It’s no secret that Donald Trump is at odds with many environmentalists about the scale of the threat facing the planet or even whether a threat exists at all.
America’s next president pulled no punches in a tweet in which he infamously claimed global warming was invented by the Chinese. He stated:
“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
Although the tweet seems to offer zero hope that climate change will be addressed by Trump’s administration there are two important caveats.
Trump wrote it on Nov. 6, 2012, when few people – probably including Trump himself – entertained the notion of him becoming the President of the United States. During last year’s election campaign he attempted to dismiss it as a joke.
As president, Trump will face concerted efforts to address the issue of climate change given the many agreements that the United States is party to and statistics showing 2016 was the warmest year on record for the third year running.
The pressure he will come under is unlikely to prevent significant pieces of environmental legislation and policy being amended or ditched up under the Trump Administration. They include:
The Clean Power Plan
Ambitious rules to weaken America’s reliance on fossil fuels in an attempt to cut carbon dioxide emissions were published by the Obama administration in 2014. The Clean Power Plan is an ambitious blueprint to cut carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. coal-fired electric power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
- The Clean Air Act set up a partnership between the Environmental Protection Agency, states, tribes and U.S. territories. The EPA set a goal and states and tribes were tasked with choosing how to meet it.
States were required to submit a final plan, or an initial submittal with a request for an extension by September 6, 2016. Final plans were to be submitted no later than September 6, 2018.
The plan was opposed by 24 states which launched a lawsuit. The Clean Power Plan is stayed while a 10-judge panel reviews a legal challenge. A decision from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ rare “en banc” review is due later this year.
Trump is already under pressure to give a sign that the plan is moribund to the states. The 24 states led by Texas and West Virginia, penned a letter to Trump in December. They asked him to issue an order to allow them to stop working to enforce the rule to reduce emissions from existing power plants.
Tackling the Clean Air Act itself may be more problematic. The legislation was passed by Congress and signed by President Nixon in 1970, conferring authority on the EPA. The law contains strong language mandating protection against any type of pollutant that poses a danger to public health and welfare. It specifically requires the EPA to curb pollutants that harm “climate.”
The Paris Agreement
At the Paris climate conference in December 2015, 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal. In contrast to the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, developing countries were required to join the effort to cut greenhouse gases.
The agreement outlines a global action plan intended to put the planet on course to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C.
The United States and China played a leading role in the treaty negotiations in Paris. The countries are among the biggest carbon dioxide emitters on the planet.
Under the agreement, countries voluntarily take steps to cut their impacts on the climate starting in 2020. The U.S. promised to slash its pollution levels in 2025 to 26 percent below its 2005 levels. A significant switch away from burning coal for electricity is built into the calculation.
Trump has vowed to “cancel” the Paris Agreement. He has made pro-fossil fuel noises, and backs a free energy market, although he has yet to flesh out the details of his energy policy.
Although Trump can’t cancel the Parish Agreement for the rest of the world, he can certainly remove the U.S. from it or simply ignore it, states Climate Central. This is because the Paris Agreement does not have treaty status under international law.
The agreement was made voluntary to accommodate the environment in the United States. The legally binding carbon dioxide cuts demanded by a treaty would have required Senate approval, which was considered impossible under the Senate’s Republican leadership. However, parts of the agreement such as the requirement of nations to monitor and report their emissions data was not voluntary.
The article in Climate Central notes how Trump could pursue either a slow or a passive option as alternatives to a confrontational withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.
An American withdrawal would be problematic but possibly not fatal for the agreement.
Erika Rosenthal, a lawyer with EarthJustice, pointed out there are other major carbon dioxide emitters like India, China and other G20 countries that can run with the agreement.
The Waters of the US Rule
In 2015, the EPA published the Clean Water Rule which defined the “waters of the US.”
Dubbed “Obama’s water war” by Politico, the Waters of the United States Rule is a technical list of waterways such as rivers, streams, marshes and lakes that fall under the jurisdiction of the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. As such, they can be protected from development or other polluting activities.
It pitted the Obama administration against a phalanx of home builders, farmers and oil companies that banded it a power grab by Washington.
Obama defended the rule by saying it will add the clarity and certainty industry needs need about which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act.
He said the list will identify protected waters and bring to justice polluters who knowingly threaten U.S. waters.
In a statement after the EPA released a final version of the regulation, he said:
“My administration has made historic commitments to clean water, from restoring iconic watersheds like the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes to preserving more than a thousand miles of rivers and other waters for future generations.”
The rule was opposed by Republicans and some Democrats in Congress. Almost inevitably, it ended up in the courts.
The courts have spent almost a year deciding if they have jurisdiction to review the validity of the “Clean Water Rule.” The sixth circuit split on the whether it had jurisdiction.
Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States announced it will decide if the courts have the authority to review challenges to the rule. It granted certiorari in National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense.
The legal machinations may ultimately prove to be the legislative equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The Waters of the United States Rule is the type of order handed down from Washington that has raised Trump’s hackles for years and it’s unlikely to resurface. The environmental landscape of the United States is likely to be changed four years from now. The only question is how dramatically.