Elections Shake Up Climate Policy Picture
Guest essay by H. Sterling Burnett
The election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States has left reeling the environmental lobbyists and activists and international leaders committed to reducing fossil fuel use to meet the Paris climate agreement. As the Washington Post noted, “Trump comes into office with a plan to toss out most of what President Obama achieved on energy and the environment.”
Trump, who has called the alleged human-caused climate change catastrophe a “hoax,” vowed to “cancel” the United States’ participation in the Paris climate accord. Trump also has committed to scrapping the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s signature effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Trump has said he will review and possibly reverse the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) determination carbon dioxide is a pollutant endangering public and environmental health (the “endangerment finding”). Trump can’t undo the endangerment finding with the stroke of a pen, but he is in a position to get that done over time. Reversing the endangerment finding would end the legal justification for a range of climate regulations. In the process, it also would end radical environmental activists’ ability to use the courts to impose climate policies on an unwilling public whose elected representatives have repeatedly rejected climate policies.
Before the election, Trump said he would reverse Obama administration rules imposing undue burdens on businesses. In particular, Trump said he would cut EPA’s budget dramatically, virtually reducing it to an advisory agency, and review all EPA regulations, eliminating many of them because, “Over-regulation presents one of the greatest barriers to entry into markets and one of the greatest costs to businesses that are trying to stay competitive.”
Trump says he wants to open up more federal lands to oil and gas drilling and eliminate regulations that have contributed to the decline of the coal industry.
The Washington Post reported,
“Scott Segal, co-head of government relations at the legal and lobbying firm Bracewell, said in an email a Trump administration would be ‘clearly in favor of enhanced exploration and production of oil and gas as a tenet of energy, economic and national security policy.’”
Environmentalists and some foreign dignitaries fear what Trump’s election means for America’s climate commitments and environmental policies. “We’re feeling angry and sad and contemplative,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, told the Post.
Asked by the Post how “the environmental movement would deal with a President Trump, Bill McKibben, founder of the climate action group 350.org, said in an email
‘[I] don’t really know.’”
The Guardian reports international climate negotiators at the United Nations’ climate talks in Morocco say “it would be a catastrophe if Trump acted on his pledge to withdraw the US from the deal, which took 20 years to negotiate, and to open up public land for coal, oil and gas extraction.”
Speaking to reporters at the Morocco meeting, Ségolène Royale, the French environment minister who helped negotiate the Paris accord, said Trump could not easily withdraw the United States from the treaty.
“The Paris agreement prohibits any exit for a period of three years, plus a year-long notice period, so there will be four stable years.”
On this point Royale is whistling past a graveyard. Trump can end the United States’ participation in the Paris climate agreement either directly or indirectly. Directly, he can “unsign” the agreement. Regardless of the text of the agreement, because it has not been ratified by the U.S. Senate as required by the Constitution, it has no force of law in the United States. And because the treaty sets only voluntary goals with no legal enforcement mechanism, other countries have no legal way of enforcing the agreement’s terms on the United States.
Indirectly, Trump can scuttle the country’s participation by reversing Obama’s climate actions and not replacing them with alternative climate policies. If Trump does this, U.S. participation in the Paris climate agreement dies from neglect.