100 days of climate
Trump Administration climate policy analysis — the first 100 days, and beyond.
The existential crisis that has become global climate change has impacted nearly every facet of modern human civilization — or soon will. From energy consumption, to air quality, freshwater resources and coastal community development, climate change threatens the relative stability of the Holocene era into this new and unprecedented ‘Anthropocene’ epoch. At the same time, American leadership on global climate change initiatives is more important now than ever before. The United States is a top emitter of global greenhouse gas emissions, second only to China; and yet, arguably, no other fully industrialized country has the infrastructure, the resources, and the technology at its disposal to create as much ‘change’ in the climate change conversation as the United States. American leadership — and, quite frankly, its participation — on a national and international policy level is paramount to alleviating the worst possible scenarios (i.e. 6 feet of sea level rise, heightened mass extinction, etc.) of climate change projected by the turn of the next century.
America’s current President Donald J. Trump enters the political playing field at a crucial time in American climate politics — a time when climate change threatens to destabilize ‘business as usual’ trends around the world and climate leaders are demanding increased action from the American government and its people.
Unprecedented President: The Trump Administration on Climate Change
In the 2016 presidential election, the United States of America’s electoral college system elected Mr. Donald J. Trump, a billionaire real estate tycoon famously known for his reality television show and infamous for his incendiary comments on a wide array of public policy issues said amid the campaign. During the lead-up to his election victory in November 2016, Donald Trump ran on ‘King Coal’ and company, instead of pledging to invest in cleaner, more carbon-neutral energy technologies, and as to align with his mostly conservative-Republican polling base. The extent to Trump’s nuanced views on climate change as an important public policy issue remained, prior to his inauguration, incomplete at best; Trump prophesized in a widely cited 2012 tweet that global warming is merely a “concept … created by and for the Chinese government” and campaigned on “canceling” the Paris Climate Agreement within his first 100 days in office. But Trump promised to keep an “open mind” on the celebrated Paris climate deal in November 2016, shortly after his election win, which left environmentalists around the world slightly more relieved for the future direction of climate policy under Trump.
Immediately following President Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, the Trump Administration deleted the words ‘climate change’ from all its White House webpages, deflating any lingering commentary about Trump’s potential for progressive climate policy. In lieu of touting renewable energy technologies, or mentioning global warming/climate change at all, the White House webpages instead chose to highlight the $50 trillion in “untapped shale, oil and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands” whose revenues would be used to rebuild roads, schools, and bridges. Within the first week of holding office, the Trump Administration allegedly instructed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to delete all its climate-related webpages — a step above merely deleting the words ‘climate change’ from all federal sites — before an incensed American public demanded such a scrub be stopped. Media gag orders on both the EPA and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a temporary freeze on all EPA grants and contracts, along with a federal hiring freeze caused another flurry of climate-concerned backlash, all within the first seven days of Trump’s presidency. It seemed clear that mitigating climate change would not become a major cornerstone of Trump’s legacy, by the looks of his first two weeks as President of the United States.
While health care reform and immigration travel ban(s) occupied the Trump Administration during the months of February and March 2017, climate change remained an issue on the proverbial chopping block. Alongside the aid of a U.S. Congress invigorated to push through major legislation arguably for the first time in two years, Trump’s use of executive orders and budget cuts to curb regulatory climate policy (mostly forged under President Obama) multiplied. For starters, Trump introduced a ‘two-for-every-one’ regulation rule in late January that requires an agency to “scrap” two rules for every new rule that it publishes.
This executive order may have outstanding public health consequences to all federal agencies, including the EPA in its attempt to regulate greenhouse gas emissions for mitigating future climate change. In his budget proposal published in March, Trump called for a one-fifth staff cut (3,200 positions) and a yearly budget allowance of $5.7 billion (down from $8.3 billion in fiscal year 2017) for the EPA. Programs that directly affect climate science and climate policy that are slated to be cut include: the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy [$382 million] and the Global Climate Change Initiative [$1.3 billion]. What’s more, a total of about “$100 million would be saved by discontinuing funding for the Clean Power Plan and any international climate change, climate change research and partnership programs.” Energy ($1.7 billion) and Interior ($1.5 billion) department cuts to energy development infrastructure has both offshore and on federal land impacts for increasing greenhouse gas emissions. As if the budget cuts didn’t cement Trump’s early policy position on climate change, the White House budget director deemed climate change “a waste of your money.”
Meanwhile, President Trump appointed agency-heads long contested in the modern environmental movement to oversee key federal positions that will have a direct impact on the climate policy legacy of America over the next four years. Scott Pruitt, former Oklahoma Attorney General and repeated adversary of the EPA in court, will now run the very agency he sought to undermine — and the agency in charge of regulating greenhouse gases, air pollutants, and climate regulatory statues set in place by law. Rick Perry, former Republican presidential candidate and Texas native and governor for 15 years, will now oversee the Department of Energy, the agency that directs renewable energy investments and pursues energy efficiency standards — another key component for achieving global climate policy negotiations, like the Paris Agreement forged in December 2015.
Although not a direct climate-science position, the State Department under Trump will be headed by the former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson. The oil-and-gas company ExxonMobil has repeatedly denied the existence of global warming, funded climate-denying scientists, and insisted climate change was still up for debate; the State Department is the agency responsible for forging international diplomacy accords, like the Paris Agreement, and represents the U.S. in international climate discussions (i.e. Conference of Parties, UNFCCC).
Already, EPA Chief Pruitt has questioned his agency’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide — the most ubiquitous and quickly proliferating greenhouse gas across the world — has denied that carbon dioxide even causes global warming, and believes the United States should drop out of the Paris climate deal. Tillerson, on the other hand, has advocated for the U.S. to remain in the Paris Agreement officially but perhaps stall its previously forged promises. The Trump Administration will announce a formal decision on its Paris Agreement intentions at the end of May 2017. In addition to the internal Trump Administration Paris Agreement debate, the EPA has withdrawn an Obama-era request for updated data on oil and natural gas emissions, and the Interior Department has withdrawn an Obama-era fracking rule that will certainly impact America’s reliance on nonrenewable ‘bridge fuels’ instead of moving towards more carbon-neutral, renewable energy technologies. An ozone-smog ruling has been delayed in the D.C. Circuit Court — a delay sought on behalf of the EPA — while the Energy Department climate office has apparently banned the use of the phrase ‘climate change.’ All of these changes, delays, and pronouncements concerning climate change policy have occurred in the first 13 weeks of Trump’s presidency.
The Green Drift? Contested Environmental Politics & Optimism Forged Under Obama
While policies concerning global climate change were first introduced on the global stage at the end of the 20th century, the fervor (and heated controversy) surrounding American climate policy has really only emerged in the last few years. Much of the early climate change policy spurred collective, global-reaching action at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, circa June 1992. The Rio Summit set the framework for creating the UN Climate Change Convention, which ultimately led to the successful adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement in December 2015. The most recent Obama Administration cemented its ‘climate legacy’ by signing on as a climate change leader with the Paris protocol, in addition to protecting hundreds of thousands of square miles in land and ocean for the sake of species protection, ecosystem biodiversity, and public lands enjoyment as national monuments.
With these more recent trends in America’s adoption and acceptance of progressive climate policies, some scholars have argued that the United States has experienced a “green drift” of sorts, in terms of its climate-environmental policy history. Although the Kyoto Protocol, an earlier attempt at global climate change consensus like the Paris Agreement, was ultimately rejected by then President George W. Bush in 2001, President Obama — in largely his second term — embraced climate action and signaled with much of his ‘leaving legacy’ his commitment to protect future generations from the impending, negative consequences of climate change. Even before the adoption of the Paris deal, the United States had managed to maintain its (albeit few) major climate laws, namely the Clean Air Act, from increased partisan polarization on the subject of global warming and climate change. Although the pace of climate policy had not matched the pace of scientific discoveries surrounding global climate change in the early 2000s, the foundational ‘green state’ from America’s Golden Era of environmental policy had buffeted even “the most anti-environmental [House of Representatives, year 2011] in our nation’s history” as determined by the League of Conservation Voters.
But Klyza and Sousa (2013) were right to warn of the notable instability of environmental policy, including climate policy, “despite the stability of the basic statutory frameworks governing pollution, conservation, and natural resources.” Similar to one of Trump’s first executive moves, President Bush’s “first rulemaking action was to put a 60-day hold on all Clinton rules, such as the roadless rule [a famously controversial forest-logging rule, discussed at length in Klyza & Sousa (2013)], that had not yet gone into effect.” While the roadless rule continued to be contested in court long after the 2001–2002 Bush Administration delays, “[t]hese actions demonstrated just how tenuous it could be to make policy through rulemaking; a change in party control of the White House could unravel much of the policy work done through rulemaking, an unraveling that would be less likely if Congress had enacted the policies through the legislative process.” Because President Obama circumvented Congress in enacting many of his ‘midnight’ climate policy namesakes, such as the fracking-waste Interior rule, by executive authority alone, these rulings were always going to be tenuously embraced by the next administration.
President Trump’s priority to push an “America Frist” energy policy, and his embrace of the executive order to delay or even reject Obama-era climate-related rulings is nearly unprecedented. “Typically … executive orders have not been used to mark out specific new directions for environmental policy.” Although Joe Lockart, President Bill Clinton’s Press Secretary, believed that opening up public lands for “big companies” would be “almost impossible politically” (“It’s never been done.”), Trump’s early interest in increased oil and gas drilling in America’s National Parks seems counter to these taken-for-granted political norms. And while this isn’t the first federal bureaucracy that has threatened to abolish the EPA in recent decades — Newt Gingrich endorsed abolishing the EPA during his bid for Republican presidential candidate in 2012; Herman Cain called the EPA “out of control. The EPA has gone wild.” – nor is Trump the first Republican-backed president to select anti-environmentalism agency heads, the Trump Administration has been especially clear of its anti-climate action agenda in its first 100 days.
Possible Climate Policy Directions Under Trump (& Other Concluding Thoughts)
In early April 2017, President Trump declared an end to the ‘war on coal’ — but the economic, public health, and climate-progressive realities of renewable energies may trump Trump, in the long run. Already, many of the nation’s fossil fuel utilities have invested in less-polluting technologies and infrastructure to safeguard operations, in the event of a Clean Power Plan or other Obama-like instituted rules regarding power plant regulations coming into effect. While the U.S. Commander in Chief has promised to wage this public policy war on behalf of the coal industry — an industry that now only employs less than 75,000 people — developed and developing countries alike have implored the Trump Administration to honor its predecessor’s climate finance pledges, in the face of increasing climate change. The ‘regulatory assault’ over archaic coal technologies may be over in the mind’s eye of Trump and his energy-funded associates, but much of the renewable, grassroots resistance to fossil fuels continues to forge ahead, especially in state and local governments.
Strong state climate defenders, like California, Massachusetts, and New York, have rallied against regressive climate policies from Washington since the first climate change backlash emerged in late January. Renewable energy has been a primary avenue for growth and opportunity in these states intent on addressing climate change within their own jurisdictions. In February, Massachusetts introduced legislation that would require the state to get all its electricity from renewable sources by the year 2035, the same month California introduced a bill that would ensure 100 percent renewable energy electricity by the year 2045. Texas has also become an unlikely renewable-power advocate in recent months, a state that now offers competitive tax credits for wind production alongside its historically rich oil and gas markets.
Cities are demanding a voice in the climate change policy arena, as well, perhaps spurred by anti-climate legislation coming from the capital. Pueblo, Colorado, and Moab, Utah, became the 22nd and 23rd cities committed to achieving 100 percent renewable energy, by the years 2035 and 2032, respectively. This surge in state and local government response to climate action comes at a time when Trump’s budget proposal severely underfunds regional and state-based climate adaptation and mitigation projects, including the Great Lakes initiative, the San Francisco estuary initiative, and the Chesapeake Bay initiative. Local and regional voices in the global climate change conversation are crucial for achieving any American-based climate ‘progress’ in the next four years.
EPA’s Scott Pruitt, for all of his misleading (and, quite frankly, scientifically debunked) carbon-climate statements, so far seems resistant to grant the right-wing faction of Republicans one victory: to overthrow the endangerment finding. This “landmark agency determination” is the legal basis for which President Obama proposed the Clean Power Plan, and other progressive climate change policies, in the first place. With the 2009 endangerment finding, the EPA Administrator determined that, under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act, “carbon dioxide emissions endanger public health and welfare by warming the planet” — a statement supported by modern science. This finding then legally requires Pruitt “to put together a replacement regulation” for the Clean Power Plan (CPP), should he keep with Trump’s insistence to revoke it. Jeffrey Holmstead, a partner with the Bracewell law firm (and who also opposes the Obama-era CPP), has said that “even if he [Trump] would like to revoke the Clean Power Plan, he doesn’t have the legal authority to do that.”
For now, a total obliteration of the CPP, with no comparable replacement, looks like it wouldn’t hold up in the courts — one of the only ‘checks’ that has balanced Trump’s unwieldly executive orders and the extensive use of the Congressional Review Act by Congress in recent month. This legal blocking also appears to protect against the complete degeneration of climate policy under Trump, a sure test of the American diplomatic process of democracy.
The resistance to climate-denying rhetoric is growing — even among some of the most unlikely of parties. Some ‘rogue’ Republican factions, spearheaded by Alex Bozmoski and former Republican congressman Bob Inglis, among others, are splitting off from the climate denialists in their ranks and advocating for a free-market approach to combat the worst effects of climate change projected in the next century. By appealing to traditionally Republican-held values — economic growth, hunting wildlife, or national security, for instance — Bozmoski and Inglis’ republicEn group seeks to educate a new group of “conservative climate realists.” In a poll conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Communication published in 2016, the “percentage of conservative Republicans who believe in climate change has jumped 19 percentage points since 2014, more than any other group.”
Another study by Gallup, published in March 2017, found that record and increasing numbers of Americans across the political partisan divide believe in the reality of global warming and consider it a “serious threat.” With these polls and others, it is important for climate-action advocates to remember that “Republicans are not a monolithic block of global warming policy opponents. Rather, liberal/moderate Republicans are often part of the mainstream of public opinion on climate change, while conservative Republicans’ views are often distinctly different than the rest of the American public.”
Other climate-concerned Republicans aren’t waiting for Washington to act in places like Florida, a state that routinely experiences ‘nuisance flooding’ and houses roughly 13.5 million people in coastal counties today. The Sunshine State is starting to shore up on coastal development projects, leery of the unpredictable costs associated with future climate change and rising sea levels — a major economic roadblock for a state that estimates its coastal development value at $2 trillion. “It’s important that we take climate change very, very seriously because the threats that are posed by that are very serious,” said Florida Republican Rep. Brian Mast in mid-March 2017, after signing a resolution that urged the rest of the House of Representatives “to address the causes and effects” of climate change.
The Climate Solutions Caucus, another U.S. House of Representative climate-action initiative, claims half of its membership as Republican party members, including Rep. Mast. Faith-based and big-business groups alike are starting to talk about climate solutions, instead of denouncing the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is happening and is primarily caused by human activities. “The vast majority of Republicans in private buy the science,” said Danny Richter, legislative director of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. “They are done with the denial. That should really shift something fundamental in American politics.”
The future of the U.S. involvement in the Paris Agreement may be decided within the next four weeks, although the exact timing of such an announcement may change as the decision deadline looms closer. Maintaining a viable agenda for climate policy under Trump’s Administration fundamentally requires participation in Paris. But Trump’s proposed budget cuts to global climate change initiatives, like ensuring payments to the Green Climate Fund, directly counteract the Administration’s possible position to stay within the Paris Agreement.
To what extent climate policy will remain on Trump’s “America First” platform remains unseen (and woefully underfunded, if current budget cuts are approved) in the days, months, and years beyond the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency. The warming world will be watching, as America’s outsider president tinkers with U.S. diplomatic missions and reroutes government spending to focus more on military defense than mitigating global impacts of climate change. The future of climate policy under Trump seems as unpredictable as climate change itself — a legitimate public health concern that is fueling greater grassroots resistance and uniting Americans against a science-denying federal government, like no other time in American climate politics before.
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 Brad Plumer, “The 6 Most Important Parts of Donald Trump’s Energy Policy,” Vox (May 26, 2016).
 Donald J. Trump, Twitter (November 6, 2012).
 Valerie Volcovici and Timothy Gardner, “Trump Seeks Input From U.S. Energy Companies on Paris Climate Pact,” Reuters (March 15, 2017).
 Roberta Rampton, “Trump Keeping ‘Open Mind’ On Pulling Out of Climate Accord,” Reuters (November 23, 2016).
 Jason Koebler, “All References To Climate Change Have Been Deleted From The White House Website,” Motherboard (January 20, 2017).
 Brad Plumer, “Trump Has Replaced The White House Climate Change Page With … A Pledge to Drill Lots of Oil,” Vox (January 20, 2017).
 Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin, “Trump Administration Backs Off Plan To Scrub Climate Pages From EPA Website,” The Washington Post (January 25, 2017).
 Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin, “Trump Administration Tells EPA To Freeze All Grants, Contracts,” The Washington Post (January 24, 2017).
 Steven Mufson, “Trump Wants To Scrap Two Regulations For Each New One Adopted,” The Washington Post (January 30, 2017).
 Jessica Taylor, Danielle Kurtzleben, and Scott Horsley, “Trump Unveils ‘Hard Power’ Budget That Boosts Military Spending,” NPR (March 16, 2017). To put this number in perspective: Trump has proposed an increase of $54 billion to the Defense Department.
 Gregory Korte, “The 62 Agencies and Programs Trump Wants to Eliminate,” USA Today (March 17, 2017).
 Marianne Lavelle, Zahra Hirji, Sabrina Shankman, Nicholas Kusnetz, “These Climate Programs Would Be Axed Under Trump’s Budget,” InsideClimate News (March 16, 2017).
 Bobby Magill, “Trump Budget Blueprint Eviscerates Energy Programs,” Climate Central (March 16, 2017).
 “White House Calls Climate Change Funding ‘A Waste of Your Money’ — Video,” The Guardian (March 16, 2017).
 Brady Dennis, “Scott Pruitt, Longtime Adversary of EPA, Confirmed To Lead The Agency,” The Washington Post (February 17, 2017). It was later uncovered, after Pruitt’s confirmation hearing and appointment, that Pruitt did not disclose thousands of emails linking his close ties to the fossil fuel industry from his former AG position in OK. Fossil fuel companies have long doubted the scientific consensus surrounding climate change and have repeatedly sought to delay climate action in the United States.
 Coral Davenport, “E.P.A. Head Stacks Agency With Climate Change Skeptics,” The New York Times (March 7, 2017).
 Steven Mufson, “Senate Votes to Confirm Former Texas Governor Rick Perry As Energy Secretary,” The Washington Post (March 2, 2017).
 Andrew Freedman, “In A Dark Climate Comedy, Exxon’s Former CEO Is Now Secretary of State,” Mashable (February 1, 2017).
 Neela Banerjee, Lisa Song, and David Hasemyer, “Exxon’s Own Research Confirmed Fossil Fuels’ Role in Global Warming Decades Ago,” InsideClimate News (September 16, 2015).
 Kevin Bogardus, “Pruitt Questions Agency’s Authority to Regulate Carbon,” E&E News (February 20, 2017).
 Oliver Milman, “EPA Head Scott Pruitt Denies That Carbon Dioxide Causes Global Warming,” The Guardian (March 9, 2017).
 Marianne Lavelle, “EPA Chief Pruitt: U.S. Should ‘Exit’ Paris Climate Agreement,” InsideClimate News (April 13, 2017).
 Coral Davenport, “Top Trump Advisers Are Split On Paris Agreement on Climate Change,” The New York Times (March 2, 2017).
 Bobby Magill, “EPA Withdraws Request for Methane Data,” Climate Central (March 3, 2017).
 Juliet Eilperin, “Interior Department to With Obama-Era Fracking Rule, Filings Reveal,” The Washington Post (March 15, 2017). This rule would enforce stricter design standards for wells and holding tanks (liquid waste storage) for companies that conduct fracking operations on federal and tribal lands.
 Juliet Eilperin, “D.C. Circuit Grants EPA’s Request to Delay Smog Rule Case,” The Washington Post (April 11, 2017).
 Eric Wolff, “Energy Department Climate Office Bans Use of Phrase ‘Climate Change,’” Politico (March 29, 2017).
 Ed Yong, “Obama: The Ocean President,” The Atlantic (January 4, 2017).
 Christopher McGrory Klyza and David J. Sousa, American Environmental Policy: Beyond Gridlock (MIT Press, 2013).
 Charli Coon, “Why President Bush Is Right To Abandon The Kyoto Protocol,” The Heritage Foundation (May 11, 2011).
 Craig Welch, “Exclusive: Obama Says Hawaii — and Mom — Shaped Love of Nature,” National Geographic News (September 2, 2016).
 Klyza and Sousa, American Environmental Policy, 294.
 Ibid., 281.
 Kylza and Sousa, American Environmental Policy, 98.
 Ibid., 93.
 Ibid., 111.
 Sarah Frostenson, “Trump Wants To Make It Easier To Drill In National Parks. We Mapped The 42 Parks At Risk,” Vox (April 20, 2017).
 Kylza and Sousa, American Environmental Policy, 288.
 Kylza and Sousa, American Environmental Policy, 268. President Bush put a few controversial picks in open natural resources slots, namely Mark Rey, “once a leading lobbyist for the timber industry, in charge of forest policy at the Agriculture Department, and Steven Griles, a lobbyist for coal and oil interests, in charge of BLM [Bureau of Land Management] lands, wildlife refuges, national monuments, and national parks at the Department of the Interior”
 Valerie Volcovici, Nichola Groom, and Scott DiSavino, “Trump Declares End To ‘War On Coal,’ But Utilities Aren’t Listening,” Reuters (April 5, 2017).
 Joe Mandak, “EPA Head Tells Coal Miners ‘Regulatory Assault Is Over,’” The Sentinel (April 13, 2017).
 Shira Schoenberg, “Environmentalists Push For 100% Renewable Energy Use in Massachusetts,” MassLive (February 13, 2017).
 Nicholas Kusnetz, “California Bill Aims For 100 Percent Renewable Energy By 2045,” InsideClimate News (February 22, 2017).
 Tom Dart and Oliver Milman, “‘The Wild West of Wind’: Republicans Push Texas As Unlikely Green Energy Leader,” The Guardian (February 20, 2017).
 Shane Levy and Brian Willis, “Pueblo, Colorado and Moab, Utah Commit To 100% Renewable Energy,” The Sierra Club (February 14, 2017).
 Coral Davenport, “Scott Pruitt Faces Anger From Right Over E.P.A. Finding He Won’t Fight,” New York Times (April 12, 2017).
 EPA, “Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases under the Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act,” (January 19, 2017).
 Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, “Trump Moves Decisively To Wipe Out Obama’s Climate-Change Record,” The Washington Post (March 28, 2017).
 Alessandra Potenza, “Inside the Renegade Republican Movement for Tackling Climate Change,” The Verge (April 7, 2017).
 Potenza, “Inside the Renegade.”
 Lydia Saad, “Global Warming Concern at Three-Decade High In US,” Gallup (March 14, 2017).
 Anthony Leiserowitz, Edward Maibach, Connie Roser-Renouf, Geoff Feinberg and Seth Rosenthal, “Politics and Global Warming, Spring 2016,” Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (April 25, 2016).
 Laura Parker, “Treading Water,” National Geographic Magazine (February 2015).
 Clare Foran, “The House Republicans Calling For Climate Action in the Trump Era,” The Atlantic (March 15, 2017).
 Citizens’ Climate Lobby, “Climate Solutions Caucus,” (2017).
 Oliver Milman, “The Republicans Who Care About Climate Change: ‘They Are Done With The Denial,” The Guardian (April 27, 2017).