Environmental policy of the Donald Trump administration

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The environmental policy of the Donald Trump administration represents a shift from the policy priorities and goals of his predecessor, Barack Obama. During the campaign Trump often described environmental regulations as an impediment to business. He promised to roll back many regulations and end a moratorium on the leasing of federal coal reserves.[1]

Immediately upon his inauguration, the White House released an "America First Energy Plan", which focused on fossil fuels and did not mention renewable energy. The plan would repeal many Obama policies including the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule, and limit the Environmental Protection Agency's mission to protecting air and water quality. Within days of taking office he signed executive orders to approve two controversial pipelines and to require federal review of the Clean Water Rule and the Clean Power Plan. He also invited American manufacturers to suggest what regulations should be eliminated; industry leaders submitted 168 comments, of which nearly half targeted Environmental Protection Agency rules.[2] In March 2017 he released a proposed 2018 budget which would cut funding for the EPA by 31%. In May 2017 Congress approved a budget for the balance of the 2017-18 year which cuts the EPA's funding by 1% and eliminates no jobs.

Trump's appointments to key agencies dealing in energy and environmental policy reflected his commitment to deregulation, particularly of the fossil fuel industry. Several of his cabinet picks, such as Rick Perry as Secretary of Energy and Scott Pruitt as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, were of people with a history of opposition to the agency they were named to head.[3]


Trump's cabinet nominees reflect his desire to scale back federal environmental regulation and to promote domestic production of coal, oil, and natural gas. In some cases his appointees had a history of conflict with the agencies they now lead. As Attorney General of Oklahoma, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt challenged EPA regulations in court more than a dozen times.[4] Some of those court cases are still pending, and Pruitt has declined to say if he would recuse himself with regard to those suits.[5][6] He has said he plans to prioritize state and local control over federal land use and ease regulations on the environmental impacts of industries.[7] A March executive order will allow Pruitt to start a review process of the Obama Administration's regulations of the coal industry, reflecting Trump's repeated promises to support the coal industry and "bring back jobs" in coal mining.[8] Such changes are likely to affect America's ability to meet reduced the climate emission goals of the Paris Agreement.[9]

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry called for eliminating the Department of Energy when he was running for the Republican nomination for President in 2012.[7] His confirmation as head of the Department of Energy was a source of contention among Democrats due to his previous denial of man-made climate change and his close ties to the Texas oil and gas industry.[10][11] During his confirmation hearing, Perry said he regretted his promise to abolish the Department of Energy and has indicated change in his views of climate science.[11]

Trump appointed Congressman Ryan Zinke of Montana as Secretary of the Interior. Zinke is an advocate for mining and logging on federal lands but opposes sale or transfer of such lands.[12]

Former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue was appointed by Trump as agriculture secretary. Perdue's supporters say that his experience in agriculture and conservative views on immigration make him an appropriate choice for the duration of Trump's term.[13] Opponents fear that he will not sufficiently address the effects that farm pollution has on sources of drinking water.[13]

Domestic energy policy

America First Energy Plan

Trump unveiled what he calls the America First Energy Plan soon after his inauguration. His administration claims that "America has been held back by burdensome regulations on [its] energy industry".[14] America currently has 264 billion barrels of oil reserves, the largest oil reserve of any nation.[15] The United States also has a vast amount of coal reserves, amounting to 26% of the world’s total, more than any other nation.[16] Its untapped oil and coal resources are estimated to be worth about $50 trillion according to the Trump administration.[14] However, reports from the Natural Resources Defense Council show that coal consumption in the US has steadily declined by about 20% over the last 10 years, with natural gas and renewable energy quickly taking over.[17] Christina Simeone, director of policy and external affairs with the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, says that strict regulations aren’t the only reason for the faltering coal market; natural gas has now become a cheaper option.[18]

The White House estimates deregulation will increase wages by over $30 billion by 2024.[14] This figure specifically refers to the removal of Obama's Climate Action Plan and was drawn from a study from the Institute for Energy Research, a conservative non-profit organization specializing in research of global energy markets; the report actually based that figure on increased oil drilling on federal land and offshore, not on reduction of regulations.[18]

Trump wants America to achieve energy independence from the OPEC and all nations hostile to the interests of the United States to ensure national security, and insulate it from any supply disruptions and price fluctuations from the global oil market.[19] However, fossil fuels are finite, and entities such as the Pentagon claim climate change also poses a threat to national security.[20] The NRDC argues that a more reliable long term solution would be to develop more of a reliance on renewable energy rather than maintaining a reliance on fossil fuels.[17]

Currently, the EPA focuses on a range of topics including air, emergency management, land and cleanup, pesticides, toxic substances, waste, and water.[21] Trump will refocus its efforts to solely protect clean air and clean water.[14] This has resulted in a 31% proposed budget cut to the EPA.[22] Environmentalists, current EPA staff members, and former EPA staff members believe that the EPA will have a harder time upholding environmental standards with a smaller budget.[22][23]

Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines

File:Bakken - Dakota Access Oil Pipeline, North Dakota (29357938502).jpg
Construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (shown above) has resumed under the Trump Administration.

An executive order reviving the plans for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines was signed by Trump on January 24, 2017 with the hopes of creating jobs and bolstering domestic energy production.[24] The construction of the Keystone had been blocked by then-president Barack Obama, who considered it a major contributor to climate change due to the greenhouse gas intensive extraction of oil from tar sands.[25]

Trump had said many times throughout his campaign that he would work to allow for completion of these pipelines. This was accomplished when the easement was garnered in response to the previous claim that no group had been provided access to drill under the primary water source for members of the Sioux tribe within the area, Lake Oahe.[26] Necessary and more thorough analysis of the environment and the environmental implications of the pipeline had to be obtained prior to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers being able to come up with a decision of whether or not to continue with the construction of the pipeline through the land that President Trump’s Native American Coalition team would like to privatize in order to ensure long-term access to the oil and gas reserves that are found within the nation’s land.[27] The Standing Rock Sioux tribe members would be compensated for the drilling that would take place to gain access to the underground reserves, a revenue that would help to provide funds to be allocated for various reasons throughout the reservations.[27] Having experienced and suffered the consequences of the termination policy of 1953, tribe members have been hesitant to allow government officials have any jurisdiction over their lands, as it would greatly impact the control that the tribes had over their reservation land.[27]

Trump encouraged the Army Corps of Engineers to expedite their review on the Dakota Access pipeline in January 2017. This executive memorandum came after the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its supporters demanded that the Army Corps of Engineers to look at alternative routes for the pipeline in summer 2016, on the grounds that the location of the construction on indigenous lands was a product of obvious environmental racism.[28][29][30]

In addition to the executive order to expedite a decision concerning environmental precautions and measures, Trump signed an executive order that described the construction of the pipeline as, “a substantial, multi-billion dollar private investment in our Nation’s energy infrastructure.”[31] Energy Transfer Partners was granted all federal authorizations needed to complete DAPL on February 7, 2017, with plans to have it up and running after three months of construction.[32]

Renewable energy policy

The America First Energy Plan does not mention renewable energy and instead reflects the President's focus on fossil fuels.[33] During the campaign, Trump praised solar technology during a rally in California the summer of 2016 but then criticized it for being too expensive and has since complained about the subsidies renewable energy companies receive.[34][35]

The role of the nuclear energy industry is unclear within the Trump Administration's America First Energy Plan.

Nuclear energy

The head of the Nuclear Energy Institute, Maria Korsnick, stated that every year the nuclear industry saves the US $33 billion in emissions while providing 475,000 jobs and generating $60 billion for the US economy. She believes this information shows that nuclear power aligns perfectly with President Trump's commitments to job creation and infrastructure improvement. Government loans and subsidies for the nuclear industry are in question under the Trump administration.[36]

Environmental policy

Amid protests, on March 28, Trump signed a "sweeping executive order" at the EPA instructing "regulators to rewrite key rules curbing U.S. carbon emissions and other environmental regulations." Trump was accompanied by "coal miners and coal executives" among others and he devoted his remarks on the executive order to "praising coal miners, pipelines and U.S. manufacturing."[37] He addressed the coal-miners directly, "Come on, fellas. Basically, you know what this is? You know what it says, right? You’re going back to work."[37] The executive order plans to put American jobs first by not supporting climate change policies that place the economy at risk.[38] While campaigning in March 2016, Donald Trump proposed the idea of eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency in order to help balance the United States' budget. Trump said, "We're going to have little tidbits left but we're going to get most of it out".[39]

Program budget cuts

One of the main goals of the Trump administration is to lift burdensome regulations from various energy industries to boost domestic energy production.[40] In order to do so appropriately, Trump asked American manufacturers which regulations made production the most difficult. The industry leaders responded, and an overwhelming amount of them recommended lifting restrictions related to the environment and workers' rights.[40] In an open letter to Scott Pruitt, Mustafa Ali, former head of the EPA's Environmental Justice Program who resigned in protest to Pruitt's budget cuts, expressed concerns with how the budget cuts will effect pollution in poor and minority neighborhoods.[41]

On March 15 the Trump Administration announced its plans to cut the EPA 2018 budget by 31%, by far the largest budget cut to any federal agency. The cut would result in a loss of 19% of the workforce or roughly 3,200 employees, through both staff buyouts and layoffs.[42] The choice to remove the Clean Power Plan, which was put in place to reduce carbon dioxide emissions chiefly from coal-fired power plants, would effectively eliminate Obama's efforts to curb climate change. This plan would also remove the $100 million allocated to fund research combating climate change.[43] The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provides $250 million for programs which aid countries with high risk of impacts from rising and increasingly warm and acidic sea water levels. These programs would be eliminated under the new set of budget cuts.[44] If enacted, this would mean the elimination of up to 38 of the agency's programs.[42] Programs to be eliminated include the radon program, grants to clean up industrial sites ("brownfields"), climate change research, and the Office of Environmental Justice.[45] The administration says it plans to refocus the EPA mission on clean water, air, and other core responsibilities. It also plans to delegate more of the EPA's enforcement activities to the states, while decreasing the amount of money given to states for that purpose by 30%.[45] Issues like greenhouse gas emissions would be trimmed significantly or eliminated from the budget.[46]

Trump's proposed 2018 budget also proposes decreasing funding for the Department of Interior by $1.5 billion.[47]

In May 2017, Congress approved a budget for the balance of the 2017–18 fiscal year which cuts EPA funding by only 1% and does not cut staffing or any specific programs. Republicans said they expect make much larger cuts in the 2018–19 budget.[48]

Department of the Interior

National Parks

Trump is calling for more drilling in national parks. He has promised to utilize America’s $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, natural gas reserves, and clean coal reserves. In interviews, Trump has accused Obama of “denying millions of Americans access to the energy wealth sitting under our feet” because of Obama’s policies surrounding the restrictions and bans on new coal extraction.[49]

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

The Trump Administration plans to open up more federal land for energy development, such as fracking and drilling.[50] The Clean Water Rule, issued by the EPA and the Army Corp of Engineers in 2015, is also a target for possible repeal. The rule clarifies the federal government’s jurisdiction to protect small streams and wetlands from pollution. Developers, business, and agriculture groups oppose the rule because they believe that their private property rights are violated and that undue regulatory burdens are created.[51]

Pollution regulation

In attempts to lift regulations on oil, mining, drilling, and farming industries, the Trump administration proposed a 31% budget cut to the EPA that would result in reduced initiatives to protect water and air quality, leaving much of the effort up to the states.[52] Specifically the plan outlines $247 million in cuts to pollution clean-up and $330 million in cuts to contamination site clean-up.[43] Environmentalists fear that these cuts will result in health problems for those living near these sites, as there will be less funding for water pollution mitigation.[52]

On February 16, 2017, President Donald Trump signed a resolution overturning President Obama's Stream Protection Rule,[53] after being in effect for less than 30 days.

On February 28, 2017, President Trump enacted an executive order to allow the Administrator of the EPA to revise or rescind the Clean Water Rule in the name of economic growth and eliminating ambiguous regulations.[54] Research cited by the EPA shows that one in three Americans get their water from public drinking water systems which are partly sourced from streams protected by the Clean Water Rule. These streams will now be in danger of pollution by industrial and agricultural waste, sewage, radioactive materials and a large number of other pollutants now covered by the Clean Water Rule.[55] The administration has also proposed a rollback on the Obama administration's extension of federal jurisdiction over lands protected by the Clean Water Act in attempts to reduce water pollution in areas surrounding toxic waste facilities.[52]

EPA budget cuts are also expected to lead to decreased regulation of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which would result in less federal oversight of clean-up projects in these area.[52] These fracking disposal sites are twice as common in low-income communities of color,[56] causing increased exposure to environmental consequences for these groups.[57]

Climate change

File:63 years of climate change by NASA.gif
63 years of climate change by NASA

During the campaign, Trump expressed the view that global warming and cooling is a natural process.[58] He often described global warming as a "hoax"; and sometimes attributed the hoax to the Chinese government, but later claimed that had been a joke.[59][60] As a candidate Trump said he would rescind Obama's Climate Action Plan, cancel U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Agreement, and stop all U.S. payments towards United Nations global warming programs.[59]

Positions on global warming differ within the Trump administration. U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has called climate change a true threat to national security and stability.[61] EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has said he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming.[62]

Trump has committed to the removal of regulations on industry that he deems an unnecessary burden on energy industries.[14] Specifically, he has cited Obama's Climate Action Plan as a priority among these regulations. The Climate Action Plan, issued in June 2013, includes regulations to industry with the ultimate goal of cutting domestic carbon emission, preparing the U.S. for impending effects of climate change, and working internationally to address climate change.[63] Among the regulations outlined in the plan are initiatives to increase natural disaster preparedness, create and improve existing hospitals, and modernize infrastructure to better withstand extreme weather.[63] In March 2017, Trump signed an executive order to officially withdraw and rewrite Obama's Clean Power Plan in an effort to revive the coal mining industry.[64] Trump has called Obama-era fuel standards a burden on the U.S. automotive industry and has instructed EPA Administrator Pruitt to review them.[65]

Trump is not opposed to all policy concerning protection of the environment, and curbing greenhouse gasses.[citation needed] In June, Trump proposed in a White House meeting that the wall with Mexico should be covered with solar panels.[66]


A border wall will block the movement of wildlife, and will interfere with the movement of animals in response to climate change. The wall could prevent genetic exchange. Critical habitats are on the border with Mexico in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 and candidates for that list from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service includes ninety-three species whose ranges are near or cross the border.[67]

Among the threatened species are the jaguar (the largest cat native to North America), the ocelot (30 pound cats that could be making a comeback), the Mexican wolf (the smallest gray wolf in North America), the Sonoran pronghorn (related to giraffes, they can run 60 mph and are North America's fastest land mammals), the tiny cactus ferruginous pygmy owl (who fly at about 4.5 to 13 feet, lower than the wall), and the Quino checkerspot butterfly (who fly no higher than 6 to 8 feet).[67]

Paris Climate Agreement

On June 1, 2017, Trump announced United States withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, causing the U.S. to become the third out of 197 nations worldwide in opposition to the agreement[68]. Prior to withdrawal, the U.S. had pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025 and assign $3 million in aid to foreign countries combating climate change.[69] [70] The withdrawal was supported by several Republican lawmakers who felt that backing out was in-line with Trump's "America First" policy and goals to diverge from the environmental policies of the Obama administration. The announcement has been criticized by many national and international leaders, domestic politicians, business leaders and academics[70] as well as a large majority of American citizens (7 out of 10 according to a study by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication)[71].

Trump opposed the agreement on the grounds that it would compromise U.S. sovereignty and cause many Americans to lose their jobs. Proponents of the agreement argue, however, that backing out will result in a loss for our economy as new green jobs are offered instead to competitors overseas[70]. Trump also announced his attempts to reach a negotiation with leaders involved in the agreement, who responded saying that the accord was "non-negotiable"[70].

The process of withdrawal is expected to take several years, and in the meantime there has been a vocal resistance on the state and local levels. Hawaii became the first state to independently commit to the goals initially lined out by the accord[72]. Shortly after Trump's announcement, state governments in California, New York, and Washington founded the United States Climate Alliance to continue advancing the objectives of the Paris Agreement. The sentiment has also been expressed by other state governors, by mayors and businesses, and the alliance now has 10 states with governors of both the Democratic and Republican parties pledging to abide by the agreement.[73][72] Additionally, shortly after withdrawal California governor Jerry Brown met personally with President Xi Jinping of China to declare the states' compliance with the Paris Accord[72][74].

See also


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