The Ongoing Environmental Crisis Under the Trump Administration

To date, the Trump administration has completed or is working on the rollbacks of 85 environmental rules. During a time when the government needs to strengthen environmental policy and aim to lessen the impact of climate change, it’s doing exactly the opposite. 

Unfortunately, this makes sense. Trump’s biggest supporters are from the fossil fuel industry. Some from the industry wrote him six-figure checks during his 2016 campaign. Coal, oil, and gas tycoons are pumping millions into Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign. That’s not surprising considering Trump has succeeded in repealing landmark environmental laws and regulations that have fattened the wallets of pro-fossil fuel magnates. 

In June 2017, Trump withdrew from the 2015 Paris climate change accord (although the U.S. is still a party to the agreement until November 2020). This was a disappointing but unsurprising move against the agenda fighting climate change. Although the agreement has faced criticism for not advocating for greater global temperature reductions, it was still a step in the right direction. Trump protested that the agreement would result in a loss of jobs and reduced economic production. However, employment in the coal industry is declining and employment in the renewable-energy industry is rapidly increasing. In 2016, the US employed 777,000 people in the solar and wind industries, but the coal industry employed 130,000 Americans in 2011. These are only a few counter-arguments to Trump’s justifications for withdrawing out of the climate accord. There are definitely many, many more. 

Trump also ended the Clean Power rules established under the Obama presidency which aimed to reduce coal-fired power plant emissions. Recently, the EPA has pushed to roll back methane emission regulations. The agency wants to remove a rule that requires oil and gas companies to install technology that identifies and fixes methane leaks in their equipment. In the first twenty afters after methane is released, it has 84 times the heat-trapping effects of carbon dioxide. Even though Methane doesn’t stay in the atmosphere for as long,  greenhouse gas is more efficient in trapping heat in our atmosphere which contributes to global warming. The Paris climate change accord is focused on maintaining the global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius - which will be harder to achieve due to the reversal of the Clean Power legislation. 

The Clean Water regulation hasn’t escaped Trump’s deregulatory agenda. On September 12th, the administration repealed the EPA’s limit on pollution in 60% of waterways, which are the sources of drinking water for one-third of the U.S. population. Farmers will not require a permit to use chemical pesticides and fertilizers, meaning they can easily seep into rivers and canals. Environmental activists have argued that dangerous chemicals in wetlands can easily flow into connected rivers. As a result, the reversal of Obama’s legislation endangers communities that rely on rivers for drinking water. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which started in 2014, has devastated its residents. In June, 2019, Mayor Karen Weaver stated that Flint’s water was still not safe to drink. Imagine the past five years of your life - but without clean water. This has been a grave injustice to the residents of Flint. But this may replicate within communities once again if their water is contaminated with pesticides - chemicals used to kill rodents and insects. 

These are only 3 of the rollbacks that the Trump administration has completed. The New York Times has summarized the 53 rollbacks that have been completed and 32 that are in process. It would not be surprising if these numbers continue to grow. 

Perhaps a glimmer of hope is that many rollbacks have precipitated from executive orders. An executive order is an official command by the president of the United States that establishes a domestic policy. However, these directives cannot involve an issue which would fall under Congress’ authority (e.g. interstate commerce). Executive orders can be reversed when the incumbent is replaced. 

As most rollbacks are executive orders, they could be overturned if a Democrat were to be elected in 2020. However, we can’t solely rely on that possibility. Calling local representatives, leaving them a message, supporting pro-environmental groups and lobbies, and participating in climate marches and rallies are ways communities have taken the fight into their own hands. 

Two weeks ago, 7.6 million people mobilized on the streets as a part of the Global Climate Strike. They marched for stricter federal laws fighting climate change, increased investment in climate technology, and greater accountability of global leaders. We have seen movements for sustainability across various industries as well. Some popular products resulting from community-focused efforts include plant-based meat substitutes, metal straws, recycled clothing, impact investing, and ‘green’ cosmetics. 

Permanent, structural and institutional changes to the American economy and society are paramount to fighting climate change, environmental injustice and promoting sustainability. Capital is crucial too - a $1.8 trillion investment by 2030 is required to solely prepare for the effects of global warming and more is required to slow down climate change. This is why proposals like the Green New Deal are important to bring to the forefront. Despite the criticisms it’s faced, it’s one of the first major pieces of legislation that tackles climate change and economic inequality by implementing transformational economic and environmental reforms.  

Nonetheless, it’s important to continue fighting climate change by turning our passion into tangible actions. There is no one solution to addressing the climate crisis. We need to employ as many resources, people, communities, and agencies as we can, to continue our fight and show the Trump administration that we are not discouraged, and we are not giving up. 

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