Donald Trump Administration’s Impact on Environmentalism Progress

March 29, 2017

With the recent election and inauguration of President Donald Trump, the United States faces four years of potentially halted environmental progress. The President’s cabinet seems to neglect the impact of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and runs a pro-fossil fuel agenda that has direct negative impacts on the environment.

President Trump is an outspoken climate denier who promised to open up restrictions on gas, oil, and coal development, even threatening to cease climate and clean energy spending. During his campaign, Trump received 700,000 dollars from oil and gas interests and claimed that he would cancel the Paris Climate Agreement, a major step for environmental progress signed in April 2016, and stop funding the United Nations global warming programs. After his inauguration, Trump deleted all mentions of “climate change” from the White House’s official website, except for one: his vow to eliminate the Obama administration’s climate change policies. Not only does he press this agenda politically, but Trump also personally invests in various fossil fuel corporations, including Shell, Total, Chevron, and Halliburton, with up to 1.05 million dollars invested in BHP Billiton.

Aside from his direct influence on fossil fuels private companies, the President promises to approve the Keystone pipeline, an oil pipeline system stretching from Canada to the United States. If approved, the pipeline would raise greenhouse gas emissions by 17%.  He also plans to resolve the Dakota Access pipeline, another oil pipeline that poses various environmental and ethical issues.

Along with Trump’s evident opposition of environmentalism and clean energy, he has appointed a presidential transition team, which includes at least nine senior members who deny basic scientific understanding that the planet is warming due to the burning of carbon and other human activity. His cabinet also consists of anti-environmentalists, including the CEO of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson, and the former Oklahoma attorney general and climate denier Scott Pruitt, who will become the Secretary of State and the leader of the Environmental Protection Agency respectively. As a matter fact, Scott Pruitt has previously questioned whether toxic mercury is a public health danger, shut down his Environmental Protection Unit despite growing contamination of the environment, and opposed limits on hazardous pollution like mercury, smog, arsenic, and other deadly toxins. While he shut down his environmental protection unit, he started a Federalism Unit, a unit solely devoted to filing legal challenges and lawsuits against the EPA backed by industry and financial motives. The New York Times has called Pruitt’s association Exxon, Devon energy, and various other oil companies an “unprecedented, secretive” alliance. While Pruitt has previously denied climate change and humans as a cause for it, he recently testified at Capitol Hill that "Science tells us that the climate is changing and that human activity in some manner impacts that change. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue, and well it should be." This contradiction makes it hard to predict how Pruitt will lead the EPA, although it will most likely follow Trump’s anti-environment agenda and further perpetuate the major environmental crisis.

While Trump may be able to hinder national efforts to avoid climate change, there will be limits to his influence. Even if the federal government does not have climate change as its priority, states and cities may still be able to act on their own. For example, California has already pledged to cut carbon emissions by 40% by 2030. Richard Black, the director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, a non-profit think tank, added: “There’s no way to present a Trump presidency as constructive for progress on climate change. But I think there’s a tendency to overestimate the effect of the administration… The notion that a Trump presidency will transform the energy landscape of the US is probably a bit fanciful.” Trump will also not be able to act against the economy, as solar and wind energy costs plummet and become a better choice over fossil fuel energy.