The States are at it again.
California (per usual) announced its intentions to aim for 100% renewable energy by 2045 — 5 years before the long-proclaimed, supposed climate-terror year of 2050.
Oregon, too, made headlines for pursuing a price on carbon. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere affects the so-called greenhouse effect, which in turn helps regulate Earth surface temperatures and blocks harmful UV radiation from the sun. We’re now experiencing what scientists say (now) is a rapid climate change — ‘global warming’ — due to an increase in the feedback-looped greenhouse effect and a subsequent rise in greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions, namely carbon dioxide and methane, have been largely linked to increased industrial human activity since the 1800s. (Although now some notable person ‘doesn’t believe’ that carbon is a climate-affecter, see upcoming Week 7 headlines for that reveal).
Texas also made renewable news — yeah, Texas: that oil-glutton state on the southern border infamous for its untapped oil deposits. They’re starting to realize that wind investments just make sense, and are tapping into a (relatively) clean energy source despite the federal push for more pipelines.
But States alone can’t save U.S. climate policy.
We have entered an unprecedented era in modern American environmental politics with the turn of Trump’s presidency and a Cabinet-Congress staffed with an anti-regulatory, roll-back-any-Obama-designations crowd.
In the last 2 weeks, we’ve seen: Trump calling on EPA Pruitt to nix the Clean Water Rule; significant budget cut rumors and greenhouse gas emissions data ‘canceled’ at the EPA; and congressmen STILL debating the existence of current climate change.
Last time I introduced Klyza & Sousa’s “American Environmental Policy: Beyond Gridlock”, a text updated in 2013, to try and gain some sense of historical environmental politics and to put into context this current reality.
Although referencing George W. Bush’s rulemaking abilities in altering the New Source Review provisions of the Clear Air Act and Bill Clinton’s extensive use of the Antiquities Act, the authors contend that:
“Typically, though, executive orders have not been used to mark out specific new directions for environmental policy” (p. 93).
Clearly, this book was written before Trump took a seat at the White House.
Executive orders directing environmental policy (i.e. reducing regulations, expediting environmental assessments) been a repeated theme over the last 6 weeks, not to mention other executive actions — rolling back clean water rules, Keystone XL pipeline approval — with the threat of several more rollbacks on environmental regulation and ‘progressive’ policy appearing over the next few weeks.
We’re all waiting in anticipation: What in our environmental policy playbook could be under threat next?
I’ve got an idea: National Monuments.
Bears Ears National Monument is up to par, politically. Obama designated the site — “1.35 million acres featuring tens of thousands of cultural and archaeological sites including Ice Age hunting camps, cliff dwellings, prehistoric villages, petroglyphs and pictographs that help to tell the story of 12,000 years of human history in that region” (The Hill) — late in the game, in December 2016. The official journey for Bears Ears protection status started officially in 2010, although the Utah-located lands have been considered sacred to indigenous populations for centuries.
President Obama used the Antiquities Act of 1906 — a longstanding power granted by Congress to give executive authority — to establish the monument, just like nearly every single one of his predecessors (excluding Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush) have done since the early 1900s when the Act was passed.
Quoted in Klyza & Sousa, Joe Lockhart, President Clinton’s press secretary, said in 2001 about National Monument un-designation:
“To get something enacted, to get something changed, is very difficult because the forces of the status quo are enormous, but to undo something is just as difficult or more difficult. And for a new president, Republican or Democrat, to stand up and say, ‘I believe that we should let these big companies go in and take this land back from the American public,’ is almost impossible politically. It’s never been done [emphasis added]” (p. 111).
Impossible, or just not possible yet?
Right now, where we stand, some members of Congress are finding a sympathetic Trump to push their take-back Bears Ears agenda.
Outrage in the environmental community has ensued, with Bears Ears representing yet another indigenous-wilderness cause activists are fighting for (does Standing Rock/Dakota Access Pipeline ring a bell?).
I’m concerned in reading Klyza & Sousa that the authors were a tad too optimistic about the generally stable state of ‘gridlock’ in American environmental politics to maintain the gradual drift we saw toward increased environmental protections.
We don’t have much ‘gridlock’ stopping Congress and the Commander-in-Chief from rolling back and ramping up oil-and-gas oligarchs anymore.