What Trump has done for, and to, the environment in his first 100 days
Michael Walsh April 26, 2017
Donald Trump’s election victory, after a campaign characterized by railing against environmental regulations and dismissing the work of climate scientists, sent shivers through the environmental and scientific communities. During his first 100 days in office, the brash and unpredictable president has been following through on his campaign promises to bolster the oil, coal and natural gas industries and reverse the eco-friendly policies of his predecessor, former President Barack Obama.
Nearly every step President Trump has taken to enact his vision for the country has sparked a swift backlash. Shortly after Trump’s win, scientists took steps to back up environmental data that was stored on government servers, fearing it might be scrubbed under a Trump administration.
After Trump took office on Jan. 20, scientists at various federal agencies — including the National Park Service (NPS), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) — launched a batch of “rogue” Twitter accounts in defiance.
The scientific community and its allies organized a March for Science scheduled for Earth Day, April 22, inspired by the enormously successful Women’s March on Washington. They are pushing back against what they see as Trump’s attempts to suppress federally funded research on the link between human activities and climate change, part of a larger trend of political attacks on scientific consensus.
Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, pointed out that almost all of the steps Trump has taken regarding the environment so far have been announcements of plans rather than concrete actions. Still, Brune says he is deeply troubled by the direction Trump is taking the country in.
“As a father of young children, I’m angry at what he’s been doing with the EPA and our commitment to the environment generally. At almost every opportunity this administration has increased the risk to the quality of our air and water and our climate. That’s just wrong,” Brune told Yahoo News. “Protecting the environment creates jobs, it saves money and improves the quality of every American’s life. Trump is undermining the progress that we’ve made, not just in the last administration but under Republican and Democratic administrations for the last 40 years.”
Below are the major actions taken by the administration on environmental issues during Trump’s first 100 days in office:
America First Energy Plan excludes renewables
The White House unveiled Trump’s America First Energy Plan on Inauguration Day. It does not mention renewable sources of energy, such as wind or solar.
Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines advanced
On Jan. 24, Trump signed two executive actions advancing the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Earlier that day, during a meeting with CEOs for three automobile manufacturers, Trump said, “ I am to a large extent an environmentalist. I believe in it, but it’s out of control.”
The Dakota Access pipeline is a 1,172-mile underground crude-oil pipeline that will stretch from northwest North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois. A number of Native American tribal nations are protesting the pipeline, which will pass within a half-mile of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The protesters argue that it could pollute the tribe’s only water source, Lake Oahe, and damage sacred and cultural sites.
The Keystone XL pipeline would be an expansion of the existing TransCanada infrastructure that transports oil from tar sands in the energy-rich province of Alberta to refineries in the United States. The Obama administration had blocked a proposed 1,179-mile pipeline from Alberta to Nebraska.
Environmentalists have raised concerns about both pipelines’ necessity and their potential impact on the surrounding areas.
On March 24, the under secretary of state for political affairs granted a permit authorizing TransCanada to construct and maintain the Keystone XL pipeline.
EPA hiring and grants reportedly frozen
In the first week of the administration, officials reportedly directed the EPA to freeze its grants and contracts and to remove a page dedicated to climate change from its website.
New regulations require repealing others
Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 30 stipulating that two federal regulations must be identified for repeal each time a new one is established.
ExxonMobil CEO becomes secretary of state
Trump chose Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil, as secretary of state. Environmentalists were outraged that Trump nominated a lifelong oilman to represent the U.S. to the international community. There has also been widespread concern over Tillerson’s close ties to Russia.
Tillerson was confirmed on Feb. 1 by a 56 to 43 vote. It was one of the closest confirmation votes in at least 50 years.
Stream Protection Rule revoked
Shortly before Obama left office, the U.S. Department of the Interior established the Stream Protection Rule, which forbade coal companies to dispose of mining waste and debris in rivers and other waterways near mines.
On Feb. 16, Trump signed a joint resolution by Congress rescinding the rule. Republicans argue that the regulation was redundant and made it extremely difficult for coal companies to operate. This was one of several ways Trump followed through on his campaign promises to be a champion for the coal industry.
Longtime adversary of EPA becomes its leader
On Feb. 17, the U.S. Senate voted 52 to 46 to confirm Scott Pruitt, who denies the scientific consensus on climate change, as EPA chief. Critics said this was a classic instance of the fox guarding the hen house; Pruitt, in his previous position as Oklahoma attorney general, sued the EPA more than a dozen times and played a major role in undoing various environmental regulations that he considered government overreach.
More than 770 former EPA officials had signed a letter urging every member of the Senate to oppose Pruitt.
A few days after his confirmation, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), a national watchdog group, published thousands of pages of emails showing how closely Pruitt worked with the fossil fuel industry in challenging EPA regulations.
Environmentalists expect Pruitt to pursue his pro-oil and gas policies as head of the EPA.
Waters of the United States placed under review
Trump signed an executive order on Feb. 28 directing environmental regulators to review the controversial Obama-era Waters of the United States Rule, which expanded the number of waterways protected under federal law. The EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finalized the rule in 2015.
“The EPA’s so-called Waters of the United States rule is one of the worst examples of federal regulation, and it has truly run amok, and is one of the rules most strongly opposed by farmers, ranchers and agricultural workers all across our land,” Trump said at the signing. “It’s prohibiting them from being allowed to do what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s been a disaster.”
Republicans, farmers and energy corporations argue that the rule places unnecessary burdens on businesses and subjects them to pointless fees.
Lead ammunition approved for federal land and water
A day before Trump’s inauguration, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued Director’s Order 219 banning lead ammunition or fishing tackle from federal land and water in an attempt to shield birds, fish and other wildlife from lead poisoning. The ban was unpopular with the National Rifle Association and groups representing hunters and fishermen, including the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, which expressed “utter dismay” at the Obama-era directive’s “unacceptable federal overreach.”
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke revoked the ban on March 2 — his first day as part of Trump’s Cabinet.
EPA withdraws information request from energy companies
EPA announced on March 2 that it was withdrawing a 2016 request for information from the oil and gas industry intended to help the agency determine the best ways to reduce emissions of substances such as methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
EPA chief says carbon dioxide is not primary cause of global warming
During an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” administrator Pruitt rejected the overwhelming consensus of climate experts and said the scientific evidence linking carbon dioxide emissions with global warming is still inconclusive.
“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” Pruitt said. “But we don’t know that yet. … We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”
The American Meteorological Society (AMS) and many other leading scientific organizations have issued statements saying the main cause of the rapid climate change of the past half-century has been the release of atmospheric greenhouse gases as a result of human activity.
“The most important of these over the long term is CO2, whose concentration in the atmosphere is rising principally as a result of fossil-fuel combustion and deforestation,” the AMS statement reads. “While large amounts of CO2 enter and leave the atmosphere through natural processes, these human activities are increasing the total amount in the air and the oceans.”
Later that month, in response to requests from the Sierra Club, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General referred Pruitt’s CNBC interview to Francesca Grifo, the EPA’s scientific integrity officer, to review his statement and determine whether he violated any agency policies.
Trump proposes gutting the EPA budget
The White House’s first budget proposal for 2018, released on March 13, slashes funding for the EPA by 31 percent. Trump said he intended to cut climate change programs and efforts to protect water and air from pollution, which he says are harming coal miners, oil company employees and other workers in the energy sector.
The budget also called for a 17 percent cut to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal government’s leading climate science agency.
Emissions standards for vehicles reconsidered
Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and Pruitt announced March 15 that the Obama administration’s standards for emissions from cars and light duty-trucks manufactured between 2022 and 2025 would be reconsidered.
“Today’s decision by the EPA is a win for the American economy,” Chao said in a statement. “The Department of Transportation will re-open the Mid-Term evaluation process and work with the EPA to complete the review in a transparent, data-driven manner.”
The Midterm Evaluation process was established in 2012 to set standards for vehicle models from 2017 until 2025.
EPA continues to fund drinking water upgrades for Flint
In a win for the environment, EPA announced March 17 that it would provide a $100 million grant to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to upgrade the water-supply infrastructure in Flint, Mich., where high levels of lead caused a public-heath emergency last year. The money is provided by the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016, which Obama signed into law.
“The people of Flint and all Americans deserve a more responsive federal government,” Pruitt said in a statement. “EPA will especially focus on helping Michigan improve Flint’s water infrastructure as part of our larger goal of improving America’s water infrastructure.”
Executive order targets climate regulations
Trump’s most concerted attack on Obama’s climate legacy came in the form of his Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth executive order on March 28. It essentially started the process of dismantling Obama’s signature climate legislation: the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which placed limits on greenhouse gas emissions from coal-burning power plants.
“The action I’m taking today will eliminate federal overreach, restore economic freedom and allow our companies and our workers to thrive, compete and succeed on a level playing field for the first time in a long time,” Trump said. “It’s been a long time. I’m not just talking about eight years. I’m talking about a lot longer than eight years.”
It also directs all agencies to review their regulations and guidance documents to determine and end any that could potentially “burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources.”
EPA chief rejects pesticides ban
On March 29, Pruitt signed an order rejecting a decade-old petition to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that’s been in use since 1965. He argued that the insecticide is essential for U.S. agriculture.
“We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment,” Pruitt said in a statement. “By reversing the previous Administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making — rather than predetermined results.”
Under the Obama administration, the EPA had begun the process of banning chlorpyrifos in response to a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network North America, which said the step was necessary to protect children’s health.
Recent scientific research links chlorpyrifos exposure with several health risks, including brain damage in children. The neurotoxic chemical is sprayed on crops that are commonly consumed by children, such as apples, strawberries and oranges.
“EPA turned a blind-eye to extensive scientific evidence and peer reviews documenting serious harm to children and their developing brains, including increased risk of learning disabilities, reductions in IQ, developmental delay, autism and ADHD,” Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a senior scientist at NRDC, said in a statement. “Today’s decision means children across the country will continue to be exposed to unsafe pesticide residues in their food and drinking water.”
Sheryl Kunickis, the director of the Office of Pest Management Policy at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, applauded the decision not to ban this “important pest management tool” that ensures an “abundant and affordable food supply.”
The EPA had already banned chlorpyrifos in household settings in 2000, but it is still used in agriculture.
Trump donates part of salary to National Parks
The White House announced April 3 that Trump will donate his first-quarter salary of $78,333 to the U.S. National Park Service, an agency of the Department of the Interior dedicated to maintaining parks and monuments. It was a step toward fulfilling his campaign promise of donating his presidential salary to charity.
But environmentalists largely dismissed the donation as a publicity stunt, pointing out that he had proposed cutting the Department of the Interior’s budget by $1.5 billion.
Pruitt calls for leaving the Paris Agreement
During an April 13 appearance on “Fox & Friends,” Pruitt said the U.S. should withdraw from the Paris Agreement to limit global warming.
“It’s something we need to exit, in my opinion. It’s a bad deal for America. It was an America second, third, forth, kind of approach,” Pruitt said.
EPA unveils Back-to-Basics agenda
During a meeting with coal miners at Harvey Mine in Sycamore, Pa., on April 13, Pruitt announced the EPA’s “back-to-basics” agenda of handing power to the states to create “sensible regulations” that allow economic activity to flourish.
“What better way to launch EPA’s Back-to-Basics agenda than visiting the hard-working coal miners who help power America,” Pruitt said. “The coal industry was nearly devastated by years of regulatory overreach, but with new direction from President Trump, we are helping to turn things around for these miners and for many other hard-working Americans.”
EPA to review ELG Rule
The EPA announced April 13 that is intends to reconsider the ELG rule (effluent limitations guidelines) for steam electric power under the Clean Water Act. The rule, which was finalized by the Obama administration in 2015, places the first federal limits on toxic metals from the wastewater of steam electric power plants.
“This action is another example of EPA implementing President Trump’s vision of being good stewards of our natural resources, while not developing regulations that hurt our economy and kill jobs,” Pruitt said in a statement.
According to Pruitt, some of the country’s largest job producers have objected to the rule, saying it includes economically or technologically unfeasible requirements.
Former Georgia governor becomes secretary of agriculture
The U.S. Senate confirmed former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue as head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture on April 24 with a strong bipartisan vote: 87 to 11.
Along with overseeing farming and food programs, the Department of Agriculture is responsible for the country’s forestry and is the parent agency of the United States Forest Service.
Perdue found success in the agriculture business before entering politics. To avoid potential conflicts of interest, he stepped down from several businesses before he was confirmed as agriculture secretary.
Brune released a statement denouncing what he called Perdue’s history of “crony capitalism, indebtedness to big agribusiness and denial of climate science.”
“We will be closely watching Secretary Perdue’s actions on land conservation, forest management, and funding for forest fire fighting,” Brune said. “We stand ready to resist attacks on our food, our forests, and our families.”
Trump advisers to discuss future of Paris Agreement
On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to “cancel the Paris Climate Agreement” within his first 100 days in the Oval Office, but he’s said little on the subject since his victory.
The New York Times reports that Trump’s advisers disagree on whether the U.S. should stay in the climate accord. Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, reportedly advocate staying in the Paris Agreement, over the opposition of senior strategist Stephen K. Bannon, whose influence within the White House has waned in recent weeks.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer says Trump plans to make his final decision concerning the Paris Agreement before a meeting with the Group of Seven at the end of May. The group consists of the world’s seven major advanced economies: the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom.
Brune told Yahoo News that pulling out of the Paris Agreement would be a blow to the global effort to fight climate change and an even more significant blow to American leadership.
“China is going all in on clean energy, as is South Korea, India and other rising world economics,” Brune said. “If we forgo the leadership opportunity in the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. economy, much less the global economy, our competitive position will suffer as will the air and water quality of all Americans. It would be a boneheaded move by a president who isn’t fit for the job.”