On 8th November, 2016, Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election. He promised to destroy Obama-era environmental sanctions, claiming that they stifle economic growth. After campaigning on climate change skepticism and support for the U.S. fossil fuel industry, he nominated Scott Pruitt, an opponent of active environmental regulation, to head the EPA. Almost immediately, the term ‘climate change’ disappeared from the EPA website. Pruitt began work dismantling clean air and water rules, sometimes resulting in high-profile battles with environmental groups. He weakened prosecution of environmental criminals, deeply slashed EPA budgets in favour of military spending, and effectively ignored the years-long water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Under Trump’s executive order, Pruitt attempted to repeal Obama’s Clean Power Plan in March 2017, but was eventually blocked by the Supreme Court. With much thanks to Pruitt’s influence as a presidential advisor, Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement in June 2017. In a televised interview, Pruitt called the agreement ‘a bad deal for America’.
About a year later, Pruitt resigned from his EPA post, drowning in corruption and scandal. Andrew Wheeler has been acting head of the agency since July 2018, a former coal industry lobbyist who undoubtedly retains close ties to fossil fuels. In Wheeler’s first three months, the EPA loosened regulations around vehicular carbon dioxide pollution, coal-fired power plants’ emissions, and control of methane leaks. These three proposals were effectively requests from oil companies translated into environmental policy. These same oil companies have spent tens of millions of dollars shutting down carbon taxes, clean energy programs, and climate change action.
Trump and his cabinet have irreparably damaged the environment. What follows is a (very, very condensed) list of some key actions taken by the Trump administration in the past two years. A more comprehensive collection can be found here.
Hidden among this multitude of harmful decisions lay a few significant successes:
Just this past week, the 2018 midterm elections saw many successes and near-misses for U.S. climate policy. Because of EPA inaction and executive orders working to repeal almost all Obama-era environmental policy, climate change action now occurs mainly at the state level. For example, after Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement, 16 states immediately announced that they would continue to abide by those sanctions and targets regardless. Last Tuesday, some key propositions were defeated, including one for an increase in solar energy in Arizona. Others were wildly successful, like the Florida amendment banning offshore drilling (and indoor workplace vaping). Democrats won back a majority in the Congressional House of Representatives; climate change policy will likely sit high on the list of priorities. Overall, the 2018 midterms saw both successes and failures for U.S. environmental policy, but limited progress is still progress. In the wake of the 2018 IPCC report on the impacts of 1.5 degrees of warming, any and all political action is welcomed and necessary to protect our planet.
OCS Media and Research Team
The latest in climate science and policy from the OCS team.