Environmental policy of the Donald Trump administration

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The environmental policy of the Donald Trump administration represents a shift from the policy priorities and goals of his predecessor, Barack Obama. While Obama's environmental agenda prioritized the reduction of carbon emissions through the use of clean renewable energy,[1] the Trump administration has sought to increase fossil fuel use and scrap environmental regulations which he has often referred to as an impediment to business.[2] Neither Trump nor his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming.[3] While campaigning Trump had proposed the elimination of the EPA[4] and following his election he proposed a 31% cut to the 2018 EPA budget.[5]

Trump has announced plans to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement.[6] Immediately upon his inauguration, the White House released an "America First Energy Plan", which focused on increasing combustion of fossil fuels without mentioning renewable energy. The plan would repeal many Obama policies including the Climate Action Plan, and limit the EPA's mission of protecting air and water quality.

Within days of taking office he signed executive orders to approve two controversial oil pipelines and to require federal review of the Clean Water Rule and the Clean Power Plan.[7] Trump is calling for more drilling in national parks and has announced plans to open up more federal land for energy development.[8] Trump's Department of the Interior has announced plans to allow drilling in nearly all U.S. waters, the largest expansion of offshore oil and gas leasing ever proposed.[9] The administration has been charged with re-writing EPA pollution- control policies of chemicals that are known to be serious health risks to make them more friendly to the chemical industry. [10]

Trump's appointments to key agencies dealing in energy and environmental policy reflected his commitment to deregulation, particularly of the fossil fuel industry. Several of his cabinet picks were people with a history of opposition to the agency they were named to head.[11] Three of the four chair-level members of Trump’s transition team commissioned to draw up a list of proposals to guide his Native American policies have links to the oil industry."[12] He also invited American manufacturers to suggest which regulations should be eliminated; industry leaders submitted 168 comments, of which nearly half targeted EPA rules.[13]

Appointments

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt

Trump's cabinet nominees reflect his desire to scale back federal environmental regulation and to promote domestic production of coal, oil, and natural gas. In some cases his appointees had a history of conflict with the agencies they now lead. As Attorney General of Oklahoma, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt challenged EPA regulations in court more than a dozen times.[14] Some of those court cases are still pending, and Pruitt has declined to say if he would recuse himself with regard to those suits.[15][16] He has said he plans to prioritize state and local control over federal land use and ease regulations on the environmental impacts of industries.[17] A March 2017 executive order allowed Pruitt to start a review process of the Obama Administration's regulations of the coal industry, reflecting Trump's repeated promises to support the coal industry and "bring back jobs" in coal mining.[18] Such changes are likely to affect America's ability to meet the climate emission goals of the Paris Agreement.[19] Pruitt has said he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming.[20]

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry called for eliminating the Department of Energy when he was running for the Republican nomination for President in 2012.[17] His confirmation as head of the Department of Energy was a source of contention among Democrats due to his previous denial of man-made climate change and his close ties to the Texas oil and gas industry.[21][22] During his confirmation hearing, Perry said he regretted his promise to abolish the Department of Energy and has indicated change in his views of climate science.[22]

Ryan Zinke, Congressman from Montana, was appointed Secretary of the Interior. Zinke is an advocate for mining and logging on federal lands but opposes sale or transfer of such lands.[23]

Sonny Perdue, former Governor of Georgia, was appointed Agriculture Secretary. His supporters say that his experience in agriculture and conservative views on immigration make him an appropriate choice.[24] Opponents fear that he will not sufficiently address the effects that farm pollution has on sources of drinking water.[24]

Pruitt hired former Oklahoma banker Albert Kelly to head the Superfund program, which is responsible for cleaning up the nation's most contaminated land.[25][26][27] Kelly completely lacked any experience with environmental issues, and had just received a lifetime ban from working in banking, his career until then, due to "unfitness to serve".[25]

Domestic energy policy

America First Energy Plan

Trump unveiled what he calls the America First Energy Plan soon after his inauguration. His administration claims that "America has been held back by burdensome regulations on [its] energy industry".[28] America currently has 264 billion barrels of oil reserves, the largest oil reserve of any nation.[29] The United States also has a vast amount of coal reserves, amounting to 26% of the world’s total, more than any other nation.[30] Its untapped oil and coal resources are estimated to be worth about $50 trillion according to the Trump administration.[28] However, reports from the Natural Resources Defense Council show that coal consumption in the US has steadily declined by about 20% over the last 10 years, with natural gas and renewable energy quickly taking over.[31] Christina Simeone, director of policy and external affairs with the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, says that strict regulations aren’t the only reason for the faltering coal market; natural gas has now become a cheaper option.[32]

The White House estimates deregulation will increase wages by over $30 billion by 2024.[28] This figure specifically refers to the removal of Obama's Climate Action Plan and was drawn from a study from the Institute for Energy Research, a conservative non-profit organization specializing in research of global energy markets; the report actually based that figure on increased oil drilling on federal land and offshore, not on reduction of regulations.[32]

Trump wants America to achieve energy independence from OPEC and all nations hostile to the interests of the United States to ensure national security, and insulate it from any supply disruptions and price fluctuations from the global oil market.[33] However, fossil fuels are finite, and entities such as the Pentagon claim climate change also poses a threat to national security.[34] The NRDC argues that a more reliable long term solution would be to develop more of a reliance on renewable energy rather than maintaining a reliance on fossil fuels.[31]

Currently, the EPA focuses on a range of topics including air, emergency management, land and cleanup, pesticides, toxic substances, waste, and water.[35] Trump will refocus its efforts to solely protect clean air and clean water.[28] This has resulted in a 31% proposed budget cut to the EPA.[36] Environmentalists, current EPA staff members, and former EPA staff members believe that the EPA will have a harder time upholding environmental standards with a smaller budget.[36][37]

Renewable energy policy

The America First Energy Plan does not mention renewable energy and instead reflects the President's focus on fossil fuels.[38] During the campaign, Trump praised solar technology during a rally in California the summer of 2016 but then criticized it for being too expensive and has since complained about the subsidies renewable energy companies receive.[39][40] In June 2017, Trump said in a White House meeting that the wall with Mexico should be covered with solar panels. The statement was not taken seriously.[41] The Trump administration's 2019 budget proposes large cuts in programs that research renewable energy and that study the effects of and ways to mitigate climate change.[42]

Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline

Construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (shown above) has resumed under the Trump Administration.

An executive order reviving the plans for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines was signed by Trump on January 24, 2017 with the hopes of creating jobs and bolstering domestic energy production.[43] The construction of the Keystone had been blocked by then-president Barack Obama, who considered it a major contributor to climate change due to the greenhouse gas intensive extraction of oil from tar sands.[44] The Dakota Access Pipeline was also on hold. After months of protest, in December 2016 the Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) under the Obama administration announced that it would not grant an easement for the pipeline to be drilled under Lake Oahe and that USACE was undertaking an environmental impact statement to look at possible alternative routes.[45]

Many Sioux tribes have said that the pipeline threatens the tribe’s environmental and economic well-being, and that it has damaged and destroyed sites of great historic, religious, and cultural significance. The tribe has expressed concern about leaks because the pipeline passes under Lake Oahe, which serves as a major source of water.[46] Protests at pipeline construction sites in North Dakota began in the spring of 2016 and drew indigenous people [47] from throughout North America as well as many other supporters, creating the largest gathering of Native Americans in the past hundred years.[48]

Executive order on climate change

Amid protests, on March 28, 2017, Trump signed a "sweeping executive order" instructing EPA "regulators to rewrite key rules curbing U.S. carbon emissions and other environmental regulations." Trump was accompanied by "coal miners and coal executives" among others and he devoted his remarks on the executive order to "praising coal miners, pipelines and U.S. manufacturing."[49] He addressed the coal-miners directly, "Come on, fellas. Basically, you know what this is? You know what it says, right? You’re going back to work."[49] A Trump official said that the executive order plans to put American jobs first by not supporting climate change policies that place the economy at risk.[50]

Proposed EPA budget cuts

While campaigning for office Trump had proposed the idea of eliminating the EPA in order to help balance the United States' budget. Trump said, "We're going to have little tidbits left but we're going to get most of it out".[51] Following his election, in March 2017, he announced plans to cut the EPA 2018 budget by 31%, by far the largest budget cut to any federal agency. The cut would result in a loss of 19% of the workforce or roughly 3,200 employees, through both staff buyouts and layoffs.[5] The choice to remove the Clean Power Plan, which was put in place to reduce carbon dioxide emissions chiefly from coal-fired power plants, would effectively eliminate Obama's efforts to curb climate change. This plan would also remove the $100 million allocated to fund research combating climate change.[52] The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provides $250 million for programs which aid countries with high risk of impacts from rising and increasingly warm and acidic sea water levels. These programs would be eliminated under the new set of budget cuts.[53] If enacted, this would mean the elimination of up to 38 of the agency's programs.[5] Programs to be eliminated include the radon program, grants to clean up industrial sites ("brownfields"), climate change research, and the Office of Environmental Justice.[54]

Trump‘s objectives include the lifting of regulations from various energy industries to boost domestic energy production.[55] Trump asked American manufacturers which regulations made production the most difficult. The industry leaders responded, and an overwhelming number of them recommended lifting restrictions related to the environment and workers' rights.[55] In an open letter to Scott Pruitt, Mustafa Ali, former head of the EPA's Environmental Justice Program who resigned in protest to Pruitt's budget cuts, expressed concerns with how the budget cuts will effect pollution in poor and minority neighborhoods.[56]

The administration says it plans to refocus the EPA mission on clean water, air, and other core responsibilities. It also plans to delegate more of the EPA's enforcement activities to the states, while decreasing the amount of money given to states for that purpose by 30%.[54] Issues like greenhouse gas emissions would be trimmed significantly or eliminated from the budget.[57]

In May 2017, Congress approved a budget for the balance of the 2017–18 fiscal year which cuts EPA funding by only 1% and does not cut staffing or any specific programs. Republicans said they expect to make much larger cuts in the 2018 federal budget.[58]

Department of the Interior

The Department of the Interior is responsible for the management and conservation of natural resources, most federal lands such as national parks and forests, wildlife refuges and tribal territories. Trump accused President Obama of “denying millions of Americans access to the energy wealth sitting under our feet” by his leasing restrictions and the banning new coal extraction on federal lands. Trump campaigned on a promise to “unleash America’s $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, plus hundreds of years in clean coal reserves.”[59] Trump's proposed 2018 budget proposes decreasing funding for the Department of Interior by $1.5 billion.[60]

Trump appointed Congressman Ryan Zinke of Montana as Secretary of the Interior. Zinke is an advocate for mining and logging on federal lands.[23] Commenting on the Trump presidency, the president of the American Petroleum Institute, a Washington DC-based lobby group, said, "This opportunity is unique, maybe once in a lifetime,” in regards to increased access to federal leases.[61]

The Trump Administration plans to open up more federal land for energy development, such as fracking and drilling.[62] The Clean Water Rule, issued by the EPA and the Army Corp of Engineers in 2015, is also a target for possible repeal. The rule clarifies the federal government’s jurisdiction to protect small streams and wetlands from pollution. Developers, business, and agriculture groups oppose the rule because they believe that their private property rights are violated and that undue regulatory burdens are created.[63]

Offshore drilling

In January 2018, the Interior Department announced plans to allow drilling in nearly all U.S. waters. This would be the largest expansion of offshore oil and gas leasing ever proposed, and includes regions that were long off-limits to development and more than 100 million acres in the Arctic and the Eastern Seaboard, regions that President Obama had placed under a drilling moratorium.[64]

Privatization of Native American reservations

Within the Interior Department, the Bureau of Indian Affairs handles some federal relations with Native Americans. Native American reservations are estimated to contain about a fifth of the nation’s oil and gas, along with vast coal reserves. In December 2016, a Trump advisory group put forth a plan to privatize Native American reservations to open them up to drilling and mining. Many Native Americans view such efforts as a violation of tribal self-determination and culture.[65][66]

Trump’s transition team commissioned a Native American coalition to draw up a list of proposals to guide his Indian policy. According to a Reuters investigative report, "The backgrounds of the coalition’s leadership are one sign of its pro-drilling bent. At least three of four chair-level members have links to the oil industry."[67]

Endangered species threat

In February 2018, Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke presented their recommendation for the 2019 budget. Their proposed budget does not grant any funding for state efforts for the recovery of endangered species. The Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, a program authorized by the Endangered Species Act, supports conservation planning, habitat restoration, land acquisition, research, and education. To qualify for funding, a state or territory must put up at least 25 percent of a project’s cost. The administration justifies the budget change saying that it “is not requesting funding for these activities in order to support higher priorities.”[68]

A senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity said gutting the fund would push endangered species toward extinction. “This is especially damaging because [the] funding is often the backbone of state non-game programs and helps animals across the country, from bats and butterflies to salmon and grizzlies.” The former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who served during Obama’s time in office said, “We were very proud of the record we set, that we had recovered and delisted more species than all previous administrations combined. And that didn’t happen by accident. It happened because we applied the resources to get species over that last mile.”[69]

Mexico border wall concerns

large spotted cat running right to left
Male jaguar from the Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona, in 2015

Trump's proposed border wall will block the movement of threatened wildlife and interfere with the movement of animals in response to climate change. The wall could prevent genetic exchange.[70] Critical habitats are on the border with Mexico in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 and candidates for that list from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service includes ninety-three species whose ranges are near or cross the border.[71]

Among the threatened species are the jaguar (the largest cat native to North America), the ocelot (30 pound cats that could be making a comeback), the Mexican wolf (the smallest gray wolf in North America), the Sonoran pronghorn (related to giraffes, they can run 60 mph and are North America's fastest land mammals), the tiny cactus ferruginous pygmy owl (who fly at about 4.5 to 13 feet, lower than the wall), and the Quino checkerspot butterfly (who fly no higher than 6 to 8 feet).[71]

Regulation of hazardous chemicals

It has been charged that the Trump administration has attempted to change the way the federal government evaluates hazardous chemicals that may pose a risk to human health, making them more aligned with the chemical industry’s wishes. Trump appointed Nancy B. Beck as a top deputy of the EPA’s toxic chemical unit, while during her previous five years she had been an executive at the industry trade association American Chemistry Council for American chemical companies. Shortly after her appointment in May 2017, Beck rewrote, among others, the regulations covering the chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which has been linked to many serious health problems. Her revisions make it harder to track the health consequences of the chemical, and therefore harder to regulate.[72][73]

In March 2017, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt denied that he had met with Dow Chemicals CEO Andrew Liveris before making a decision to deny a petition to ban Dow's chlorpyrifos pesticide that had been initiated by the Obama administration. However a review of his schedule showed that a meeting had taken place. Research has concluded that even minuscule amounts of chlorpyrifos can disrupt the development of fetuses and infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics has urged Pruitt to take chlorpyrifos off the market saying, "There is a wealth of science demonstrating the detrimental effects of chlorpyrifos exposure to developing fetuses, infants, children and pregnant women. The risk to infant and children's health and development is unambiguous."[74][75]

Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, the agency’s previous top official overseeing pesticides and toxic chemicals, said she first felt concern when the EPA's new leadership decided to reevaluate a plan to ban methylene chloride, and trichloroethylene, two chemicals that have caused deaths and severe health problems. “It was extremely disturbing to me. The industry met with EPA political appointees. And then I was asked to change the agency’s stand.” In March 2017, Hamnett was again instructed to ignore the recommendation of EPA scientists and deny the ban of chlorpyrifos. Hamnett retired in September and was replaced by a toxicologist who has spent years helping businesses fight EPA restrictions.[76]

Toxic waste clean-up

In attempts to lift regulations on oil, mining, drilling, and farming industries, the Trump administration proposed a 31% budget cut to the EPA that would result in reduced initiatives to protect water and air quality, leaving much of the effort up to the states.[77][52] Environmentalists fear that these cuts will result in health problems.[77] EPA budget cuts are also expected to lead to decreased regulation of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which would result in less federal oversight of clean-up projects in these areas.[77]

EPA Administer Scott Pruitt hired former Oklahoma banker Albert Kelly to head the Superfund program, which is responsible for cleaning up the nation's most contaminated land. Kelly completely lacked any experience with environmental issues, and had just received a lifetime ban from working in banking, his career until then. [78]

Clean water legislation

Much of the Trump administration's efforts to decrease pollution regulation involved directly rescinding or overturning pollution regulations enacted under the Obama administration.[77] In February 2017, Trump signed a resolution overturning President Obama's Stream Protection Rule,[79] after being in effect for less than 30 days. When he signed the resolution repealing the rule, Trump predicted that striking down the rule would save thousands of U.S. mining-related jobs.[80][81] The administration has also proposed a rollback on the Obama administration's extension of federal jurisdiction over lands protected by the Clean Water Act in attempts to reduce water pollution in areas surrounding toxic waste facilities.[77]

Clean Water Rule

On February 28, 2017, President Trump enacted an executive order to allow the Administrator of the EPA to revise or rescind the Clean Water Rule, also referred to as Waters of the United States (WOTUS), in the name of economic growth and eliminating ambiguous regulations.[82] Research cited by the EPA shows that one in three Americans get their water from public drinking water systems which are partly sourced from streams protected by the Clean Water Rule. These streams may be in danger of pollution by industrial and agricultural waste, sewage, radioactive materials and a large number of other pollutants now covered by the Clean Water Rule.[83] The Audubon Society has expressed concerns about a repeal of the Rule. They write at their website: "...the Trump administration’s intent is clear: to reverse Obama-era environmental protections no matter what, even if they have been effective at protecting avian and human life."[84]

Lawsuits

The Trump administration has rescinded rules limiting mercury and air toxins from power plants,[85] limiting water pollution from coal plants,[86] banning the pesticide chlorpyrifos,[87] and banning methane emissions from landfills,[88] among other rules, which has resulted in lawsuits from various environmental groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council.[89] Some of the lawsuits have been successful, such as a lawsuit from the Environmental Defense Fund and other environmental groups against the Trump administration's decision to suspend a rule which limited methane emissions from oil and gas wells, a decision which was overturned by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.[90]

Climate change

Although in the scientific literature there is overwhelming consensus that global surface temperatures have increased in recent decades and that the trend is caused by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases, neither Trump nor Pruitt believe that global warming is human-related. During the campaign, Trump expressed the view that global warming and cooling is a natural process.[91] He often described global warming as a "hoax"; and sometimes attributed the "hoax" to the Chinese government as a plot to sabotage American manufacturing, but later claimed that had been a joke.[92][93] As a candidate Trump said he would rescind Obama's Climate Action Plan, cancel U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Agreement, and stop all U.S. payments towards United Nations global warming programs.[92] [94]

Following Trump's election large amounts of climate information from the EPA website has been altered or removed. There was widespread concern among environmentalists and scientists and a coalition of scientific and academic groups began to make copies of the EPA webpages before they were deleted. According to the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative which tracks changes to government websites under the Trump administration, over 200 webpages providing climate information have been omitted during Trump's first year in office. Other pages have been altered to remove mentions of climate and climate change.[95]

Climate Action Plan

Trump has committed to the removal of regulations on industry that he deems an unnecessary burden on energy industries.[28] Specifically, he has cited Obama's Climate Action Plan as a priority among these regulations. The Climate Action Plan, issued in June 2013, includes regulations to industry with the ultimate goal of cutting domestic carbon emission, preparing the U.S. for impending effects of climate change, and working internationally to address climate change.[96] Among the regulations outlined in the plan are initiatives to increase natural disaster preparedness, create and improve existing hospitals, and modernize infrastructure to better withstand extreme weather.[96]

Clean Power Plan

In March 2017, Trump signed an executive order to officially withdraw and rewrite Obama's Clean Power Plan in an effort to revive the coal mining industry.[97] Trump has called Obama-era fuel standards a burden on the U.S. automotive industry and has instructed EPA Administrator Pruitt to review them.[98] EPA began its formal repeal of the Clean Power Plan in October 2017.[99]

Paris Climate Agreement

On June 1, 2017, Trump announced United States withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, causing the U.S. to become the third out of 197 nations worldwide in opposition to the agreement.[100] Prior to withdrawal, the U.S. had pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025 and assign $3 million in aid to foreign countries combating climate change.[101][102] The withdrawal was supported by several Republican lawmakers who felt that backing out was in-line with Trump's "America First" policy and goals to diverge from the environmental policies of the Obama administration. The announcement has been criticized by many national and international leaders, domestic politicians, business leaders and academics[102] as well as a large majority of American citizens (7 out of 10 according to a study by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication).[103]

Trump opposed the agreement on the grounds that it would compromise U.S. sovereignty and cause many Americans to lose their jobs. Proponents of the agreement argue, however, that backing out will result in a loss for our economy as new green jobs are offered instead to competitors overseas.[102] Trump also announced his attempts to reach a negotiation with leaders involved in the agreement, who responded saying that the accord was "non-negotiable".[102]

The process of withdrawal is expected to take several years, and in the meantime there has been a vocal resistance on the state and local levels. Hawaii became the first state to independently commit to the goals initially lined out by the accord.[104] Shortly after Trump's announcement, state governments in California, New York, and Washington founded the United States Climate Alliance to continue advancing the objectives of the Paris Agreement. The sentiment has also been expressed by other state governors, by mayors and businesses, and the alliance now has 10 states with governors of both the Democratic and Republican parties pledging to abide by the agreement.[105][104] Additionally, shortly after withdrawal California governor Jerry Brown met personally with President Xi Jinping of China to declare the states' compliance with the Paris Accord.[104][106] In September 2017, some administration officials stated that the administration remains open to staying in the agreement "under the right conditions." [107]

See also

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