Trump’s disastrous environmental decisions

From ToxicLeaks

Trump U.S. election background[edit | edit source]

Native New Yorker Donald J. Trump turned 71 during 2017, the first year of his tenure as 45th president of the United States. Prior to entering politics, President Trump was a controversial figure in business and entertainment with a net worth Trump claims is as high as USD$10 billion. His biography includes an extensive list of real estate holdings, including his $200 million Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, and Le Chateau des Palmiers, a $16.9 million mansion in the Caribbean damaged by Hurricane Irma in September 2017 – a fitting irony, some observers noted, given Trump’s refusal to act on climate change.

While building an empire in real estate, the entertainment industry and Trump branded merchandise, the celebrity-turned-president remained a skeptic of anthropogenic climate impacts. His views go beyond denial into conspiracy theories (global warming is a hoax perpetrated by China) or more bluntly avaricious but equally paranoid views (the Paris Agreement on climate is a global scheme to redistribute wealth). Between 2011 and 2015, Trump – both a Twitter enthusiast and environmental antagonist – sent at least 115 climate-denying social media messages. He successfully campaigned on a profit-driven promise to end U.S. progress on environmental policy and the nation’s commitments to a sustainable future. His administration, through personnel and policy choices, continues to make good on that word.

Climate risk and Trump political appointments[edit | edit source]

Trump followed his January 2017 inauguration with cabinet appointments and nominations that made clear his hostility to environmental protections. Some are obviously so, including the choice of climate change denier Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pruitt, while he was Oklahoma state attorney general, sued 14 times the EPA he now leads. Among them were challenges to the EPA mercury and ozone standards, the Clean Water Rule and – four times – the Clean Power Plan.

Others – such as the appointment of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as U.S. Secretary of State, or Rep. Jim Bridenstine as head of NASA – are equally as alarming when one considers the pivotal role the agencies play on climate issues. Tillerson at least acknowledges the potential consequences of climate change, but does not view it as the imminent threat others do. Bridenstine wants NASA to do less climate science, yet is not a scientist himself and has no experience with research. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry is the former Texas governor who in his own run for U.S. president vowed to do away with the very agency he oversees. Sam Clovis, a climate skeptic, is another non-scientist tapped to head the USDA. The appointment of climate deniers and their allegiance to Trump are changing policy in rapid fashion.

Key 2017 environmental policy decisions[edit | edit source]

Since Trump took office, the hostility to evidence-based science and climate action is catastrophically reflected in U.S. policy and budget decisions. Four days after the inauguration, a Trump executive order eased environmental review on infrastructure projects that “have been routinely and excessively delayed by agency processes and procedures.” In March 2017, the controversial Keystone XL pipeline halted in 2015 under former President Barack Obama received a permit facilitated by Tillerson’s Department of State. At a coal mine in April, industry-friendly Pruitt announced EPA reviews of the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States rules, vowed to expedite EPA approvals for chemicals, and announced that vehicle emission standards for 2022-2025 models had been rescinded.

A climate change website maintained by the Department of Interior disappeared, as did “climate” language at other agencies including EPA and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Research academics funded by federal grants were contacted about removing references in their academic work. In August, a 15-person climate assessment committee at the NOAA weather agency was disbanded, and a Trump executive order revoked flood-risk standards based on sea level-rise climate data. The stream of policy reversals and budget cuts included the promised Paris Agreement pullout.

Paris Climate Agreement pullout and future impacts[edit | edit source]

On June 1, 2017, President Trump announced the United States was withdrawing from the hard-won global Paris Agreement on climate. The U.S. immediately ceased all implementation of the “draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country,” Trump said. The U.S. backed out of commitments to the Green Climate Fund, and to the U.S. nationally determined contribution.

A September 2017 story in the Wall Street Journal suggested that the U.S. may be wavering on Trump’s hardline stance and open to participation in the climate accord provided there were more favorable financial terms. That report, shared at a climate meeting in Montreal attended by 30 countries, was shot down by White House economic advisor Gary Cohn who said the decision to leave the Paris Agreement was unambiguous. The U.S. Department of State formally notified the United Nations in August 2017 of its intent to leave the Paris agreement. It is one of just two countries in the world – Syria is the other – that have failed to agree to a climate deal critical to limiting the existential impacts of global warming.