Yesterday, Donald Trump signed an executive order taking aim at America’s climate policies. On the heels of a report finding that the world needs to halve its carbon pollution every decade to avoid dangerous climate change, Trump’s order would instead increase America’s carbon pollution, to the exclusive benefit of the fossil fuel industry.
One part of the executive order tells the EPA to review and revise (weaken) its Clean Power Plan and methane regulations. However, revising these regulations isn’t so simple. It requires proceeding through the same years-long rulemaking process the EPA used to create the rules in the first place. This involves considering the scientific evidence, crafting draft rules, responding to millions of public comments, and defending the new plan in court. Environmental attorneys are confident “this is another deal President Trump won’t be able to close.”
A second part of the executive order tells the EPA to ignore the government’s estimated price on carbon pollution. The Republican Party wants to lower the current estimate, but most evidence indicates the government is dramatically underestimating the cost of carbon pollution. Trump gets around this inconvenient evidence by ordering the EPA to simply deny the existence of those costs.
A third part of the executive order ends a moratorium on new coal leases on public lands before a review is completed to determine if taxpayers are being shortchanged due to the lands being sold too cheaply. Environmental groups are set to immediately challenge this order. Regardless, lifting the moratorium would have little effect on coal production or mining jobs.
EPA administrator Scott Pruitt would undoubtedly be happy to follow Trump’s orders. In his previous job as Oklahoma Attorney General and fossil fuel industry puppet, one of Pruitt’s 14 lawsuits against the EPA was aimed at the Clean Power Plan. However, the Clean Air Act requires the government to cut carbon pollution. Trump and Pruitt may not like it, but the law, scientific evidence, and public opinion fall squarely against them.
A few weeks ago, Donald Trump released his first proposed budget, and it’s also fiercely anti-science and anti-climate.
Among other cuts, it would slash nearly one-third of the EPA budget, hundreds of millions of dollars from the NOAA research budget, and terminate four NASA Earth science missions as part of a $102 million cut to the agency’s Earth science program.
The budget even goes as far as to propose eliminating Energy Star – a purely voluntary program that helps companies certify energy efficient products, saving Americans money while cutting carbon pollution in the process – possibly out of pure spite for the climate.
Trump’s anti-science and anti-climate agenda doesn’t come as a surprise; before he even took office, there were early signs that Trump would put public health at risk by scrapping climate and other environmental policies. He began by nominating numerous anti-climate, pro-industry individuals to powerful positions in his administration. Those appointees quickly made their influence known, launching an inquisition into Department of Energy staffers who had worked on climate change, trying to gag government scientists, and scrap the EPA climate webpage.
In the face of public outcry, the Trump administration retreated on these fronts. But they regrouped, and over the past several weeks have surged forward with a rejuvenated attack on climate science, environmental protection, and the future of our planet and its inhabitants, to the benefit of big polluters with big wallets. Meanwhile, a Washington Post analysis found that Trump has moved to fill just one out of 46 key government science and technology positions. And for the position of presidential science advisor, he seems to only be considering climate deniers.
With its new administrator Scott Pruitt confirmed by Senate Republicans, “EPA” now seems to stand for “Environmental Plunder Agency.” In an interview on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, Pruitt sounded more interested in trying to bring back coal jobs than in protecting the environment. To that, America’s top coal boss said: I suggested that he temper his expectations … He can’t bring them back.
Soon thereafter, the EPA’s Office of Science and Technology Policy mission statement no longer used the word “science.” A few days later, Pruitt rejected decades’ worth of climate science research, giving the following answer when asked on CNBC if carbon dioxide is the primary control knob for the climate:
No, I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So, no, I would not agree that’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.
Pruitt was wrong on both points – carbon dioxide is the main climate control knob (NASA scientists even published a 2010 paper with those exact words in the title), and there is a 97% expert consensus on this question. Predictably, Pruitt’s comments evoked harsh responses, not just from climate scientists but also from business, military, faith, and conservative leaders and elected officials. For example, leading climate scientist Kevin Trenberth said:
Pruitt has demonstrated that he is unqualified to run the EPA or any agency. There is no doubt whatsoever that the planet is warming and it is primarily due to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from burning of fossil fuels … Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and we can demonstrate clearly that the observed warming of the planet would not have occurred without that change in atmospheric composition. These are scientific facts, not opinion.
Pruitt has been filling EPA staffing positions with climate deniers from Senator James “the greatest hoax” Inhofe’s office. Trump recently selected coal lobbyist and former Inhofe advisor Andrew Wheeler to be Pruitt’s EPA deputy chief.
Pruitt also hired Washington State Senator Douglas Ericksen, who actively fought the state’s proposed carbon tax, and who invited an obscure climate denier blogger named Tony Heller to testify before a Washington State Senate committee for 40 minutes. To put that in perspective, invited witnesses are normally given just a few minutes to testify. University of Washington climate scientist Sarah Myhre – an actual climate expert – had spoken to a State House committee two weeks earlier, for 8 minutes.
As the Trump administration unleashed its assault on science and the climate, we learned that huge sections of the Great Barrier Reef are dead or dying, 30 years sooner than expected. Despite the last El Niño event ending nearly a year ago, the first two months of 2017 were the second-hottest on record, behind only the El Niño-amplified 2016, pushing the world into what the WMO calls “truly uncharted territory.” Arctic and Antarctic sea ice are at record-shattering low levels. Research is finding increasingly strong links between climate change and extreme weather. Americans across the political spectrum are now more worried about global warming than at any time in the past 8 years.
Fortunately, Trump’s efforts to roll back environmental regulations will be fought in court, and his budget proposal only tells Congress what he’d like to see. Nevertheless, it’s a dangerous time for America’s leaders to be denying climate change, defunding its scientific research, and unraveling its climate policies. Science always wins in the end, and if we fight it, we will lose.
During the announcement of his anti-climate executive orders, Trump announced, “My administration is ending the war on coal.” Their wars on science and the Earth’s climate, on the other hand, are in full force.