It’s been 875 days since Donald Trump was inaugurated President of the United States.
From the moment he was elected president in November 2016, Donald Trump represented four years of lost potential in America’s fight to mitigate the climate crisis and further its transition to a low-carbon economy. In economics, the term “opportunity cost” is used to describe the benefits missed out on when choosing one alternative (i.e. Trump) over another (i.e. not Trump). In this case, the opportunity cost was a President who would have pushed for new climate and environmental protections, who could have put us on a path to global competition on clean technologies, and placed us as a global leader in climate.
Unfortunately, opportunity costs are not the only thing we are paying. Since taking office, Donald Trump has actively reversed climate and environmental progress made during President Obama’s 8 years in office, and even before. According to the New York Times, the Trump administration has completed rollbacks of 49 environmental regulations, and is in the process of rolling back 35 more.
Below we’ve categorized and documented the 29 major actions the Trump administration has taken against climate action and environmental protection in the past 875 days.
Reversing Progress on Climate Change
Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement
In June of 2017 the US announced its intention to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate accord, making America one of only three countries to refuse the landmark international agreement (even Syria and North Korea are signatories). Negotiated under President Obama, the Paris climate agreement seeks to reduce global emissions, and marked the first time nearly every country agreed on sweeping climate goals. Despite Trump’s intention to withdraw from the goals in the accord, businesses, states, and cities across the US have pledged to uphold portions of the accord.
Reversing the Clean Power Plan
When unveiled by President Obama, the Clean Power Plan was the first carbon standard for US power plants. The Trump administration has actively undermined the plan by attempting to discredit the science backing it, and is expected to formally replace it in the coming year. As outlined by President Obama, the plan would have reduced US emissions by 32% by 2030; under expected rollbacks, the EPA is expected to reduce emissions by 1.5% at most .
Rolling back of Clean Car Standards
In August 2018, the Trump administration slashed national fuel economy standards from those set by Obama at 54 miles per gallon, down to just 34. Known as CAFE standards, these rules were expected to bring national transportation emissions reductions, while also providing economic benefits to consumers and the overall economy. The rollback is setting up a massive legal battle between the Trump administration and states like California, which have historically opted to have higher clean car standards.
Cutting Incentives for Clean Energy
The administration has cut federal funding that incentivizes clean energy development in almost every proposed budget. In his most recent budget proposal, Trump cut funding for the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by 87%, from $2.3 billion to $343 million. He is also proposing the elimination of an array of EV tax credits, as well as closing down the federal clean energy R&D shop.
Prioritizing Coal Use
Characterizing Obama era policies as a ‘war on coal,’ the Trump administration has sought to provide additional incentives to coal powered plants. This includes a December 2018 rule that plans to lift emissions restrictions on coal use. In the long run, the coal industry has a lot of viability issues and will likely no longer be a cost-competitive energy source. However, these protections will slow the decline, likely at the expense of renewable energy developments.
Allowing Methane Emissions
In early 2018, the administration announced a rollback of requirements for companies to report methane leaks, followed by another, which would prevent the burning of methane used during oil drilling on federal lands. This is problematic since methane is a much more powerful heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide, and is responsible for at least 25% of manmade global warming.
Handicapping Response to Climate Impacts
Ignoring Sea-Level Rise in Flood Projections
In August 2017, Trump counteracted an Obama-era executive order requiring construction using federal funds, to take into account climate change and sea level rise. This action was taken despite a report from the GAO, a federal oversight agency, warning that the costs of not adapting to flooding caused by climate change may rise to as high as $23 billion by 2050.
Delisting Climate Change as National Security Threat
In December 2017, Trump officials delisted climate change as an explicit threat to national security, reducing the ability for the Pentagon to fund adaptation and research efforts. This action was taken despite the numerous threats climate change poses to national security, such as more severe natural disasters (wildfires, droughts, hurricanes), the impact of sea level rise on US military bases, and climate fueled migration.
Prohibiting Climate Change in Federal Emergency Plans
In March 2018, FEMA removed all mentions of climate change and sea level rise from its four-year strategic plan. This is in stark contrast to FEMA’s last plan, which stressed the need to incorporate climate change into all federal emergency planning. Through this, Trump also effectively removed the requirement for states to assess their own climate change related risks.
Stifling Climate Science, Crippling the EPA
Ignoring EPA Obligations to Enforce Environmental Rules
The EPA’s referral of criminal prosecution in cases of excess pollution has hit a 30-year low. Despite claims that the EPA is focusing on the ‘most important cases’, EPA pollution convictions were fewer in 2018 than anytime since 1995. Part of this may have to do with the reduction of the EPA’s Criminal Investigative Division to only about 140 agents, far below a congressionally mandated 200.
Censoring Federal Climate Science
Starting in early 2017, the EPA started removing climate change information from US government websites, including the EPA webpage that explained climate change.
In August 2017, the administration halted a study of the health risks to individuals living near coal mines in the Appalachian Mountains. At the time, the administration claimed the reason for suspending the study was a “changing budget situation,” but an inspector general probe found little basis for halting the study.
The administration has also directly targeted climate scientists, reassigning EPA staff focusing on climate adaptation in 2017, and a month later dismissing half of the members of its Board of Scientific Counselors, which reviews EPA scientific research.
Disbanding Climate & Environmental Oversight Bodies
In October 2018, the Trump administration suddenly disbanded a 20-member panel of scientists charged with advising the EPA on safe levels of pollution in the air. This was foreshadowed by a similar move in 2017, when the administration dismissed a similar panel charged with providing technical assistance to states in implementing the National Climate Assessment.
Cutting NASA Climate Change Funding
In May 2019, the administration quietly cut a NASA program which monitored greenhouse gases like carbon-dioxide and methane. This has the potential to impact the ability of states to implement emissions reductions, and may undermine effective reporting of emissions from global actors as well.
Reducing Funding for EPA, Climate Action
In his 2019 budget proposal, Trump included a 31% cut to the EPA’s operating budget. This is higher than the 23% cut proposed in 2018. Such cuts would have a dramatic effect on the agency’s ability to enforce existing climate and environmental rules, and if successful, may establish new lower level for EPA funding well into the future.
Unprecedented Access for Extractive Industries
Selecting Industry Insiders for Key Federal Posts
Trump’s first EPA administrator was Scott Pruitt, who has stated he doesn’t believe in human-caused climate change, and even supported the idea that it was good for humanity. In the wake of multiple scandals, Pruitt resigned, leaving former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to head the agency. Meanwhile in the Interior Department, which oversees federal lands and has discretion over some wildlife protections, Trump nominated energy lobbyist David Bernhardt despite controversy over his past conduct. The administration’s pro-fossil fuel nominees don’t stop at EPA and the Interior – Trump’s first pick for Secretary of State was oil tycoon, and former CEO of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson.
Opening Federal Lands to Oil & Gas Drilling
Concurrent with the scaling back of national monuments like Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, multiple federal lands were simultaneously opened for new mining and oil drilling leases. The administration has also granted logging companies greater access to federal lands, with Trump signing an executive order to increase logging by 30%, supposedly to ‘stop wildfires’.
Approving Keystone XL Pipeline
In 2017 the Trump administration approved construction permits for the controversial expansion of the Keystone XL gas pipeline, which cuts across indigenous lands and areas of environmental concern in multiple US states. The project also significantly contributes to increases in global carbon emissions; it is expected to carry around 830,000 barrels of oil each day when fully operational.
Pushing for Offshore Drilling
Starting in 2017, President Trump began a review of offshore oil wells everywhere from the Arctic to the Atlantic. Then, in early 2018, the administration announced a plan to develop leases in 26 offshore areas, making up some 90% of the nation’s outer contintental shelf. For comparison, about 94% of this same area is currently protected from offshore drilling. Currently, development plans are on hold following setbacks in federal court. Also in 2017, the Interior Department proposed an auction of fossil fuel extraction leases for over 70 million acres of federal waters within the Gulf of Mexico.
Greenlighting Arctic Oil Wells
In 2018, the Trump administration gave the okay for gas and oil drilling in federal waters in the Arctic, and permits have already been issued to some companies for drilling in the area. However, in 2019 a federal judge ruled that the executive order signed by Trump to allow offshore drilling of tens of millions of acres in the Arctic Ocean is “unlawful and invalid.”
Allowing Air & Water Pollution
Weakening Toxic Air Pollution Rules
The administration has rolled back a regulation prohibiting companies from polluting above a set legal limit. The result will be a long term deterioration of the barriers for large corporations to get away with releasing toxic air pollutants.
Rolling Back Offshore Drilling Safety Standards
Safety rules put in place following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 were rolled back, which included requirements for offshore oil rigs to include so called “blowout protectors.” Safety systems failure at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, caused in part by lax federal oversight, led to 4.9 million barrels of oil to spill into the Gulf of Mexico.
Revoking Water Safety Regulations
In 2017, Trump issued an executive order narrowing the definition of which rivers and wetlands are considered ‘federally protected.’ The move marked a major rollback of the Obama-era interpretations of the Clean Water Act known as the “waters of the United States” rule, and may lead to increases in water pollution in rivers, lakes, and other aquatic environments. The rules are currently being battled in the courts, where their future is uncertain.
Opening Streams to Mining Waste
In 2017 the Trump administration, with the backing of Congress, revoked the Interior Department’s “Stream Protection Rule”, which was meant to prevent coal waste from getting dumped into the nation’s bodies of water.
Removing Wildlife Protections
Seeking Major Changes to Endangered Species Act
In Summer 2018, the administration announced plans to change how the federal government implements the Endangered Species Act. The change would modify implementation of the law to place more weight on economic impacts of protecting species, and reduce the relative importance of protecting species habitats. The landmark 1973 law is credited with preventing the extinction of the bald eagle, along with thousands of other US species.
Allowing Sage Grouse Habit Elimination
Led by the Interior Department, the administration is moving forward with plans to open up Sage Grouse habitat to fossil fuel extraction. The unique-looking bird has been at the center of multiple showdowns between environmentalists and the fossil fuel industry over the past few decades.
Reinterpreting the Treaty for Migrating Birds
The administration is reinterpreting key provisions of Migratory Bird Treaty Act to free companies of liability in the death of migrating bird species. The reinterpretation also prevents the federal government from penalizing companies responsible for oil spills, which typically impact thousands of birds.
Rolling back of Marine Wildlife Protections
The administration is also rolling back rules that seek to limit animal deaths caused by fishing nets. The 2015 regulation primarily protected whales, turtles, and dolphins from fishing nets on the West coast. The Trump administration has also greenlighted the use of seismic surveys in offshore oil exploration, despite risks to local wildlife.
Exceptions to the Norm
Enthusiasm for Offshore Wind
Parts of the administration have enthusiastically supported sales of leases intended to be used for offshore wind farms in federal waters. This is helping to move forward the burgeoning offshore wind industry in multiple Eastern states, including Massachusetts, and has the potential to help support the tens of thousands of jobs the industry is expected to create.
Yet this enthusiasm hasn’t translated into renewed federal incentives for offshore wind, which sunsetted during the current administration and threatens to drive up wind costs. Administrative support for offshore wind has also been weakened by false claims from President Trump himself that wind turbines “cause cancer,” and other false statements by the administration.
Signing Bipartisan Bill Protecting Some Public Lands
In March 2019 the administration signed a bill that collectively designated about 700,000 acres of new land as recreation or conservation areas. Included in this is 370,000 acres of land that for the first time will be protected from mining and fossil fuel extraction. Although the bill does do things like protect lands near Yellowstone national park from mining, it appears Trump is moving forward with plans to support resource extraction near other national parks. A notable example is the plan to allow mining of Uranium near the Grand Canyon.
Reauthorizing Funding to Remove Ocean Plastics
The administration signed a bill delivered by congress that continues funding for an existing program that helps remove some oceanic plastics. But it’s important to note that, despite the President’s claims to the contrary, the bill is not expected to remove “millions of tons” of plastic from the oceans annually.