Environmental groups are ready for a fight with President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMaxine Waters: ‘You can’t trust this president’ Obama shamefully lines pockets with 0K for Wall Street speech Dem senator fears Russian election interference could be ‘normalized’ MORE.
Trump’s victory in November’s presidential election was a shock to the green movement, which is now consolidating opposition to a GOP-controlled government bent on undoing President Obama’s environmental agenda.
If the initial reaction was depression and despair, environmental activists now sound energized to take on Trump.
“Our goal is to channel that sense of outrage into political pressure,” said Jamie Henn, the co-founder of climate group 350.org.
“We’re happy people are venting on Facebook, but we’d much rather they start marching in the streets.”
Henn’s group has gained 50,000 new members since the election, and a petition drop at Trump Tower this month — an event that might normally draw only several dozen people — attracted three times that amount, he said.
The green movement is laying the groundwork for a multi-faceted campaign to stymie Trump's energy agenda and defend Obama's environmental legacy.
Leaders say they will fight Trump on Capitol Hill, in the courts, and in the hearts and minds of voters around the country. That means kicking up rowdy confirmation fights over his Cabinet picks and holding the line against Trump attacks on Obama's work.
Trump’s choices of Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Rick Perry to head the Energy Department and Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be secretary of State built on his campaign promise to roll back environmental regulations as president.
Environmental groups have held rounds of meetings and conference calls since Election Day to plot a strategy against Trump, Henn said.
Their first order of business is tackling the Cabinet picks, especially Pruitt and Tillerson.
Environmentalists view Pruitt as an existential threat to the EPA. He, like Trump, has publicly doubted the science behind climate change and, in his position as attorney general of Oklahoma, is among the country’s most aggressive litigants against EPA rules.
Lobbying efforts against Pruitt will start as soon as Congress returns. Groups will zero in on Republican senators with moderate streaks on climate change, such as Susan CollinsSusan CollinsOvernight Energy: Lawmakers work toward deal on miners’ benefits Schumer: Senate Russia probe moving too slowly Collins: I'm not working with Freedom Caucus chairman on healthcare MORE (Maine), Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeTrudeau, Trump speak for second night about US-Canada trade Trump says he may break up 9th Circuit Court after rulings go against him Trump administration weighing order to withdraw from NAFTA MORE (Ariz.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamTop admiral: North Korea crisis is 'worst I've seen' Comey to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee Overnight Defense: US moving missile defense system to South Korea | Dems want justification for Syria strike | Army pick pushes back against critics of LGBT record MORE (S.C.). They hope to flip enough votes to block Pruitt on the Senate floor.
“We’re playing to win,” Melinda Pierce, the Sierra Club's legislative director, said.
“We want to defeat Pruitt’s nomination, and in order to do that we need 51 votes. … There is a focus, not only on making sure Democrats are fully aware of how extreme and what a threat [Pruitt] poses to the environment; there is also a focus of peeling off some Republicans from Trump.”
Outside groups are likely to act to support Democrats on the front lines on Capitol Hill. Incoming Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles SchumerCruz: 'Schumer and the Democrats want a shutdown' GOP fundraiser enters crowded primary for Pa. Senate seat Dems: Trump risks government shutdown over border wall MORE (D-N.Y.) this month tweeted that he will “oppose” Pruitt’s nomination, the first time he definitively ruled out voting for a Trump nominee and an indication that the party is gearing up to fight him next month.
Greens’ objections to Tillerson at State might be more self-evident: The deep ties between the longtime CEO of Exxon Mobil and Russian President Vladimir Putin are well documented. Activists hope to turn his confirmation hearings into a probe of Exxon’s history on climate science, and Henn said 350.org will storm Capitol Hill offices when his nomination begins moving.
The confirmation fights are only the first that environmentalists will wage. The movement is preparing for a wave of legislative and executive assaults on Obama rules, from executive actions signed by Trump to congressional resolutions undoing newly issued regulations.
Pierce predicted Republicans will begin moving Congressional Review Act (CRA) challenges to Obama's rules by mid-February. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellHundreds of former EPA employees blast Trump on climate change Democrats must have a better response on net neutrality than simply 'no' The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Ky.) has already promised a CRA resolution against a new coal-mining rule in 2017, a vote that is likely to test greens’ influence with Republicans in Congress.
They are also bracing for battles over GOP bills to curb federal rulemaking power. House Republicans have made a habit of passing these bills — such as the Regulations from Executives in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, legislation to give Congress a say over some rules — only to see them wither in the Senate or White House.
The GOP has a long list of environmental rules it hopes to undo, from the coal-mining rule, to limits on methane emissions at oil and gas drilling sites, to major regulations on power plant carbon emissions and federal jurisdiction over waterways, both of which have been frozen by federal courts.
Activists hope a confluence of factors — the legal framework that manages federal rulemaking procedures and the sheer volume of rules the GOP hopes to undo — will slow down Republican efforts to revert Obama’s climate legacy.
They say they’re preparing legal action to preserve rules that Trump looks to quash early.
“To undo something, you have to go through the same process it takes to write a rule — you don’t just get rid of them with the swipe of a pen,” said Marty Hayden, the vice president of policy and legislation at Earthjustice, an environmental law firm.
“If they don’t follow the law on that, then we’ll see them in court at the end of the day when they finalize something.”
Environmentalists have been through this before and are dusting off their playbook from the George W. Bush years, when the Republican looked to slow-play environmental regulation and undo the work of his Democratic predecessor.
After taking office, President Bush stopped a Clinton-era rule on arsenic in drinking water, though the standard was reinstated after a regulatory review. He also undid a rule on mining clean-up and tried to overturn Clinton standards on forest protection, an effort rejected by the courts.
“The wanting-to-unravel-things isn’t new,” Hayden said. But he predicted that Trump will learn “it’s harder to turn the ship than you think.”
“[The federal government] isn’t a little motor boat; this is like the Queen Mary,” he said.
Greens will be scouring the administration for signs of overreach that they can use against Trump in the court of public opinion.
Polls show the environment is usually a second-tier issue for voters. But activists say the GOP will hit a nerve if it moves too quickly or goes too far on environmental policy.
“Our job is to put this in the spotlight and keep it there so people say, ‘This may not be my top issue, but what Trump is doing is ridiculous,’ ” Henn said.
“It’s harder to say ‘be a little bit better’ with Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonDemocrats must have a better response on net neutrality than simply 'no' Obama shamefully lines pockets with 0K for Wall Street speech Dem senator fears Russian election interference could be ‘normalized’ MORE,” he said of efforts to push Clinton, who had a climate change plan, further left than she already was.
“With Trump it’s easy. We can paint in broad brushstrokes now in a way that will be be helpful.”