Environmental advocates ready to fight Trump “in the courts, in Congress, in the streets”

Photo of smokestack emitting pollution

Under President-Elect Trump, pollution would not be just hot air (Photo: ribarnica/ Creative Commons/ Flickr)

Since there has been so little of it, let’s start with some positive news. Yes, the environment will be under federal siege during the Donald Trump administration. But the president-elect, his cabinet and a conservative Congress will face formidable opponents.

“We can guarantee him the hardest fight of his political life,” said Michael Bruene, executive director of the Sierra Club. “He can’t change the fact that clean energy is cheaper than dirty fuels and that the climate is changing. The markets and the American people are moving people beyond dirty fuels. Trump cannot reverse this tide.”

Bruene was among five environmental advocates who spoke to the media from Washington, D.C., today about the election’s potential impact on federal environmental legislation and policy.

On the local and state levels, including in North Carolina, there are a few bright spots for the environment this election, said Gene Karpinkski, president of the League of Conservation Voters.

Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto was elected as the first Latina U.S. senator in Nevada to replace Harry Reid, who did not run for re-election.

To the nuclear power industry’s chagrin, Reid had been a longtime opponent of Yucca Mountain, the proposed landfill for the nation’s radioactive waste. His retirement is “good news for Yucca Mountain,” former EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman told an audience at Duke University earlier this fall. Nevada won’t have the power to stop it.”

Earth to Whitman: Nevada may actually have the stones to prevent it from becoming the nation’s nuclear dumping ground. “Yucca Mountain is dead and will continue to be, if I’m fortunate enough to be elected senator,” Cortez Masto wrote on her website.

Well, now she is a Nevada senator, so Yucca’s resurrection is iffy.

Cortez Masto received the Sierra Club endorsement also because of her strong support for the Clean Power Plan. The CPP is currently being challenged in the courts by 28 states, including North Carolina.

And North Carolina’s opposition to the CPP could change if Roy Cooper hangs on to his narrow lead to become the new governor. Cooper supports the CPP and clean energy, while current governor Pat McCrory and his appointee, Secretary Donald van der Vaart, are leading the legal fight against the CPP.

Wake County voters also supported the environmentally friendly transit tax. By a 53-47 margin, they approved a half-cent sales tax hike to pay for bus improvements and a commuter rail system from Garner to Durham, with stops in Raleigh, Cary, Morrisville and RTP.

In Los Angeles County, California, voters approved a half-cent sales tax to fund the expansion of light rail, bus networks, bike paths and highway improvements. California also upheld its ban on plastic bags, said Anna Aurillo, DC director of Environment America.

But environmental advocates have to achieve more than merely halting any rollbacks, Aurillo said. They have to advance the agenda. “We have kids drinking water with lead in it, with sewage in it. We need to strengthen clean water standards. We are terrified [Trump] will dismantle the Paris Agreement.”

Trump has vowed he will withdraw the U.S. from the historic global accord, which is key to reducing carbon emissions and the impacts of climate change. The U.S.’s portion of the decrease is substantial — 20 percent. Withdrawing could dissuade other signatories from sticking to the agreement, and like a Jenga game, it could fall apart.

The Paris Agreement is one of several environmental policies that Trump is targeting. He has threatened to eliminate the EPA, but that’s likely campaign bluster, an ignorance of how government works or both. Trump has called for deep budget cuts to the agency, which without staff, would strip it of most rule-making, monitoring and enforcement powers. Congress might agree, and the EPA would, in essence, be dismantled.

However, Trump does not have the power to unilaterally disband the EPA; that would require an act of Congress. Even though the Republican party controls both chambers, it’s still unlikely that both the House and the Senate could pass such a radical measure. The booming clean energy industry has not only financial power, but political influence, as well.

(Such a drastic move would also hurt the economy. The EPA employs more than 15,000; dumping that number of workers onto the unemployment rolls would not support Trump’s promise that he would be a “job creator.”)

“If he does try to undermine climate action, he’ll run headlong into people who will fight him in courts, in Congress, in boardrooms and in the streets.” Click To Tweet

Last month Trump told journalist Chris Wallace last month that the EPA, “what they do is a disgrace. Every week they come out with the new regulations.”

So it’s to be expected that The man in charge of whittling the EPA down to a husk of an agency is Myron Ebell, head of the energy and environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative, anti-regulation think tank.

Like Trump, Ebell is a climate change denier. A culled EPA — and one loaded with representatives of polluting industries — could so weaken regulations that carbon emissions would rise dramatically.

“The election of Donald Trump could be devastating for the climate. He’s the only head of state in the world rejecting that climate change is real and mankind is the cause,” Bruene said.

It’s ironic that a Republican president proposed the EPA and now a different Republican president wants to dismantle it. In his first term, Richard Nixon, yes, Richard Nixon, proposed the creation of the agency, prompted by public concern over threats to the environment: pesticides like DDT (banned in 1972), water pollution (by the Clean Water Act in 1972), phosphates, fluorocarbons and the like.

The House and the Senate passed a measure, and the EPA began operating on Dec. 2, 1970.

Longtime environmental activists have worked in the trenches during equally gloomy times for the environment: 1994 and Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America, two fossil-fuel friendly terms under Bush the 43rd. In the latter case, activists defeated the construction of 184 coal plants, proving that even under unfavorable conditions, progress is possible.

“We  see no reason to stop being on offense on climate and energy,” Bruene said. “If he does try to undermine climate action, he’ll run headlong into people who will fight him in courts, in Congress, in boardrooms and in the streets.”

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