Trump’s Re-Election Would Be An Existential Threat To Our Climate
This week, in a stunning victory for Native American tribes, the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Dakota Access pipeline must shut down by August 5th to allow a court-ordered environmental review of the project to take place. That review is expected to last into 2021 and will examine the complaints that tribes have leveled about the environmental impact of the construction and the risk of potential spills on or near their land.
While this is, first and foremost, a moment for celebration by those Native Americans who have fought to oppose the Energy Transfer LP project, it is also a praiseworthy achievement for the environmental activists who have attempted to use the law to prevent further investment in fossil fuel projects, encouraging companies to, instead, turn towards clean energy alternatives. However, while those who’ve worked to secure this court ruling can be proud, there is still a long way to go if America truly wants to take necessary and meaningful steps to protect the environment.
The 2020 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) provides an insight into just how poorly the USA ranks when it comes to environmental issues. The EPI is funded by the McCall MacBain Foundation, and comprises work conducted by the universities of Yale and Columbia to provide “a data-driven summary of the state of sustainability around the world”. It ranks countries on their environmental performance based on data, such as air and water quality, waste management, CO2 emissions, and other public health factors.
In 2020, Denmark was ranked in 1st place, with an EPI score of 82.5, whereas the US was lagging way behind in 24th place with a score of 69.3. While America’s overall ranking is well clear of the last place country, Liberia, which only managed to secure a score of 22.6, it certainly seems that America is far from leading the way in addressing climate change, despite having the world’s biggest economy.
President Trump made many promises during the 2016 election campaign that he has so far failed to deliver, from building the southern border wall to making America great again. However, one promise he has kept has been his commitment to dismantle environmental policies. Out of 100 proposals he has sought to roll back, 66 have been successfully repealed, while 34 are in the progress of being reversed, according to a New York Times analysis. The true scale of devastation won’t be known for years, but we know for certain that it will lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and a decrease in air quality.
Under the Trump administration, environmental concerns have not just become an afterthought. They have become an issue that Donald Trump is determined to undermine wherever possible, in order, it would appear, to ensure companies can operate with fewer restraints by reducing regulations that control pollution or protect the environment from damage. Particularly in recent weeks, the Trump White House has set about using the cover of the coronavirus pandemic, while people are distracted, to further relax Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules, air and water quality enforcement, and fuel-efficiency standards.
Further, efforts by the current US Administration to undermine environmental protections have not been contained within America’s geographical borders. Since taking office, Trump has attempted to undermine global efforts to address the growing threat of climate change by taking damaging steps on the world stage, such as pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Accord shortly after his inauguration. He did so with no plan for what would replace it. It seems he has no plan to continue the mission of the Paris Climate Accord at home.
Take a look at the reckless disregard that the current administration has for safety measures in the pursuit of cutting what Trump sees as burdensome regulation. In 2010, an explosion at a BP oil well resulted in over 200 million gallons of oil spilling into the sea, causing long-term, ongoing damage to coastlines and animal habitats. The Obama administration stepped up to tighten rules for offshore drilling operations, requiring more tests to minimize the risk of a similar disaster happening again. There is no obvious good reason why Trump has sought to strip away those rules, leading to the accusation that it is done to please the rich and the powerful who support his presidency, with the move being applauded by the gas and oil lobbies.Looking to make a difference? Consider signing one of these sponsored petitions:
Another example of the problematic approach to the environment taken by the current White House can be found in the recent decision by Donald Trump to nominate William Perry Pendley to head the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM manages one-tenth of America’s landmass, giving whoever is in charge of it control over a significant amount of the country’s fossil fuels. That’s concerning when Pendley has been linked to the ‘wise use’ movement, which is opposed to almost all environmental protection laws.
Instead of putting someone in charge who might recognize the benefits of moving toward a more eco-friendly agenda, it’s feared that Trump’s nominee will push to privatize public land and give corporations permission to continue to pillage the land under BLM’s control for logging or obtaining fossil fuels. In fact, before he’s even formally installed, Pendley has, in his capacity as the BLM’s acting director, already attempted to hand over millions of acres of rural land in Alaska for gas and oil leasing.
These are just some of the many examples of actions taken by President Trump’s team over the last three and a half years that are damaging the environment and accelerating the negative effects of climate change – which Trump has previously called a “Chinese hoax.” It’s clear that, should Trump be re-elected in November, he would ensure that similar steps are taken during his second term.
While the District Court decision on the Dakota Access pipeline is a victory, the Trump administration has already begun to prevent such a ruling from happening again. In June, Trump launched an attack on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), with an executive order that gives heads of agencies free reign to ignore key environmental laws. With the EPA Administrator being a former coal lobbyist, and the head of the Interior Department being a former oil lobbyist, as well as the record of the BLM’s acting director, the move from the White House against the NEPA should be of significant concern.
Those who lead agencies that have the most sway come from anti-environment backgrounds and now no longer have the restraints that their predecessors had. If they desire, they can engage in actions that plunder the US environment, while simultaneously lining the pockets of their previous employers and, potentially, they might expect to benefit themselves in the future.
The USA has a long way to go to address the growing threat of climate change. However, with Trump in the White House, America isn’t just failing to make any progress, it’s actually regressing. Conversations can often be heard about the importance of focusing on Trump’s judicial appointments due to the longevity of their impact, but American citizens also need to give close attention to what’s happening right now with the environment. While people are focused on the election in November, seeking to make Donald Trump a one-term President, the damage that Trump’s assault on environmental policies has had is potentially irreversible and could outlive us all.