2019 may have been a good year for some reasons in the U.S., but forward-thinking environmental policy wasn’t one of them. Instead, it marked a year of environmental apathy, or even malice, from President Trump. So, with the holiday season bringing this decade to an end, we’re looking back at eight (of many more) environmental cutbacks made under the Trump administration so far.
1. Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement
Let’s start with the obvious. Since making his intentions known in 2017, President Trump has finalized his plans to withdraw from the international Paris Agreement.
This makes the U.S. the first country to do so. And although the Paris Agreement offers no binding measures to restrict carbon emissions, this withdrawal still creates a large obstacle on the road to global climate control.
That’s because Trump sent the message that the U.S. won’t make sacrifices for the sake of the climate. And this means that other world powers could feel less obligated to fulfill their parts. Because of Trump, the big question for other Paris Agreement contributors has become this: since the U.S. won’t bother, why should we?
2. Weakening the Endangered Species Act
Ever since its start in 1973, the Endangered Species Act has protected endangered species from economic and environmental threats. Unsurprisingly, that has changed under Trump’s presidency.
In particular, Trump has changed the act to allow officials to dismiss species as ‘threatened,’ rather than ‘endangered.’ Doing so would revoke species’ ESA protections. And the cutbacks could allow officials to remove species from the ‘endangered’ list without considering the threats of climate change.
While species already on the ‘endangered’ list probably won’t lose their protections, newly threatened species will be examined on a case-by-case basis. This means at-risk species could easily get overlooked by less-than-generous government officials.
“The point of the act is to prevent extinction, this is going to do the opposite. It’s going to undermine efforts to recover species,” said conservation scientist Leah Gerber.
3. Dismantling Obama-era Environmental Policy That Restricted Coal Plants
In June, Trump’s administration rolled back on the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. This rule enforced strict limits on carbon emissions from the non-renewable energy industries. The plan aimed to cut emissions by one-third of the 2005 levels before 2030. To do so, utilities were encouraged to switch from supporting the emission-heavy coal industry to renewable energy sources.
But Trump dismantled these restrictions, allowing coal plants the economic opportunity to stick around for much longer. With his “Affordable Clean Energy” rule, Trump has given states three years to create their own plans to cut emissions. These plans, of course, wouldn’t jeopardize coal plants at all. They’d instead encourage plants to improve their own efficiency, according to the EPA.
Yet despite the name, this rule is far too weak to enforce emission cuts. Moreover, by allowing the coal industry to continue at full speed, ACE poses a serious threat to public health.
4. Loosening Regulations on Methane Emissions
Trump has also enacted cutbacks on methane emissions. In August, the EPA announced its plan to retract former President Obama’s requirements for oil and gas companies to limit their methane emissions. The standards required these companies to control methane leaks from oil and gas sites, pipelines, and storage facilities.
Yet Trump’s EPA revoked these standards, despite the oil and gas industries holding the most responsibility for all methane emissions in the U.S. The new standards may also allow officials to reconsider whether methane is even a pollutant (it is). And as methane can trap 80 times as much heat as carbon dioxide, this rule will severely expedite global warming.
5. Dropping Protections for Drinking Water
This decade has brought greater concerns over water scarcity and clean drinking water than ever before. These concerns haven’t phased Trump, though. Despite them, he’s retracted protections for drinking water (and done nothing to solve the lead-in-water crises).
Notably, Trump has limited the power of the Clean Water Act to protect drinking water and wetlands. To do so, he signed an executive order in 2017 which asked federal agencies to change the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule expanded by President Obama, which had given smaller waterways the same protections as larger ones.
These protections kept pollutants out of surface-level waters, ensuring cleaner drinking water. But Trump’s EPA redefined the WOTUS rule, again weakening the Clean Water Act.
This year, the Trump administration went a step further and repealed the rule altogether. This will without a doubt further contaminate America’s drinking water and endanger its water sources.
Other cutbacks on clean water include Trump’s revival of the Keystone XL and North Dakota Access Pipelines, which in addition to targeting indigenous communities, has tampered with water safety in both Canada and the U.S. But at least the oil barons got a good deal out if it all.
6. Undoing California’s Restrictions on Auto Pollution
In response the California setting its own stricter auto standards in order to curb carbon emissions, Trump revoked the state’s ability to do just that. Claiming that it would provide consumers access to safer and cheaper cars, the White House lifted these restrictions.
Trump has also loosened nation-wide auto standards. The Obama-era tailpipe pollution regulations had required auto companies to manufacture vehicles with an average fuel economy of fuel 54.5 miles per gallon before 2025.
Trump’s new rule would lower the number to 37 mpg, a threshold which would overlook the vast majority of auto pollution. But since California responded to this by enforcing stricter standards within the state, Trump decided to retaliate.
Luckily, some automakers disregarded Trump’s cutbacks against California, making deals with California to reduce emissions anyway. That’s because without action, this battle over auto standards could split the auto industry in two. And California has sued the administration over this decision alongside 22 other states.
7. Opening Up Wildlife Refuges for Energy Drilling
If you like caribou, geese, and polar bears, you probably don’t want oil and gas companies drilling in their backyards. Unfortunately, President Trump has decided to lease out Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) — almost 1.6 million acres of previously protected land — to fossil fuel companies.
Not only does this move severely wildlife and plant life, but it will also displace indigenous populations, including the Gwich’in people, who rely on wildlife for their food source.
The Bureau of Land Management estimated that this decision would emit as much greenhouse gasses as one million new cars on the road would. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service disagrees, fearful that the actual carbon footprint of this decision would be far greater.
8: Blocking wildlife and immigrants with his proposed wall
Despite the even longer complete list of Trump’s environmental policy rollbacks, let’s not forget his esteemed wall. Even when disregarding the blatant racism and economic consequences of the President’s proposed US-Mexico border wall, it would still cause problems — for the environment.
Of key concern, the proposed concrete wall would increase emissions, cut off water flows, and block animal migration.
There’s no doubt that a 30-foot-tall wall from the Pacific to the Atlantic would harm both flora and fauna. “We’re already seeing wildlife migrations blocked with the current walls and fences that have already been built,” said Sierra Club’s Borderlands coordinator, Dan Millis.
And it’s also worth mentioning that transporting and producing materials will make the carbon emissions toll for Trump’s wall almost as high as the price tag itself.
More Arguable Environmental Policy to Come
This list may seem daunting, but that’s not all, folks. From allowing mining companies to write their own environmental reports to disparaging wind energy to banning energy-efficient light bulbs because they make him look orange, Trump has taken many more steps in the wrong direction.
With 2020 upon us, it’s time to take a more critical look at the President’s environmental policy. If we don’t, who knows what else Trump will show us from up his sleeve.