On March 28, President Donald Trump sided with corporate polluters, specifically those present within the coal industry, when he signed an executive order that would roll back President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP was a plan enacted by the Obama Administration that required states to hold themselves to certain standards involving the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. The executive order that President Trump signed is an attempt to dissolve the CPP, which could result in U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement (still under debate in the White House), less environmental action from individual states, and a focus placed on the gas and oil industry by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s pick to head the EPA and longtime proponent of the oil and gas industry as Oklahoma Attorney General, fully supports President Trump’s executive order, stating, “the days of coercive federalism are over,” in a letter he sent to U.S. governors. The states are no longer subject to follow the Clean Power Plan, meaning the coal plants that the Obama Administration aimed to shut down will remain open.
According to the New York Times, at the executive order signing, President Trump smiled and said to a group of coal miners, “C’mon, fellas. You know what this is? You know what this says? You’re going back to work.” While it is true that if individual states enacted the Clean Power Plan it would result in job losses, the EPA encouraged the states to meet with workers and discuss their options. Although job losses have a large influence on regional economies and the families affected, in the long run, efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions may be just as important.
This rollback, coupled with the president’s pledge to restart the Keystone XL oil pipeline and finish the Dakota Access oil pipeline, means the U.S. can no longer even pretend to have any legitimate leadership role internationally in efforts to curb global warming and greenhouse gases. We are instead the source of the problem. The question remains as to whether the United States will keep its pledge with the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, an international pact that requires nearly every country to take actions to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Pruitt, who has claimed the Paris Agreement will cause economic harm, has declined to comment on whether or not the Trump Administration will pull out of the international accord.
“The worst-case scenario is that the Paris Agreement will unravel,” Robert Stavins, Harvard Environmental Economics professor, told the New York Times, “That would be a great tragedy.” There is a possibility that newly-industrializing countries that were pushed by the Obama Administration to heighten their environmental efforts, such as China and India, will use the United States’ failure to honor the accord as an excuse to do the same. However, this does not seem to be the case.
Laurence Tubiana, the chief French negotiator of the 2015 Paris Agreement, told the New York Times, “There are countless countries ready to step up and deliver on their climate promises and take advantages of Mr. Trump’s short-termism to reap the benefits of the transition to the low-carbon economy.” Therefore, this step back for the United States could mean that other countries have the opportunity to fill the huge gap Trump has created in the field of environmental action and create economic opportunity in the renewable fuels industries themselves.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, President Xi Jingping of China opened the gathering with an aggressive argument for commitment to the Paris Agreement. In addition, Nirmala Sitharaman, the Indian Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, expressed India’s desire for a larger international role in discussing global climate change.
The good news is although Trump has set the United States back by issuing this executive order, many Western states are still complying with the Clean Power Plan, meaning President Trump’s order will have little effect on these states. In addition, this executive order does not force the United States to pull out of the Paris Agreement, and it may not accomplish its goals as quickly as the Trump Administration has proposed. The order is also likely to be caught up in court for quite a bit of time.
As students who are passionate about the outdoors, part of the responsibility of environmental action relies on us as individuals. If students have an active place in the outdoor community, part of their responsibility is to take action and spread awareness on changes in environmental policy. Often times, action and education are not used synonymously; educating yourself on environmental issues is the first step that leads to discourse and action.
As a Colorado College student, you can read the newspaper (and get the New York Times for free), or watch a documentary (some famous ones are “Before the Flood,” “An Inconvenient Truth,” and “Chasing Ice”). The CC community also has access to many speakers and educators with whom to have discussions. As students, we need to capitalize on these resources.
We have entered an era where our environment is threatened by the government, and it is our responsibility to be educated enough to do something about it. Ultimately, President Trump’s executive order is ominous and daunting as far as environmental action is concerned, but with the continuous effort from multiple states, corporations, institutions, and organizations, the fight to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is only stifled, not yet dead.