More Than Just the Paris Agreement: Assessing the Environmental Policy of the Trump Administration

By Jon Lamson

Climate change, nitrification, and the collapse of global ecosystems are some of the most serious and challenging issues that we as a species have ever faced. Despite this, the Trump Administration has worked to roll back environmental regulations in order to promote business interests and “stimulate the economy.” 

However, the American mainstream media fails to treat environmental issues with the gravity that they deserve. For example, there was not a single question on the environment in the last CNN-hosted debate for the Democratic nomination. Aside from the removal of the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, which committed nations to keeping global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius, coverage of the many effects of the Trump Administration on our nation’s environmental policy have gone underreported. 

First, it must be understood that the two cabinet positions with the most influence on environmental policy — those of the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and Secretary of the Interior — have been filled by former fossil fuel lobbyists, Andrew Wheeler and David Bernhardt — metaphorically, “draining the swamp” and, in the process, destroying an entire aquatic ecosystem. While this article can only scratch the surface of the specific policies put in place, understanding the private interests these agencies serve is key to understanding their detrimental impact. 

According to The New York Times, the Trump Administration aims to roll back a total of 85 environmental rules and protections — 53 rollbacks have already been completed, while the remaining 32 are in progress. 

Here are just a few examples to illustrate the severity of these rollbacks: The Trump Administration revised the Endangered Species Act, which significantly reduced the protections on threatened species and made it easier to remove a species from the list, allowing “economic estimates” to be considered when classifying a species. The administration rolled back offshore drilling safety regulations implemented after the 2011 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It also repealed Obama-era regulations on emissions from coal power plants and automobiles, as well as various methane rules and regulations. The adminsistration shrank the Grand-Staircase Escalante and Bear Ears National Monuments by 51% and 85% respectively in the largest reduction of public lands in U.S. history. The 2017 move is still facing court challenges. Additionally, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reached a 30-year low in criminal enforcement. President Trump approved oil wells in the Arctic, where environmentalists say an oil spill would cause irreparable damage to an already stressed Arctic ecosystem, and reversed the ban on coal mining on public lands. 

Recently, Presidnet Trump failed to submit the Kigali Agreement to U.S. Congress for ratification, an agreement that works to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which 197 nations accepted in 2016. HFCs are gases with greenhouse effects 100 times more powerful than those of CO2. This agreement, if implemented effectively, could prevent up to 0.44 degrees Celsius of global temperature increase by the end of the century. 

The impact of the administration isn’t limited to the removal of environmental protections. The administration has pushed forward the Keystone XL Pipeline, which is a potential environmental disaster and a flagrant violation of Indigenous rights to boot, and Bristol Bay Pebble Mine, which threatens one of the most important salmon habitats in the world. 

This is what happens when we put the fossil fuel industry in charge of our nation’s environmental policy as Trump has. The primary responsibility of these agencies is to protect the American people from the risks of environmental disaster and to ensure that our resources can sustain our nation — not to protect certain individuals’ and organizations’ ability to make money. Climate change is an urgent issue that requires immediate action in order to limit the effects and to keep us from passing the much-discussed two-degree threshold of warming. Aside from all of the regressive actions the administration has taken, simply doing nothing to solve the problem is in itself extremely harmful to the nation and the planet. For all these reasons, we as a nation must put climate at the forefront of the 2020 election, as four more years of regressive policy will seriously limit our ability to curb the effects of climate change in the future. I implore you: as the election cycle begins to pick up, look into each candidate’s plans for the climate, and don’t forget to stay diligent and up to date about rollbacks’ proposal, passage, and effects as the Trump presidency continues.  

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