President Trump’s administration came with a myriad of changes to the environmental policies. More than 125 environmental safeguards from previous administrations have been rolled back, and others amended in the wake of the new changes.
President Trump’s take on climate policy can be summed up with one statement; he wanted to minimize what he called “unnecessary, outdated, and duplicative regulations”. As such, he has changed practically every environmental safeguard he deemed unnecessary.
One example of these acts was his intent to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, a move that horrified environmentalists, while exciting coal states. President-elect Joe Biden is expected to make every effort to restore these policies in the next four years, but a portion of the damage done will be hard to undo. The damage will be a vivid reminder of Trump's administration and might be a lasting blueprint for future administrations that might not be committed to climate action.
Rolling Back the Clean Power Plan
One of the main decisions that set the tone for the Trump administration’s environmental policies was pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, which happened in July 2017, much to the decry of environmentalists. Most Americans saw this move as a negation of US leadership when it came to international climate change agreements.
Trump’s EPA rolled back the Clean Power Plan. This plan was one of the preceding administration’s central policies that sought to cut carbon emissions from the energy sector by 32 percent by 2030. The Trump administration termed it as an unfair burden on the energy sector.
The Affordable Clean Energy rule allowed states to regulate emissions. As such, states with coal and fossil fuel businesses were likely to have weaker emissions regulations. The EPA also introduced lenient rules for methane flare releases, repairing leaks, and inspecting equipment.
The Trump administration extended its moratorium on offshore wind drilling in Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. According to wind energy advocates, this move is likely to threaten offshore wind development. Wind energy, which has been gaining momentum in the recent past, has significantly reduced greenhouse emissions. For instance, in 2019 alone choosing wind turbines to generate electricity avoided as much as 42 million vehicles’ worth of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
Rolling Back the 2015 Clean Water Act
In June 2017, the Trump EPA made a devastating announcement: it intended to roll back the 2015 Clean Water Act. The Act, a result of thorough scientific research and peer-reviewed articles, sought to protect the quality of water in the tributaries as the best way to have clean water.
The executive order the president issued replaced this scientific rule with another based on a limited interpretation of the Clean Water Act. As has been the pattern with Trump’s executive orders, the new one ignored science: it disregarded scientific rules governing hydrology.
One of the immediate effects of repealing the Clean Water Act is that polluters can now release into wetlands and streams potentially harmful substances without needing a permit.
Wildlife Policies of the Trump Administration
The energy sector has had its fair share of conflicts with wildlife protection. For starters, some underwater gas and oil deposit exploration methods such as seismic air gun blasts are highly frowned upon in wildlife conservation. Therefore, it was a subject of heated debates when five energy companies were allowed to use this exploration method.
According to wildlife conservationists, the blasts were so loud that they would kill plankton and disorient marine animals that relied on sonar to communicate. However, NOAA approved this exploration method after it found the blasts would not violate the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The Trump administration, in 2018, proposed changes to the Endangered Species Acts, which were finalized in 2019. In the four decades that the act has been in effect, all the species named under it have been protected: none have become extinct.
The changes made by the Trump administration seek to put into consideration the economic effects of protecting endangered or threatened species. The administration proposed a case by case risk definition of what to consider threatened or endangered. The changes disregard climate change and what its impact might be on the species’ survival.
In December 2017, the Trump administration announced changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. These changes now allowed companies to install power lines and large wind turbines regardless of whether that could result in birds dying. Previously, activities that endangered migratory birds were illegal.
Environmental Enforcement under the Trump Administration
In December 2017, the Trump administration delisted climate change from the list of national security threats. The Obama administration had made climate change a national security priority by adding it to the list of the most potent threats facing the United States. As a result, the Department of Defense would use part of its resource allocation to contain global warming. In a 180 degree departure, the Trump administration’s NSS paper emphasized that the US needed, instead, to regain its global economic competitiveness.
EPA has always been an influential institution when it came to enforcing acts and policies surrounding environmental issues. Its role has been significantly watered down during the Trump presidency; the administration has threatened to disband it. Its prosecuting powers have been shrinking significantly in the last four years.
Corporations that had violated environmental policies have had opportunities to negotiate their way out of the situation as the EPA deliberately turned away from upholding environmental laws. According to environmentalists, this situation will lead to more pollution.
The Biden Administration’s Plan
President-elect Joe Biden has starkly different ideas from the outgoing administration on how to handle environmental issues. For starters, in the first presidential debate, Biden pledged to rejoin the Paris Agreement. Additionally, he criticized Amazon’s deforestation even as Trump allowed logging in Tongass National Forest, Alaska.
The Biden administration pledges to strengthen the renewable energy sector while the Trump administration supports fossil fuel and coal mining. According to campaign pledges, the Biden administration will require oil refineries to blend biofuels into their final products or purchase credits from companies that will. According to the Biden team, biofuels will have tremendous environmental benefits like reduced emissions and less use of pesticides and fertilizers.
The Biden administration has a $2 trillion climate plan to combat climate change. The plan proposes to eliminate pollution from fossil fuel power plants by 2035 through, among other things, weatherizing two million homes and upgrading four million buildings in the next four years. Under this plan, car owners would be given rebates to swap less efficient cars with newer, less pollutant ones, and homeowners would receive cash rebates for home and appliance upgrades, including cash to install more energy efficient windows.
What’s more, the Biden climate change action plan will update the infrastructure for energy efficiency and safeguard communities most exposed to pollution. It also aims to address environmental injustices. That said, it is important to note, while the Biden administration leans more towards the Obama administration environmental ideologies, it doesn’t call for an outright ban on coal or fracking.
As the environmental policies have been rolled back, greenhouse pollution has accumulated in the atmosphere. Many years after the Trump administration becomes a distant memory, the effects of increased greenhouse pollution will remain.
What made the situation especially dire, was the crossing of the long-feared threshold of the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases. Some most damaging climate change effects, like deadlier storms, devastating wildfires, rising sea levels, and unrelenting droughts, might now be irreversible.
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