Donald Trump has been the worst president for environmental protection in American history.
Of course, with all that’s happening in this administration, it’s hard to keep track of everything, especially because, since the departure of the corrupt, headline-grabbing, and often outright ridiculous EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, most of the changes have happened away from the spotlight.
Pruitt’s successor, Andrew Wheeler (a former lobbyist for the fossil-fuel industry) is boring, careful, methodical, and extreme—the perfect man to roll back 20 or more years of environmental protection.
Here, then, is our take on the most significant anti-environmental moves this radically anti-environmental administration has made.
1. Making Climate Change Worse Again
Fully 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists agree that climate change is real, and that human activity is the primary cause. Now, if 97 percent of doctors agreed that you had emphysema and that smoking was the reason for it, you’d probably cut back on cigarettes.
But not this administration. In open defiance of the science, the Trump administration has erased every single government program designed to mitigate climate change, and added new ones that will exacerbate it.
First, the Trump administration has withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement, the only chance for global, coordinated action to fight climate change. And while Trump appears to have moved from climate denialism to agnosticism when it comes to climate change, the muddying of the scientific waters by Fox News, Sinclair, and other Trump mouthpieces will take years to undo.
Second, they have reversed course on dozens of smaller steps as well. Specifically, the administration has:
- Deleted the Obama-era “Clean Power Plan,” which would have set emissions limits on coal- and gas-fired power plants. (Power plants account for 35 percent of U.S. carbon emissions.)
- Stopped requiring that climate change impact be included in governmental environmental impact statements.
- Nixed requirements for oil and gas companies to report methane emissions and fix leaks.
- Stopped regulating hydrofluorocarbons, which are far more potent than carbon dioxide; and
- Eliminated use of the Social Cost of Carbon, a metric meant to quantify the long-term costs of climate change in cost/benefit analysis. Guess what: Climate change won’t cost a penny!
They even, in defiance of conservatives’ love of states’ rights, banned California from enacting its own, tougher emissions standards.
Remember, the costs of this policy are horrifying; the World Health Organization estimates that between 2030 and 2050, climate change will cause approximately 250,000 deaths every year from increased malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress. And as President Obama explained to Leonardo DiCaprio in a video that has since gone viral, even more danger will result from mass migration, as hundreds of millions of people—most of them poor—flee coastal areas and newly desertified regions, choking cities and straining food supplies.
So much for being “pro-life.”
2. Dirty Air, Dirty Water
Even farther from the public eye, the Trump administration has eviscerated the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and other laws meant to keep us safe. They’ve done this by simply refusing to enforce those laws, or by interpreting them in ways that give polluters a free pass. Specifically, the EPA has:
- Allowed toxic-chemical-emitting facilities to get out of regulations that limit emissions.
- Limited New Source Review for new polluters, and—get this— is taking the polluters’ word for how much pollution they’ll emit.
- Weakened rules for air pollution near national parks
- Weakened fuel economy standards for cars and trucks
- Proposed allowing coal power plants to emit more mercury, while (again!) deciding to simply take coal mines at their word that they can clean up their own pollution.
- Trashed an Obama administration plan to protect the Great Lakes from pollution (are you listening, Michigan and Wisconsin?).
- Refused to ban chlorpyfiros, which EPA studies had conclusively shown to be a carcinogen.
3. Drill, Baby, Drill
Just last month, the Trump administration announced plans to allow mining in what used to be the Bears Ears National Monument, which the administration radically shrunk in 2017. That one decision will permanently destroy both a pristine wilderness area several Native American sacred sites. And yet, even that is but the tip of the spear. Other pro-fossil-fuel, anti-everybody-else land decisions include:
- Allowing oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the largest wildlife sanctuary in the US.
- Greenlighting the Dakota Access Pipeline next to Standing Rock (remember that?). DAPL has leaked 10 times since 2017, and its parent company is now trying to double its capacity.
- Greenlighting the massive Keystone XL pipeline – though this is still tied up in court. (The Keystone Pipeline is far worse than DAPL; it leaked 383,000 gallons of oil in 2019.)
- Removing water pollution regulations for fracking on federal and Native American lands.
- Rolling back offshore drilling safety regulations passed in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
- Proposing increased offshore drilling in most of America’s coastal waters.
4. The War on Science
Perhaps the most damaging of all the Trump administration’s anti-environmental moves has been to sideline science in governmental rule-making. This, too, has taken place away from the spotlight, but its effect has been devastating. In particular:
- Scientific consensus on toxic chemicals, water pollution, air pollution, and of course climate change have all been simply set aside, with the EPA stating that it is making policy decisions that need not be grounded in science.
- New rules exclude large numbers of academics from serving on scientific advisory boards, while allowing industry-affiliated individuals to do so. Not surprisingly, the new members appointed under Trump include climate deniers, industry shills, and, literally, outright liars.
- The EPA has proposed hiding scientific studies from the public, fearing adverse PR.
This is environmental law in the age of alternative facts.
Except for one thing. Lies about inauguration crowds, skin care regimens, and Ukrainian imbroglios may pass unpunished. But as the saying goes, you can’t fool Mother Nature. After three years of dirtier air, dirtier water, and a massively disrupted climate, the damage is starting to show.
God forbid, if it lasts another four years, it will be everywhere.