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Horowitz: Trump Takes Aim at Environmental Protections

Tuesday, March 07, 2017


Rob Horowitz

President Trump is launching the fiercest effort to rollback laws and regulations designed to protect our environment since the early days of the Reagan Administration 

Here are just some of the highlights. He has already issued an Executive Order designed to restrict the reach of the Clean Water Act and plans this week to begin the process of easing motor vehicle emission standards and miles per gallon goals designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions.  Further, the Trump Administration plans to seek a 25% cut in the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) budget, which will severely hamper the agency's capacity to enforce national environmental laws. Deep cuts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are also planned with a particular focus on limiting the agency's research on and tracking of climate change.   

Trump's selection of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a climate change skeptic and reliable ally of the fossil fuel industry to be his EPA Chief should have served as an early wake-up call for any one holding out hope that Ivanka Trump's environmental sympathies or Trump's meeting with Al Gore during the transition signaled that Mr. Trump's denial of the reality of climate change and unbridled championship of fossil fuels was merely campaign red meat and that we would see some moderation, once he became President. Pruitt breathes new life into the old cliché of putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. Among other anti-environment actions, he sued 14 times to block clean air and water rules as Oklahoma Attorney General.

As Keith Gaby of the Environmental Defense Fund recently wrote, "President Trump’s campaign was filled with anti-environmental rhetoric and since the election he’s been making clear that he meant it." Trump and Pruitt are moving full speed ahead to do everything in their power to roll back the actions taken by the Obama Administration mainly under the authority provided by the Clean Air Act--actions that moved the United States into a global leadership position on combating climate change and provided the foundation for enlisting China and India in the battle to limit global temperature increases in order to avoid the worst consequences of a warming planet.  Not surprisingly, Steve Bannon, against the advice of key foreign policy advisors, is pushing Trump to withdraw the United States from the landmark Paris Climate Agreement, despite the anticipated serious diplomatic consequences.

Whether President Trump will succeed or not in rolling back environmental progress will depend in large measure on the environmental movement's ability to mobilize an active national grassroots resistance to back up the fierce lobbying and court fights that will be launched. When President Reagan appointed staunch advocates of rolling back environmental protections, Ann Gorsuch as EPA Administrator and James Watt as Secretary of the Interior and engaged in similar budget cutting and regulation pruning

efforts, the memberships of national environmental groups more than doubled and the outcry led eventually to the resignations of both these officials. Reagan ended up appointing William Ruckeshaus as EPA Administrator to clean up the mess and stop the political bleeding. Ruckelshaus had served as Administrator at the founding of the EPA and was highly respected by environmentalists. Reagan launched his assault on environmental laws and regulations during a time when the American economy was in far worse shape than today and still did not win the political argument.

It is now clear if it was ever in doubt that President Trump is unlikely to be persuaded by the merits of the case for protecting the environment or taking action on climate change. It will be up to people who care about the environment to make the political costs sufficiently high to force a rethinking at the White House and in Congress. While the salience of environmental issues with the American public has declined since the early 80's, there is still overwhelming majority support.  As Trump's actions are likely to move these issues back closer to the center of the political debate, I have faith that the American people will stand up as they did in the 80's and at least limit the damage the Trump Administration will do.


Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island


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