When the head of the EPA tweets “our air, water, and land is cleaner” during a presidency, the response is usually positive. Instead, the tweet was met with a lot of skepticism. How could it be that the EPA under President Trump, who rolled back so many environmental policies, made environmental progress?
As it turns out, with just a little bit of digging, it’s obvious that skepticism is warranted. Even a glance at the numbers show that the Trump administration’s de-prioritization of environmental issues have impacted air, land, and water. But not in a positive way.
Negative progress on air quality, rollbacks may lead to billions more tons of carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles
While air quality overall has improved in the recent decade, air quality has simply not improved since Trump’s presidency. Since Trump took office, there have been 15% more days with unhealthy air than the average of 2013-2016.
NBC found that it was actually Obama’s presidency that had the fewest number of days with polluted air. Despite this progress, the Trump administration repealed Obama’s fuel efficiency standards for automobiles.
Estimates show that this rollback will result in cars and trucks emitting “nearly 1 billion more tons of carbon dioxide over the lifetime of the vehicle fleet than under the standards put in place during the Obama administration,” the New York Times reports.
Scientists also suspect that Trump’s loosened regulation on the Clean Air Act, along with other air protection regulations, have caused the recent increase in air pollution (prior to Covid-19).
Specifically, economists Karen Clay and Nicholas Z. Muller at Carnegie Mellon University have recently found an increase in fine particulate pollution by 5.5 percent between 2016 and 2018 after it declined by 24 percent between 2009 and 2016.
EPA repealed land protection regulations to help oil and gas development under Trump
“Trump’s administration is responsible for the largest reduction of boundaries of protected land in US history,” according to a study in the Journal Science. The Staircase Escalante National Monument and Bears Ears shrank in protective land to enable mining, oil, and gas development.
The Trump administration has also repealed multiple land protection regulations: offshore drilling safety rules, Sage Grouse Conservation plans, Obama-era coal rules. While this was controversial among many environmental activists and conservation organizations, many oil and gas leaders welcomed Trump’s decision with open arms.
Trump EPA prioritizes farming businesses but it means reducing access to clean water
In October 2019, the Trump administration announced it would repeal Obama’s Clean Water Regulation, which made it illegal for companies to use certain polluting chemicals near lakes and other major bodies of water.
Trump’s rollback heavily focused on removing restrictions on fossil fuel pollution, including coal-fired power plants, automobile tailpipes, and methane emissions. Now, polluters do not need permits to dump and discharge various chemicals into bodies of water.
Trump, who has historically favored business and landowner rights, states that the Clean Water Regulation Act interferes with farmers’ rights to use their property as they choose to.
Many big farms supported this change. Zippy Duval, the President of American Farm Bureau, feels that “When you take private property rights from a man who’s worked all his life, that is very intrusive to him and it’s something he just can’t stand for,” he tells the New York Times in an interview.
Environmentalists see the situation differently, believing that this prioritization of business will only further worsen global access to clean water. Madeleine Foote, Deputy Legislative Director of the League of Conservation Voters explains in a press release: “The ‘dirty water rule’ will put clean drinking water for tens of millions of people at risk, especially the low-income communities and communities of color already disproportionately impacted by polluted water.”
Jalen Xing is a Writer at theRising and the co-founder of Students For Hospitals. You can pitch him stories at jalen.xing [at] gmail [dot] com.