Following closely on last week’s March for Science, activists are preparing for the People’s Climate March on Saturday, April 29. This event will mark President Donald Trump’s 100th day in office, and comes as the Trump administration is debating whether the United States should continue to participate in the 2015 Paris Agreement on limiting global carbon emissions.
Among the areas now at risk are Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, which protects more than 1.3 million acres of land. (Photo: Bureau of Land Management/flickr/cc)
President Donald Trump on Wednesday ordered federal officials to launch a review of national monument designations, potentially setting the stage to gut environmental protections for public lands and oceans.
The executive order instructs the Department of the Interior to review the designation of every monument larger than 100,00 acres protected by the Antiquities Act since 1996. It could give fossil fuel companies access to millions of acres for new drilling, climate justice advocates warned. Continue reading →
“The true depth of the administration’s unswerving commitment to an especially savage version of corporate capitalism is now, as we approach the first 100 days under the Trump administration, utterly clear.”
President Donald Trump “has gleefully signed measures making it easier for coal companies to pollute streams and rivers; authorizing Big Oil to hide payments to developing country governments; erasing obligations for government contractors to ensure the safety and health of their employees; and making it possible for cable and Internet providers to collect and sell our most personal information,” observed Public Citizen president Robert Weissman. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/cc/flickr)
President Donald Trump approaches his 100th day in office the most unpopular U.S. leader in modern history for a reason.
Exacerbating his failure to uphold his populist campaign promises, a new report found that Trump spent the majority of his presidency enriching his own business empire while appointing fellow “corporate cronies” at the highest levels of government leading to what Public Citizen describes as “an unprecedented corporate takeover.” Continue reading →
The executive order signals a sharp shift in federal climate change rules, standards and work procedures. This was expected based on Trump’s campaign rhetoric and his selection of Cabinet members and advisers. But as with other Trump White House initiatives, it is unclear how much change the administration can deliver and at what pace.
It took a long time for the Obama administration to formulate some of the central climate change rules now targeted by the Trump administration, and it will take years trying to change them. The signing of the executive order is just the administration’s opening salvo in what is destined to become a protracted and high-stakes battle.
The Trump attack
Cloaked in unsubstantiated “pro-growth” rhetoric, the executive order targets the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. It also focuses on mandates to cap methane emissions, looks to increase support for the extraction and use of coal and other fossil fuels, and changes the ways in which climate change concerns are embedded in actions by federal agencies (including taking into consideration the social cost of carbon).
The Clean Power Plan was designed to curb carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants as well as to promote renewable energy production and greater energy efficiency. The Obama administration also set emissions standards for new power plants. These and other measures were issued in response to the unwillingness by the U.S. Congress to pass any separate climate change legislation.
Announced in August 2015, the Clean Power Plan was immediately challenged in court by a group of 29 states and state agencies with the support of a variety of firms and industry organizations, including Oklahoma while current EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was the state’s attorney general. The opponents argued the EPA had overstepped its regulatory authority with the new rules and they therefore should be struck down.
The Supreme Court in an unprecedented decision in February 2016 ordered the EPA to temporarily stay the implementation of the Clean Power Plan until a lower-level court had made a ruling on the EPA’s authority to set such standards. Oral hearings were held in the D.C. Circuit Court in September 2016, but a decision is still pending.
Because the EPA under Pruitt will review the Clean Power Plan and roll back other Obama initiatives, the executive order alters basic legal dynamics. Now, lawsuits making their way up the court system will change. Instead of challenging the Obama rules, suits will be aimed at forcing the Trump administration to either uphold them or take other forms of meaningful regulatory action.
Many states and environmental groups that support the Clean Power Plan and other existing measures stand ready with a lineup of lawyers to fight back. They will argue that the federal government must act based on a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision classifying CO2 as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act and a 2009 EPA Endangerment Finding stating that current and projected atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations.
Will we still always have Paris?
The executive order is silent on the Trump administration’s intent vis-à-vis the 2015 Paris Agreement, in which nearly 200 countries agreed to lower greenhouse gas emissions. But it casts a long shadow both on the U.S. ability to meet its Paris goal and the future of U.S. international leadership on climate change.
The implementation of the Clean Power Plan is central to fulfilling U.S. commitments under the Paris Agreement of reducing national GHG emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and to make best efforts to reduce its emissions by 28 percent. By 2014, national emissions were down 9 percent compared with 2005 levels.
Electing to either leave or ignore the Paris Agreement would not provide the United States with more independence and flexibility, as it reduces its political influence and ability to shape future decisions in global climate negotiations.
There are other global environmental treaties around biodiversity protection and the management of hazardous chemicals and wastes to which the United States is not a party. As a result, the U.S. ability to influence regulatory decisions under these treaties is severely limited – for example, specific chemical compounds where there is a need to protect human health and the environment, or where U.S. firms have economic interests. This foreshadows the kind of outsider status that the United States may gain if it backs out of the Paris Agreement.
Notably, ceding international leadership on climate change may serve only to embolden other countries, including China, to take on a more prominent role at the expense of U.S. influence. It would also further increase many other countries’ rapidly mounting frustration with the Trump administration.
Many different stakeholders, including ExxonMobil, argue that it is better for the United States to be on the inside rather than the outside when it comes to the future climate change cooperation. Former ExxonMobil CEO and current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has suggested the U.S. should stay in the agreement.
US paying for assistance or ammunition?
Even if the United States stays with the Paris Agreement, President Trump and Republicans in Congress have made it clear they want to severely limit, or completely cut off, U.S. contributions to climate finance in support of mitigation and adaptation measures in developing countries. The United States so far has provided US$1 billion of the $3 billion pledged by the Obama administration to the Green Climate Fund.
Carrying through on these statements by significantly reducing U.S. international assistance would effectively erode an important basis of U.S. political leadership and influence. But they appear to be part of a larger shift in the use of foreign policy instruments from nonmilitary means, such as climate and development aid, to military ones.
Trump’s “skinny budget” proposed a 31 percent cut to the EPA budget and a 29 percent reduction in funds for the State Department and other development programs. There is very little chance that Congress will approve such dramatic cuts, but these proposals tie in with what seems to be a broader change in U.S. foreign policy strategy.
As Trump proposed a 10 percent increase in the military budget, foreign policy experts worry that a significant cut in nonmilitary resources will severely undermine U.S. leadership and the ability by the State Department and other government agencies to promote U.S. interest and political stability.
The court of public opinion
As the battle over federal climate change policy continues, President Trump risks losing the public opinion battle on climate change beyond his most ardent base.
A recent poll shows that 75 percent of Americans believe that carbon dioxide should be regulated as a pollutant and that 69 percent believe that there should be limits on emissions from existing coal-fired power plants.
If such polling numbers remain strong, the Trump administration will be fighting an uphill battle in both courtrooms and the public sphere.
Let us wake up! Let us wake up, humankind! We’re out of time. We must shake our conscience free of the rapacious capitalism, racism and patriarchy that will only assure our own self-destruction.
These are the words of Berta Cáceres, the community organizer, human rights defender, environmental activist, indigenous Lenca woman, leader and rebel who was shot dead one year ago, on March 3, 2016, by unidentified gunmen at her home in La Esperanza, the capital city of the department of Intibucá in southwestern Honduras.
Berta was a co-founder of the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH), an organization fighting neoliberalism and patriarchy in Honduras and working for respect of human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples in particular. She was a long-term opponent of internationally funded exploitative development projects in indigenous territories in Honduras, such as the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam, set to be built on the territory of the Lenca people in the Río Blanco. Continue reading →
While we were distracted by the onslaught of executive orders President Trump pushed through during his first two weeks in office, legislators in Congress were busy quietly introducing legislation to bolster his top-down moves.
Here’s what you missed:
1. A House Panel Voted to Terminate the Election Assistance Commission
The House Administration Committee voted 6-3 in favor Republican Congressman Gregg Harper’s bill to terminate the Election Assistance Commission. The EAC, which was created in response to the contentious 2000 Florida election results as part of the Help America Vote Act, is a bipartisan commission that certifies voting machines and is responsible for making sure they cannot be hacked. Continue reading →
A demonstrator in Washington, D.C. holds a sign on Jan. 27, 2017. (Photo: Lorie Shaull/flickr/cc)
President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Monday that aims to slash regulations—an action, advocacy groups say, that puts lives at risk.
The order—the latest of a flurry since he took office—states that “for every one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination,” fulfilling a campaign promise he made.
“For fiscal year 2017, which is in progress, the heads of all agencies are directed that the total incremental cost of all new regulations, including repealed regulations, to be finalized this year shall be no greater than zero,” it adds. Continue reading →
President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt. (Screenshot)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) and his Democratic colleagues on the Senate Environment and Public Works committee dug into Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nominee Scott Pruitt on Wednesday, blasting his record of suing the very agency he’s been selected to lead, and putting his fossil fuel industry ties front and center.
As Ben Jervey and Steve Horn reported for DeSmog Blog, the morning hearing unfolded in something of a pattern, with “Republican members complimenting the [Oklahoma] attorney general and lobbing him softball questions, and the Democrats grilling him on his stance on climate science, his ties to the fossil fuel industry, and his perspective on what role the EPA has in actually, well, protecting the environment.” Continue reading →
China already has the world’s largest installation of wind turbines. (Photo: Sandia Labs/flickr/cc)
While climate activists in the U.S. mount a resistance to the incoming climate-change-denying Trump administration, on the other side of the Pacific, environmentalists have reason to celebrate: China on Thursday announced that it will invest $361 billion in renewable energy by 2020.
“These dangerous pieces of legislation are one of the most egregious displays of political kowtowing to big polluter industries ever seen.” (Photo: Ron Cogswell/flickr/cc)
Launching what one group called “a coming massive attack on federal protections,” the U.S. House on Wednesday night passed the GOP-backed Midnight Rule Relief Act—making it easier for Congress to overturn Obama-era regulations—and appeared poised to follow that vote with passage on Thursday of another bill aimed at dismantling key health and safety laws.
Both measures were decried by environmentalists, consumer rights and public health advocates, and labor groups, who say they hand power over to corporations at the American public’s expense. Continue reading →