This week was a rough one, so far as environmental-climate policy in America goes.
At a time when our international allies are urging us in the U.S. to keep true to our Paris Climate promises — which is starting to look altogether unclear — the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Scott Pruitt visited a coal mine in Pennsylvania and basically said: “Your jobs are coming back.”
What’s more, President Trump and his environmental-climate wonks are ‘reconsidering’ an Obama-era rule that impacts regulating toxic wastewater emissions from coal-fired power plants (coal power plants detrimentally impact climate change, not to mention public health) while also backing off from a city-smog rule.
What else is at stake here with this administration and its ‘War on Climate’ anyhow?
I introduced Christopher McGrory Klyza’s and David J. Sousa’s book on “American Environmental Politics: Beyond Gridlock” (2012) in the second week’s analysis — all the way back when the Congressional Review Act was just starting to wreck havoc on late-term Obama rules and regulations.
The latest reprint of the book — 2012 — takes an overly optimistic tone, to say the very least. Convinced that Obama’s presidency would somehow further establish more progressive environmental building blocks in his second term, the authors end their second-edition analysis with a chapter titled: “The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same.”
In this epilogue of a chapter, Klyza and Sousa re-examine all of the case studies presented throughout their analysis, namely the contentious ‘Roadless Rule’, the Reagan-Bush/Clinton-to-Clinton/Bush transfers of ‘environmental protection’ powers, and project how the path of environmental policy will extend in the foreseeable future. Klyza and Sousa contend that, despite consistent and increasing gridlock in the U.S. Congress, American environmental policy will still find itself moving towards this (arguably true) ‘green shift’ in favor of greater conservation, a framework that the authors charted from the ‘golden era’ of American environmental politics in the 1960s and 70s.
“When it comes to U.S. environmental policy, however,” the authors write in their ending chapter, drama over the last six years has been “largely lacking” (p. 285).
I wonder what — or if — the authors would publish in 2018, another six years after the second edition hit the shelves, full of Obama-inspired climate optimism.
Are they still as hopeful as they were five years ago, now that we’re almost five months in Trump’s climate change is a ‘waste of your money’ term? Could Klyza and Sousa have predicted such a shift in tone from Obama’s to Trump’s climate agenda? Will they offer any ideas for future mitigation and adaptation — not of climate change, merely, but of Trump’s butchering of recent environmental policy gains?
In 2012, the 2011 House of Representatives was quoted as “the most anti-environmental in our nation’s history” by the League of Conservation Voters (p. 294). Newt Gingrich, Republican presidential candidate during Obama’s re-election year, quite candidly proposed abolishing the EPA, while Herman Cain called the EPA “out of control. The EPA has gone wild.” (p. 288).
Was all this hatred for the EPA manifested in the last election? Have ultra-conservative, right-wing Republicans really sat on their heels and waited to unleash their angst against an agency that, with its slim-pickings budget, will now include 24/7 security for its controversial leader?
Klyza and Sousa (2012) are right to point out that “environmental policy in many areas has been remarkably unstable despite the stability of the basic statutory frameworks governing pollution, conservation, and natural resources” (p. 281) — just look through the last week’s headlines and you’ll get the idea.
As alarming as recent trends have been, not all of these ideas (e.g., fossil fuels in the White House, EPA is unnecessary and a horrible burden) are new.
What I’m finding, with all this historical literature I’m reading, is that our current ‘manifest destiny’ is just a bigger, better re-hash of old Republican moves, used in the presidencies before the Obama era.
President Bush put a few controversial picks in open natural resources slots, namely Mark Rey, “once a leading lobbyist for the timber industry, in charge of forest policy at the Agriculture Department, and Steven Griles, a lobbyist for coal and oil interests, in charge of BLM [Bureau of Land Management] lands, wildlife refuges, national monuments, and national parks at the Department of the Interior” (p. 268).
Why do all the industry lobbyists get a leg in with recent Republican presidents? Surely, there has to be more qualified scientists in this country, who have actually studied natural resource conservation in a rigorous and balance-bias academic setting, and who could more justly serve in these positions of great federal power, over their fossil-fuel counterparts?
Perhaps, the overhead question I keep coming back to is: What will it take to give climate change issues more salience with this country’s citizens? The authors write about the lack of environmental policy questions in the 2006 election debates (p. 263) — and we arguably had the same issue 10 years later!
The notion that “few politician will risk proclaiming they are anti-green” I believe is a false one in today’s anti-regulatory environment — or at least an unfounded one, given current trends in Congress and in policy advancements overall in the last three months.
We’re a nation divided. Divided by cities and countryside. Divided by pocket change and empty pockets. Divided by race. Divided by gender. Divided by ‘progressive’ green thinking and the coal ‘lords of yesterday’.
The contours of our common environment is what unites us all. How can we, the United States of America, find common ground on our common ground?
It’s getting more and more difficult to remain optimistic for the future of American climate policy under Trump in these bi-weekly analyses.
After the debacle that emerged as our nation’s future for federal funding — science in general saw significant cuts, global climate change research was gutted completely — President Trump made moves to eradicate any shred of President Obama’s climate legacy, as it has come to be known. Probably just for the sake of it being Obama’s.
How can the pendulum swing this far away from all the ‘progress’ on climate consensus in just 74 days?
We went from having a president who protected the most square kilometers of ocean ecosystem EVER, to a president who has just promised to bring back coal jobs to miners in the Appalachian states — and who has had deleted the words ‘climate change mitigation’ from the State Department website.
President Obama pledged to bring renewable energy technologies up to speed, to compete with other global markets like China and India, on the quest for reduced emissions, improved air quality, and combating increasingly concerning climate change. President Trump proclaimed the revival of clean coal just 5 days ago, and I can scarcely breathe.
I imagine the coal miners, if they aren’t suffering from medical complications already, will scarcely be able to breathe in a few short years, too.
That’s a morbid thought, I know, but it’s true.
Public health officials (and laymen alike) already know the disastrous effects of coal mining on the human body — and that’s completely discounting the impacts of mountaintop removal and underground, by-hand mining on the surrounding ecosystems. There’s that saying ‘the canary in the coal mine’ for a good reason.
But it’s more than just coal mining, Clean Power Plan erasure, public health and ecosystem impacts … it’s the fact that the rest of America’s legislative power is on Trump’s ‘side’ — when there shouldn’t even be sides in the first place.
This is about the future live-ability of our beloved, shared planet, and we’ve turned it into a congressional shouting match, not to mention a presidential prerogative when really it should be up to the people whose lives are going to (have to) change.
The “social cost” of carbon has also been silenced by Trump in the past week. As with the budget cuts of last month, government spending and inflation, I guess, is to blame for America’s current abhorrence to Obama’s terms as president. Deregulation of the fossil-fuel industry, in the form of relaxed fracking and methane-capture rules, and an elimination of federal funding for scientific research has been Trump’s legacy on climate policy, thus far. Moving away from government to corporate, industry interests seems to be the way of Trump; as a businessman himself, this trend makes sense.
But he’s also taking the American people with him on this decry of government as ‘problem only.’ Sounds like the state of affairs a few decades prior: “By the late 1970s, most of America was convinced that government was the issue. It was effective simple politics and bad analysis [emphasis added]” (Madrick, p. 5).
Jeff Madrick, author of “The Case for Big Government” (2009), which I introduced as a text to examine in the last analysis, argues that it’s government’s “management of change is what is critical” to winning over the hearts and minds of its citizens — not the complete defunding and defacing of it.
“Without an active government, a nation cannot respond adequately to its times. If it does not respond to new conditions, both economic growth and the ability to retain the nation’s values will suffer. … The lesson is that pragmatic government should prevail over any categorical or typically ideological dismissal of the uses of government … If what we think of as big government is necessary to manage change, and in a complex society it may well be, then we should pursue it actively and positively, and make it function well [emphasis added]” (p. 8)
I definitely see truth to this analysis. Times are a’changing, especially in regards to energy policies and state diplomacy in the wake of increasing threats to livelihood from climate change all around the world.
As a nation that emits its (more than, I would forcefully argue) fair share of greenhouse gas emissions, we as the United States of America must be diligent in our quest to lead the rest of the world in clean(er) technologies for energy capture/storage, as well as build resilience in our communities for projected changes — or someone else will replace us in the starting line-up.
China has already come out in dismay against Trump’s proposed budget cuts to climate change resilience and associated research. We risk our legitimacy as a ‘freedom flung’ nation, and as a mover-and-shaker of the world for good if we let these issues go down the drain (like all that rising sea water on the East Coast…).
But, maybe that’s not what ‘America’ wants. Maybe America just wants to better itself, make itself ‘great again’.
But what if that’s not all we all want to do?
A big budget leads to big spending, and a big government’s to blame.
That’s essentially what President Trump has decreed with this week’s unveiling of the 2018 budget blueprint.
What’s that got to do with climate policy under Trump? Unfortunately, there’s a whole host of programs slated for the shredder, including an astonishing (at least to me) number of environmentally oriented services — services I didn’t even know were up for grabs until I saw the writing on the (Internet) wall.
- Thinking about cleaning up wastewater in your community? Better luck via the private sector. [Water and Wastewater loan and grant program ($498 million)]
- Interested in researching ‘alternative’ energy options? Again, look to the private sector. [Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy ($382 million)]
- What about abandoned mine land grants for clean-up purposes? Look to the so-called ‘permanent fund’ instead. [Abandoned Mine Land grants ($160 million)]
- Don’t care for state-federal partnerships to “preserve natural, historic, scenic, and cultural resources”? Again, don’t worry anymore about those. [National Heritage Areas ($20 million)]
- How do you feel about global climate change and the United States’ responsibility? Forget about it! [Global Climate Change Initiative ($1.3 billion)]
- Would you like to keep the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay clean? Harken back to the States with your concerns, instead. [Geographic watershed programs ($427 million) including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative ($40 million) and the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Initiative ($14 million)]
- Those Appalachian voters swearing by Trump’s promises of economic prosperity? Swear no more. [Appalachian Regional Commission ($119 million)]
- Chemical accidents? What chemical accidents? [Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board ($11 million)]
I’m writing all this in tongue-and-cheek, but there’s a real (potentially irreversible) environmental protection crisis on our hands with all the million-dollar slashings riddled in this ‘stream-lined’ (but not stream-protecting) budget.
So, Trump: You’re telling me that acid mine drainage, global climate change, and pursuing alternative (ahem, not fossil fuel) energies is a waste of my time, and the country’s economic resources? What about the (real!) notion economic prosperity and curbing climate change? Didn’t you know it’s risky business to bet on a future without mitigation or adaptation to impending climate changes?
Perhaps I’m just a naive undergraduate college student, worried about all those eroding sands and coastal seashores while you and your cabinet crew’s got your heads stuck under the sand. How I wish, sometimes, I could solve my crunched class-time woes as easily as you’re starting to ignore the call to curb global warming!
But I digress.
This week, I’m going to make a case for big government — actually, I’m going to read Jeff Madrick’s ‘The Case for Big Government’ instead.
Because what you’re telling me, Trump, is that a smaller government, a downsized (read bare-bones) budget, and less bureaucrats on the federal dime are going to keep my waters clean, new renewable technologies booming, and our natural resources respected. Forgive me if I’m skeptical, I’m still new to all of this ‘making it all great’ and everything for everybody. (What about Flint, MI and environmental justice?)
So like I said: I’m going to read Madrick(a “noted economist”) to see his point of view, now that I clearly know yours. Published in 2009, Madrick’s book argues that a big government of “high taxes and wise regulations” is not recommended but actually necessary “for the social and economic answers that Americans desperately need” today.
Big government’s been avoided like the plague on both popular party accounts. It’s become “a matter of belief” (p. 2) to minimize taxes and increased government spending, partly to earn electorals but also because it’s been the norm since President Reagan in the 1980s.
But Madrick’s quick to forgo sweeping statements.
“I am not arguing here that there is evidence that big government and high taxes are always and everywhere good. If government is managed poorly, it can have damaging effects. … What I am arguing is that judging by the careful assessment of economic achievements by nations with high taxes and large governments, and judging by American history itself, active and sizable government has been essential to growth and prosperity among the world’s rich nations, including America [emphasis added]” (p. 7).
For the remainder of the 100 days (we’re currently on Day 59, over halfway!!), I’ll be following Madrick’s arguments for big government, since the issue of small government for Trump is affecting his climate policy initiatives big time.
Until then, enjoy your National Parks and public lands now. Who knows how long they’re going to last around here.
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.
It’s 4 weeks into the Trump presidency, and already we’ve seen a deliberate attack, via both congressional and executive actions, against the Obama-era environmental agenda — and perhaps an even greater threat to the “American green state” (more on that later).
The confirmation of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an agency Pruitt sued more than a dozen times defending oil and gas industry interests, ended the week on a sour note for environmentalists and a large number of Democrat representatives opposed to yet another controversial Trump nomination. But perhaps the most far-reaching, and shockingly swift, course of legislative action in recent environmental politics history was the termination of the Stream Protection Rule.
In just 4 weeks, both House and Senate lawmakers were able to pass a joint resolution — with President Trump’s signature approval last Thursday — nixing the Obama-era stream ruling under the little-used Congressional Review Act (CRA). According to the Congressional Research Service, the CRA has several key advantages for those of its supporters, one being:
“…that if a joint resolution of disapproval is enacted, it not only invalidates the rule in question, but in most cases also bars the agency from issuing another rule in ‘substantially the same form’ as the disapproved rule unless authorized to do so in a subsequent law.” [emphasis added]
This little-known fact about the CRA makes it nearly impossible, then, for another president after Trump to introduce a similar Stream Protection Rule without bipartisan congressional support. What’s gone is gone — no more adding-or-subtracting to this table, based on the political party of the president alone.
And what’s more, Congress has promised to exercise the CRA, particularly against late-introduced Obama-era environmental rulings unfavorable for fossil fuel industries, in the near future with a sympathetic President Trump. Just how near, exactly? Perhaps in as little as 4 weeks.
To make sense of all this unnerving and break-neck environmental politics in recent weeks, I’m reading up on my history.
“American Environmental Policy: Beyond Gridlock” by Christopher McGrory Klyza and David J. Sousa, updated and expanded in 2013, has proven to be a rather interesting text of reflection in this topsy-turvy time of political history (see ‘Literature’ for more book publishing details). Written in an era when the “American green state” seemed to be drifting (albeit gradually) to a place of progressive environmental legislation, the book I think could use a serious update after this first year in Trump’s presidency. In short, 2017 has not been kind to a progressive environmental agenda.
Nevertheless, the book offers several points of note intermixed among swaths of case studies in American environmental politics, circa 1970-2006. Right away, Klyza & Sousa declare that “these forces [of congressional gridlock] are unlikely to dissipate anytime soon, and that, given this situation, the president and the powers at his or her disposal will be of signal importance in animating environmental policy [emphasis added]” (2013, p. 16).
For years, bills and resolutions seemed to disappear amid all the politics of Congress (literal pun intended), including those aimed at environmental upkeep. I remember just last year, angered by gridlock and frustrated by inaction, wondering if Congress would get anything done in my lifetime! I have to wonder no more.
Klyza & Sousa certainly couldn’t have predicted just how far ‘beyond gridlock’ American environmental politics would be, 4 years after the book’s re-print. And yet, they’re absolutely right about the president’s power and importance, when it comes to shaping an agenda. President Trump came in staunchly opposed to Obama-era environmental rulings and actions, and set forth a very clear agenda to dismantle these attacks on business and energy industries. Like a faithful puppy at the heals of its owner, our Republican-controlled Congress set forth in January 2017 re-energized and motivated to get work done in all public policy facets, including the environment and its awash of grievances. Environmentalists are now turning to the courts system as a seemingly last-hour block against some of these highly politicized motives coming from Congress and the Oval Office.
This is all new, and not new.
I was surprised to read that “[w]hen George W. Bush entered the White House, his first rulemaking action was to put a 60-day hold on all Clinton rules, such as the roadless rule [a famously controversial forest-logging rule, discussed at length in Klyza & Sousa (2013)], that had not yet gone into effect” (p. 98). That’s something you don’t read about in environmental-group lamentations of Trump and the comeback of King Coal Congress. Although that’s not to say these concerns aren’t valid — I have many concerns as an avid environmentalist, myself — but it’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t the only age of controversial environmental politics in American history. We live in a nation divided over many issues, and the environment continues to be a hotly debated one (global warming pun intended).
The authors go on to say that “[t]hese actions demonstrated just how tenuous it could be to make policy through rulemaking; a change in party control of the White House could unravel much of the policy work done through rulemaking, an unraveling that would be less likely if Congress had enacted the policies through the legislative process [emphasis added]” (p. 98).
Exhausted by political inaction in Congress, President Obama used his executive authority — just like every other president before him — to enact environmental policies he and his Administration felt were necessary. But unlike the executive rollbacks enacted by President George W. Bush in his first term, now we’re faced with a Congressional Review Act that’s a lot more silencing than rulemaking back-and-forth’s every 4 years.
More on the courts, the making of the “American green state” as described by Klyza & Sousa (2013), and the future security of National Monuments named under Obama … next time.
The first two weeks of President Trump’s term in office has left me feeling absolutely uneasy about the future of American climate and environmental policy over the next 4 years.
And we’ve only just begun.
Glancing through the first two weekly round of headlines (here and here) shows a nearly unprecedented attack on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A funding scare for all EPA projects, notably those impacting state universities and Native American tribes that benefit from said grants; a federal hiring freeze that affected nearly all executive agencies, including the EPA; threats to abolish the EPA stemming from Myron Ebell, head of EPA transition team; a gag order on all EPA and USDA officials from speaking to the press on all science or publications; an executive order impacting federal agency regulatory rule processes, notably the EPA and its controversial regulations on clean water and point-source pollution, air pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions allowances, and toxic waste disposal for businesses and corporations (all deemed too strict for business expansion); not to mention the words ‘climate change’ being completely erased from the White House’s official policy pages and replaced by a robust oil and gas ‘America First’ energy policy.
Congress has had its ax to grind with the EPA and climate-related policy in the last two weeks, as well.
Highlights include: An Obama-era coal-clean-up rule rescinded by Congress; legislation introduced into the House of Representatives to ‘terminate’ the EPA entirely; legislation introduced to sell off 3.3 million acres of public lands, deemed of ‘no purpose’ to taxpayers — but later retracted due to public outrage (notably from the backcountry community); and Secretary of State Trump nominee Rex Tillerson (with long-standing ExxonMobil employment and connections, and little-to-none government experience) confirmed by Congress to head American climate policies overseas.
I had my concerns coming into this presidency that Trump, his cabinet, and his crew would not be kind to American environmental protection standards, as an infamous and world-renowned businessman.
Business and climate regulations/policy have been historically at odds with one another, although the economics of climate change are as important as ever (see Risky Business for further analysis on this topic).
However, I did not anticipate such desecration and widespread fear for climate science and climate policy in a matter of 14 days.
I think this presidency is a real wake-up call for climate scientists all around the world, and for those of us who call ourselves environmentalists. Already alarmed, scientists across the country are mobilizing to march on Washington, to advocate for science-based policy, including in regards to the protection of our shared environment.
We, as citizens of this United States democracy, who care about environmental protection and science-based fact sharing, must remain vigilant and active participants in this era of heightened concern for the climate. Now is not the time to become complicit and accept Congressional word as the only option for law.
If it means something to you, write about it. Study it. Follow through. I’m now signed up for Congress alerts on legislation, rule-changes, and committee hearings on environmental issues I care about. Information is out there — both deceptive and legitimate. I’m advocating for education and awareness, and a strong commitment to safeguard our planet for future generations.
See you in two weeks,