Climate / Environment
This page includes information regarding Trump and the GOP Congress's agenda. This is a collaborative knowledge base; feel free to propose edits/additions you believe are important for others to know. Contributions will be reviewed and approved based on quality and accuracy.
- 2/22/2017: An emergency eviction order issued by Governor of North Dakota entered into effect for the most visible of the camps set up by Water Protectors protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.
- 2/22/2017: In the latest development in a suit filed against Scott Pruitt by the Center for Media and Democracy, emails released by the Oklahoma attorney general's office show that energy companies "gave the Oklahoma officials language on limits on methane emissions at oil and gas operations. Pruitt's office then used this language in suing the EPA over the regulations, the documents suggest."
- 2/21/2027: Department of Justice filed an argument against the temporary DAPL injunction, which had been issued in favor of the Cheyenne River Tribe.
- 2/21/2017: In his first speech as EPA head, Scott Pruitt signaled his intention to reverse key pieces of Obama's climate and energy agenda. Executive orders repealing the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States rule are expected in the coming days. Pruitt did not mention climate change in his speech.
How You Can Resist
- Call your Senator by dialing tel:844-6-RESIST and tell them to vote against eliminating the EPA.
- Find out when your Senators and US Representative are holding town halls and other Upcoming Events/Opportunities. Show up and tell them not to eliminate the EPA.
- Get involved with People and Organizations that are working on environmental justice and climate change.
- Call your state representatives and ask them to support the State-Level Resistance Agenda including divesting in financial institutions that provide support for DAPL.
- Go to Tools of Resistance to share advocacy resources and to notify ProPublica if you notice climate change information removed from a government site.
- Submit comments on DAPL. Anyone can submit them to the Action Network, because the official comment website dedicated to collecting comments for the Army Corp of Engineers has occasionally been shut down.
- Technologists can join an organization or work on an open-source project to drive social progress. Tech Forward has a compilation of options.
- Divest from banks that invest in companies and projects that damage the environment.
- Read Essential Readings to learn about enviornmental justice.
Actions Taken by the Federal Government
Legislation that Supports Equity and Justice
- Trump signs a law repealing regulation by the SEC as part of the Dodd-Frank Act requiring energy companies to disclose payments made to foreign governments.
- The House votes to repeal a rule limiting methane venting and flaring by oil drilling operations on federal lands.
- HR 861 would eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency.
- 01/19/2017: The House has changed the valuation methods for federal lands, making it easier to give away land—even if a handover provides no measurable benefit to taxpayers. Additionally, recent reporting suggests that budget cuts will eliminate the Office of Electricity, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and the Office of Fossil Energy (which focuses on reducing carbon emissions). Additionally, the administration plans to reduce funding for the Environment and Natural Resources division of the Department of Justice.
See also the State and Local Pages for state-by-state legislative tracking.
Executive / Administrative Actions
- 2/8/2017: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued an easement to the Dakota Access Pipeline, which will allow Energy Transfer Partners to proceed with completion of the final stretch of the pipeline underneath the Missouri River. Representatives of the Standing Rock Sioux, and others, will immediately file for an injunction.
- 1/26/2017: The New York Times has obtained copies of two draft executive orders, one of which calls for a review of all current and pending multilateral treaties and asks for recommendations on which to leave; the Paris climate agreement and other environmental treaties dealing with trade issues could fall under this order.
- 1/24/2017: President Trump issued a memorandum regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline. The memorandum instructed the Secretary of the Army to instruct the Army Corp of Engineers to expedite the permitting and easement process. The result of the memorandum was to throw into question the decision issued on 1/28/2017 by the Army Corp of Engineers to require a full Environmental Impact Study on the pipeline crossing under Lake Oahe, a widening of the Missouri River.
- 01/20/2017: The new White House energy page details the administration's intention to eliminate "harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule." The "America First Energy Plan" also promises to "embrace the shale oil and gas revolution" and "[revive] America's coal industry." There is no mention of climate change. All signs point to a shift away from clean-energy initiatives and a pursuit of the myth of energy independence.
A failure to address climate change and environmental protection will disproportionately affect historically vulnerable populations—indeed, this is the object environmental justice seeks to address. Communities of color and other historically low-income populations are those most likely to be located in closer proximity to polluted air and water sources, including industrial sites, freeways, oil refineries, and power plants that burn fossil fuels. New permitting rules or lax compliance standards—i.e., a "business-friendly" approach to environmental protection—could foster unmitigated pollution. Without a proactive environmental justice policy, these communities will continue to bear the brunt of the nation's pollution, a burden that leads to higher asthma rates, lower life expectancies, higher incidences of several forms of cancer, and higher incidences of dementia. The same communities, due to structural geographic inequities, will also bear the worst effects of a changing climate.
High-profile environmental-justice case studies—such as those encountered in Flint, Michigan's, water supply and the Standing Rock Sioux Nation's objection to the Dakota Access Pipeline—are unlikely to be met with sympathetic Congressional ears. Broadly speaking, environmental justice is not expected to be seen as a federal priority. In a worst-case scenario, Trump could rescind Bill Clinton's Executive Order 12898, which required each federal agency to "make achieving environmental justice part of its mission." A rosier future would see him simply do nothing—that is, effectively end federal environmental justice efforts and shift the balance of administrative responsibility to states, foundations, and nonprofits (as was the case during the Bush years). However, even given a regional or state approach, disaster can strike: a lack of oversight on behalf of EPA's Region 5 office, for example, helped spur the Flint Water Crisis.
Trump / GOP Strategy
Donald Trump does not take climate science seriously, believes there is a tradeoff between climate action and economic growth, and both invents and peddles conspiracy theories related to a changing climate. He has previously called global warming a "hoax" that was "created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing noncompetitive." In a February debate, Trump said that with respect to the EPA, "[We] waste all of this money. We're going to bring that back to the states." Trump does not support wind energy, citing aesthetic and wildlife concerns. He has vowed to stop payment to UN climate change programs and withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the global climate pact negotiated in late 2015.
Trump's EPA pick, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, also questions climate science and has previously sided with polluting companies in anti-EPA litigation. Pruitt has been supported by industries impacted by environmental rule making and has sued the EPA 14 times over federal environmental regulations. If confirmed by the Senate, he is expected to facilitate a major shift from the agency's current positions and collaborate with the industries his agency has the responsibility to regulate (i.e., regulatory capture). This shift could have global repercussions: the EPA enforces rules to fight climate change, which doesn't respect national borders.
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, Trump's pick for Energy Secretary, dismisses climate science as a “contrived, phony mess.” During a previous presidential candidacy, Perry stated he wanted to dismantle the department he will likely now head. (Or, rather, he attempted to do so, but infamously forgot the name of the department.) Perry is also a former board member of Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline. While much of DoE's work focuses on nuclear security and nonproliferation, it is also responsible for supporting clean-energy research via ARPA-E and the DoE National Labs, thus making Perry a figure relevant to climate policy. The DoE does not play a role in pipeline permitting.
Aside from the EPA and DoE, Trump's nominee for Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, and now Secretary of State and former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson are intimately tied to the oil industry and appear to have complicated relationships with climate science. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is "offended" by the views of climate scientists.
These five high-level appointments suggest a coordinated strategy that seeks to undermine much of Obama's climate and environmental legacies. Specific targets of this strategy are likely to include the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States rule, the purview of the Clean Air Act, and existing EPA standards related to interstate air pollution and methane emissions (from the energy sector and landfills). In early December, a leaked transition-team memo highlighted the primary targets of the Trump administration's energy plan. In brief, if transition leader Thomas Pyle's recommendations are implemented, the Trump administration would:
- Withdraw from the Paris Agreement
- Issue regulations to negate the Clean Power Plan and related rules
- Increase federal leasing for oil and gas reserves and shift more lease discretion to states' hands
- End Obama's coal lease moratorium
- Expedite approval of LNG export terminals and oil and gas pipelines
- Reconsider whether greenhouse gases affect human health
- Assess the wildlife impacts of wind energy
- Reduce energy subsidies
- Revise the Waters of the United States rule
- Amend the Renewable Fuel Standard and the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) mandates
- Ignore the social cost of carbon in federal rulemaking
Implementation of the memo would represent hugely regressive moves in environmental policy.
Dakota Access Pipeline (History)
Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) announced its intention to construct the $3.78 billion, 1,172-mile underground Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to transfer oil from the Bakken Formation to refineries in Patoka, Illinois, in 2015. The pipeline is estimated to eventually transport up to 570,000 barrels of oil per day. ETP promised this domestic oil would also be refined in the United States, but Sunoco is under no obligation to do so.
Donald Trump held investments in ETP — and while he issued a statement that he sold his stock this summer, the administration has released no financial disclosures. Additionally, ETP CEO Kelcy Warren, contributed $100,000 to the Trump campaign.
DAPL was originally sited to cross the Missouri River above Bismarck, North Dakota, but was rejected due to the risk posed to the drinking water supply of Bismarck. ETP rerouted the pipeline to cross the Missouri on what it and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) argue is federal land. The federal government, represented by USACE, was required to complete an Environmental Assessment (EA), evaluate the environmental safety of more than 200 large water crossings, and collect public comments before issuing a decision as to whether a full Environmental Impact Study (EIS) was required before issuing permits and easements (i.e. permission to cross property owned by someone else). Part of this vetting process also included complying with requirements for tribal involvement as laid out in the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). On July 25, 2016, USACE determined an EIS was not required (though it still required an easement).
There is no unified national permitting process for pipelines — even those that cross state lines — though use of eminent domain is common (and was leveraged in the case of DAPL). South Dakota was the first to grant permits for DAPL in early December 2015. North Dakota granted its permit on Jan 20, 2016, despite the objections of landowners. Iowa granted DAPL easement on Mar 10, 2016, also to the objection of landowners. Similar objections to the price and to the use of eminent domain occurred in Illinois.
See Native American Rights (under construction) for information on tribal resistance.
Vulnerabilities in Their Strategy
With respect to the Paris Agreement, a technical US withdrawal during Trump's first term is effectively precluded by the nature of the agreement itself. Additionally, moves to set a withdrawal in motion will be deeply unpopular in the international community. Ceding US leadership ground on climate policy necessarily implies giving way to Chinese leadership—a prospect surely unappealing to the Trump administration.
With respect to energy and environmental policy, vulnerabilities are largely twofold. First, economically and financially speaking, fossil fuels are poor long-term investments. Despite falling coal and gas prices, renewable energy sources will comprise 60% of global installed capacity by 2040. China, too, will lead investment in these sources—and will ultimately reap massive returns from the global energy-sector transition that's currently underway. If the Trump administration fails to capitalize on this transition, they will be left responsible for stranded assets and a smaller market share of the global energy sector.
Second, popular (and, obviously, scientific) opinion supports climate action, decarbonization, and investment in clean energy: almost 70% of registered voters say the United States should participate in the Paris Agreement, and two-thirds think the country should reduce its emissions, regardless of other countries' actions. There is majority Republican, Independent, and Democratic support for a carbon tax, in which revenues are reinvested to fund research programs in renewable energy. Seven in ten registered voters support the core policies of the Clean Power Plan. Betraying numbers like these embodies huge democratic irresponsibility.
- 2/14/2017: Attorneys announced they had filed a request for Summary Judgement asking the court to overturn the decision of USACE to grant the DAPL easement, which had been granted as the behest of Donald Trump’s Memorandum on the Dakota Access Pipeline.
- 2/9/2017: Drilling has resumed on DAPL despite various court challenges.
- 2/8/2017: DAPL was >95% complete before the final permission granted by the USACE on February 8, 2017.
- 2/2/2017: Backlash by conservation and sports groups, including Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, a group that counts Donald Trump Jr. as a member, forces Chaffetz to withdraw House Bill 621. The Bill would have allowed 3.3 million acres of federal lands to be given away.
- 2/2/2017: The Washington Post reports that a GOP congressman introduced a bill to make it easier to drill in National Parks lands.
- 1/31/2017: The Guardian reports on House Bill 621, proposed by Jason Chaffetz of Utah, to give away 3.3 million acres of Bureau of Land Management lands because they "serve no purpose for taxpayers."
- 1/28/2017: This New York Times piece highlights ways in which Midwest farmers and agricultural experts are trying to establish a dialogue about climate change in an industry dominated by skepticism.
- 1/24/2017: The administration has restricted the EPA's social media use and engagement with the press and lawmakers: "Staffers were ordered to stop issuing press releases, blog updates and social media posts, according to a memo to employees. The Agriculture Department’s research arm was reportedly told by its chief of staff to stop issuing news releases, photos, and other 'public-facing' documents—although the agency disavowed the order late Tuesday, saying that new guidance would replace it." The National Park Service tweeted out its Cultural Resources Climate Change Strategy, urging users to download it. The administration has also reportedly told the EPA to cut the climate page from its website and has ordered a freeze on all new EPA grants and contracts.
- 1/23/2017: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) abruptly canceled a major climate change conference the week before President Trump’s inauguration. The Climate and Health Summit, which had been in the works for months, was intended as a chance for public health officials around the country to learn more about the mounting evidence detailing the risks to human health posed by the changing climate.
- 1/1/2017: deadline for completion and shipping expires. ETP signed significant shipping contracts that guaranteed the pipeline would be on line and transferring oil by Jan 1, 2017, but in other documents there was no such promise, either way it was under time pressure to complete the pipeline.
- 2/25/2016: DAPL breaks ground well before most of the permits were in place, and more than a year before the final easement was issued by USACE on February 8, 2017.