Dear EarthTalk: What kinds of changes to federal environmental policies can we expect to see from Donald Trump when he assumes the presidency?
—D. Shelley, Bounder, CO
Like many Americans, environmentalists are alarmed at the results of the 2016 election. What worries them most is Trump’s call for reneging on the landmark Paris climate accord which secured commitments from the world’s largest polluters to scale back emissions. The agreement just went into force and the U.S. is committed to it for four years, but Trump insiders report The Donald may try to submit the agreement for ratification by an unsympathetic Senate (Obama has maintained ratification isn’t necessary) in efforts to derail U.S. participation.
“If Trump yanks the United States out of the Paris agreement, the deal won’t die, but momentum could wane,” reports Brad Plumer on Vox.com. “One can imagine China and India deciding they don’t need to push nearly as hard on clean energy if the world’s richest and most powerful country doesn’t care. At best, progress would slow. At worst, the entire arrangement could collapse, and we set out on a path for 4°C warming or more.”
Another sore spot for environmentalists is Trump’s attitude toward the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Initially Trump said he would disband the agency, but more recently he said he would keep it in a stripped down form refocused on its “core mission of ensuring clean air, and clean, safe drinking water for all Americans.” Myron Ebell, a leading climate skeptic with the Competitive Enterprise Institute and no friend to the environmental community, is slated to run the new kinder, gentler and leaner EPA.
Meanwhile, proponents of pipelines to move petroleum products from the great gas and oil fields of the northern U.S. and Canada are overjoyed at the Republican sweep of Election 2016. Given Trump’s stated goals of reducing the federal government’s role in energy and environmental policy while encouraging more infrastructure projects to connect production with markets and consumers, environmentalists are bracing for a revival of the much-disputed Keystone XL pipeline project that President Obama rejected last year, as well as a green light for the Dakota Access Pipeline project currently in a holding pattern as native and environmental protestors stage a civil disobedience camp-out nearby. Not surprisingly, shares in the two companies behind the respective projects rallied following the election.
For their part, environmentalists are already starting to refocus on what they can do without the support of the White House. “Under President George W. Bush, the environmental community took the battle to the courts and Congress and watch-dogged political appointees; we blocked attacks on the environment; we galvanized the public to take action,” says Kate Colwell, an activist with the non-profit Friends of the Earth. “After the more recent fights to kill the Keystone XL pipeline, ban fracking and shut down coal plants, the environmental movement is stronger than we have ever been.”
“We will have to harness our new energy, join together, and use every strategy possible to fight against hate and greed and environmental destruction,” she adds. “While I wish we had a different fight before us, we must fight the one presented to us. The future of our country and planet depends on it.”