Rollback of Environmental Protections in the Trump Administration

Hannah McCurdy is a summer intern at A/G and is studying public policy at the University of Oregon in Eugene.

As the 2018 midterm elections approach, the Trump Administration is under increased scrutiny and criticism for alleged conspiracy with foreign governments, its inhumane immigration policies, and multi-billion dollar tax breaks to the upper one-percent of the United States. Another area that should be a concern for everyone regardless of political leanings is the Trump Administration’s rollback of environmental protections as they will have devastating impacts far beyond his term. From the beginning of his presidency, Mr. Trump’s environmental policy record favors businesses and corporations that are known to contribute to climate change.

In June of 2017, less than six months after his inauguration, Mr. Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement. By the following November, both Syria and Nicaragua signed onto the Paris Agreement, isolating the United States as the only country not signed on. At the center of the Paris Agreement is reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. Each country submitted individual goals of emission reduction. To meet these goals, President Obama enacted several environmental policies to reduce the U.S. carbon footprint in his 2016 Climate Action Plan. From the start of his term, Mr. Trump has dismantled carbon emissions protections and supported policies favoring the fossil fuel industry.

President Trump currently attempts to reverse automobile emissions standards set by the Obama Administration requiring automobile manufacturers to produce vehicles with an average of 50 miles per gallon by 2025, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 6 billion tons over the lifetime of new vehicles and save 2 million gallons of oil per day. The proposal would halt Obama-era requirements at their 2020 goal of 35 miles per gallon, dramatically reducing the efficacy of the carbon emissions reduction. The federal standards established under Obama would match California’s. If the Trump Administration approves the proposal to loosen these regulations, it would create a national divide for automobile manufacturers. California and the thirteen other states who adopted their regulations will have higher standards, thus leaving automobile manufacturers faced with making two models of each car for sale. To mitigate this problem, the proposal also challenged California’s waiver to set their own carbon emissions standards, giving way to a likely legal battle between California and the Federal Government.

Since the 1960s, California’s unique combination of topography, climate, and population warranted waivers from the federal government to set its own vehicle emissions standards to manage the state’s ideal smog conditions. Since the Clean Air Act of 1973 granted the Federal Government power to set auto emission standards, California has been the only state waived of abiding by federal standards provided they meet federal requirements. Nine other states have adopted California’s stricter requirements. President Obama’s administration granted the current waiver to California in 2013. The Trump Administration’s EPA threatened to revoke the waiver, the first time this waiver would be revoked.

Without a doubt, California will sue the Federal Government if they revoke the waiver. They would be joining other efforts across the nation attempting to hold the Federal Government accountable for negligent environmental actions. In 2015, 21 children and young adults brought forth a lawsuit against the Federal Government, claiming that the government infringed on their constitutional right to freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by failing to protect them from climate change in a case referred to as Juliana v. United States. The lawsuit alleges the government is jeopardizing children’s lives by neglecting to take serious, comprehensive actions to prevent climate change and global warming. Filed in Eugene, Oregon, the lawsuit falls under the District Court of Oregon, but plaintiffs come from across the country. On July 30th the Supreme Court denied the Trump Administration’s request to halt proceedings, allowing the case to go forward with the October 29th court date.

With each year, the earth grows hotter and effects of climate change continue to become more visible and devastating. Natural disasters, refugee crises, rising sea levels, unbearable heat, and dramatic air pollution continue to be pervasive. Immediate and aggressive global action is the only way to mitigate impending disasters from continuing. Regardless of whether or not the plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States are successful in their legal battle, it broadened the debate over climate change and seeks to hold legislators and leaders accountable for inaction, hopefully encouraging the next round of leadership to take climate change more seriously. With pressing human rights abuses and dramatic inequalities across race, gender, and socioeconomic statuses, it cannot be forgotten that the earth is under attack and the damage continues to be further beyond repair.