is in free fall as an energy source, feared as a major cause of climate change and run off the market by cheaper natural gas. Oil, meanwhile, is in such plentiful supply that America’s net imports are at their lowest since 1970.”
AGREE TO DISAGREE
Perhaps, or at least among, the most public assaults on environmental regulation, climate science, public opinion, and common sense undertaken by the Trump Administration came in an announcement made this summer. In a speech from the White House Rose Garden, President Trump declared, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” and announced the US would begin the lengthy formal process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement.
The historic agreement, which was signed in 2015 and entered into force in late-2016, united the world around a major goal – to cut greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and together limit global warming. The accord rallied the world around the existentially important cause of limiting global average temperature increases to less than 2 degrees Celsius.
Adding insult to injury, during his Paris announcement, the president also declared his intent to stop payments to the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations program “which helps fund climate finance investment in low-emission, climate-resilient development through mitigation and adaptation projects and programs in developing countries.”
We could say an awful lot more here, but we’ll leave it at this: The United States is now the only country in the world opposed to the Paris Agreement. That pretty much tells us all that we need to know.
SO WHERE DO THINGS STAND?
All of this is pretty bad for the planet, of course, but it’s also antithetical to the administration’s “America First” policy. In any scenario where the US attempts to expand fossil fuel production as the rest of the world moves on quickly to renewable energy sources like wind and solar, everyday Americans citizens lose. Beyond even the obvious dangers the climate crisis poses to our short- and long-term well-being, we also lose out on being part of the future of energy and jobs – all so the Big Polluters of today can line their pockets before the jig is truly up.
“The irony is that we may well meet our obligations under the Paris treaty, even with the current administration playing an adversarial role,” Dr. Michael Mann told Climate Reality late last year. “That’s simply because of all of the progress that we are seeing now at the state level, at the municipal level thanks to efforts by folks like Al Gore to really mobilize the American people on this issue.”
He continued, “Ironically, [leaving the Paris Agreement] puts the US in a less competitive position. The rest of the world recognizes that the future of our global economy will be in renewable energy. That’s the great economic revolution of this century. And what Trump and those whose agenda he’s advancing are doing is holding us back as the rest of the world moves on, and guaranteeing that we lose out in this economic race.”
In the face of these attacks on the health of our shared planet and the US’ role as a global leader, are you ready to be a voice of reality? Are you ready to take action?
Here’s the deal: As discussed above, the Trump Administration is working to repeal (and possibly replace) America’s Clean Power Plan. Backed by powerful oil, coal, and gas companies, EPA Administrator Pruitt claims the original CPP overstepped EPA authority. But we know this is really about protecting Big Polluters’ bottom lines – no matter the consequences.
Now, here’s the good news. You can stand up for the Clean Power Plan and tell the EPA that you support reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions for the good of our health, our wallets, and our planet.
Americans agree our families should have clean air to breathe, a safe climate to live in, and a thriving, job-rich future powered by renewable energy. The EPA is collecting comments on its intention to repeal the Clean Power Plan right now.