American Environmental Policy: What's Happening?

It’s no secret that the current administration doesn’t support greenhouse gas reduction or environmental protection, but what are they doing about it? An executive order signed Tuesday, March 28th ordered the EPA to start reviewing Obama’s policies. Accoridng to The New York Times, the main target is the Clean Power Plan which is what was previously used to shift the U.S. from coal to other more environmentally friendly power generation processes such as natural gas or renewables.  Though to clarify, the executive order does not repeal the Clean Power Plan, it just asks the agency to review it. The review will take some time, but what comes after will decide the future of the Clean Power Plan.

There are two important things the executive order doesn’t address: The Endangerment Finding and The Paris Agreement. Both have serious implications in the future of American environmental policy.

 

The Endangerment Finding

The Endangerment Finding was issued by the EPA in 2009 and it states that human processes have contributed to global climate change. It then goes on to say that global warming is hazardous to human health and welfare. This finding was the groundwork for the EPA to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act. (Previously the Clean Air Act focused on local air pollution, not climate change.) If the administration wants to undue the endangerment finding, like many conservatives want, they will have to find conclusive evidence that climate change is neither human caused nor dangerous to our well being. This would be difficult (but not impossible) to achieve since according to NASA, 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is caused by human activities.

The Paris Agreement

In the 2015 Paris Agreement, 196 nations agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, report on their progress reducing emissions, and prevent the planet’s temperature from rising two degrees celsius, according to The Nature Conservancy. The President promised to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement during his campaign, but since he’s been in office, there has been no official action. If the U.S. does withdraw from our agreement, there’s the possibility of other nations following suite. It’s worth noting that even if the U.S. backs out, the majority of the world is still committed to reducing the impacts of greenhouse gases. Backing out would also most likely lead to a loss of influence in the international community since the U.S. would no longer be a part of any climate change discussion. E&E news reported that Sean Spicer, White House spokesman, said to expect a decision on the Paris Agreement by May. Until then, the United States’s commitment to stopping climate change is up in the air.