The Trump administration’s rollbacks on environmental policies are a crime against future generations.
There was no doubt that America would regress on multiple issues when it elected Donald Trump as its 45th president. While opinion is divided on his intellectual capacity and mental stability, the president himself opines that he is a stable genius. Yet with every action and tweet of his, he does his best to belie the opinion that he is stable, let alone a genius.
The most damaging of Trump’s egregious actions is the appointment of Scott Pruitt as the head of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Prior to assuming the leadership role as its 14th administrator, Pruitt had sued the EPA 14 times as Oklahoma’s attorney general. Time and again, Pruitt has refused to acknowledge the scientific consensus that human activity is a primary contributor to climate change. As attorney general, he had taken the position of a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” It is a travesty of justice that Pruitt is now heading the EPA.
Pruitt wasted no time in changing the agency soon as he assumed the helm. The phrase “the United States plays a leadership role in working with the other nations to protect the global environment” was removed from EPA’s updated mission statement. This categorically announced to the world that America no longer intends to be a leader on climate change. The Trump administration unequivocally announced a plan to pull out of the historic Paris Climate Agreement, signed by all but two countries — Syria and Nicaragua (both of which have since committed to the accord.)
A comparison of the current EPA website with the one that existed before Pruitt’s administration took over shows how unabashed the administration is in its parochial view of America’s short-term well-being over humanity’s long-term survival. Gone from the EPA are the stated priorities in seven areas to address the environmental challenges facing the world.
The first year under Pruitt’s leadership has seen unprecedented number of environmental regulations rolled back. A recent New York Times article mentions 67 regulations that have been reversed or are in the process of being rolled back. The list includes a freeze on coal leases in public lands; anti-dumping rule for coal companies; offshore drilling ban in the Atlantic and Arctic; decisions on Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines; endangered species listings; a hunting ban on wolves and grizzly bears in Alaska; and protections for whales and sea turtles. The breakdown of these regulatory rollbacks across the board by the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit watchdog advocating effective enforcement of environment laws, makes for a depressing and terrifying read.
The Myth of “Clean Coal”
“Clean coal” is a political lobbyist term popularized in 2008 by the coal industry to influence public opinion. It actually refers to the nascent technology, carbon capture and storage or carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). CCS traps 90% of carbon dioxide emissions produced from using fossil fuels for generating electricity and other industrial processes, preventing it from reaching the atmosphere. This is an expensive technology still in its infancy, being used at just one coal plant, Petra Nova, in Texas.
In a sad reflection of the current state of affairs, President Trump touts clean coal that he interprets in the most literal sense — coal that is washed and cleaned. Notwithstanding Trump’s understanding of the term, even America’s coal baron, Robert Murray, admits that clean coal is “neither practical nor economic.” Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence linking global warming to carbon dioxide emissions, Scott Pruitt refuses to acknowledge the connection. Instead, he recommends that we should “continue to debate, continue the review and analysis.”
Upon careful analysis, it will become clear that the position and view point of Trump administration on global warming, carbon dioxide emissions and clean coal have several contradictions. If, as Pruitt believes, carbon dioxide emissions are not a contributing factor to global warming, then what would be the need for the expensive CCS technology? The problem CCS solves is essentially trapping 90% of carbon dioxide emissions and preventing them from entering the atmosphere. By promoting clean coal, the political synonym for CCS, Pruitt effectively acknowledges carbon dioxide emissions are indeed a contributing factor to global warming, even if he refuses to say so in as many words.
After being a climate change denier for years, Pruitt took a different tack in his recent interview with KSNV News 3 Las Vegas, where the head of the EPA questioned if global warming “is necessarily a bad thing.” Discussing whether climate change is an existential threat or not, Pruitt said: “I think there’s assumptions made that because the climate is warming, that necessarily is a bad thing. Do we really know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100, in the year 2018? That’s fairly arrogant for us to think that we know exactly what it should be in 2100.” This statement is an implicit acknowledgment by Pruitt that temperatures are indeed rising as a consequence of global warming, even though recognizing climate change is anathema to him.
In the same interview, Pruitt mentions several times the role of the EPA as a regulator is one of administrator of statutes, “recognizing federalism, partnership with states, focusing on process.” He also adds that the EPA overstepped its role to “declare a war on coal and fossil fuel industry,” something that the Trump administration had just ended. Since Pruitt is so particular about procedure, it would only be appropriate if he steps aside when it comes to interpreting scientific findings and let scientists do their work. Pruitt would do well by being the bureaucrat that his role demands, not conducting exercises challenging science that is beyond his comprehension.
To Leave the World a Bit Better
Pulling out of the Paris accord with the excuse that it is a bad deal for America is an arrogant display of misguided nationalism. America is the largest consumer of resources in the world and the second largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. It is only fair and appropriate that in any reduction of excesses America leads the way by doing more than its share in the international community, not walk away from it.
The actions of the Trump administration in rolling back environmental regulations, pandering to business interests with flimsy excuses and shortsighted economic growth, is a brazen attack on humanity, not just Americans. It is a sad irony that the perpetrators will be long gone when the consequences of their actions are faced by the future generations.
If only Pruitt and Trump would reflect on this poignant Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote that “To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived — that is to have succeeded.”
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.