Four major environmental debates of 2017

Four major environmental debates of 2017
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Buttigieg on Trump tweets: 'I don't care' MORE made profound changes to U.S. environmental policy this year while reversing Obama-era mandates. The Trump administration’s major policy shifts including withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, shifting fossil fuel policy, refocusing the EPA and scaling back public lands.

These actions were coupled with historic weather events. Hurricanes and wildfires crippled parts of the country, shedding light on emergency services, disaster preparedness and energy resilience.

Here’s a look at analysis and opinions on some of the year’s biggest environmental issues.

  1. Leaving Paris climate agreement

Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement aimed at curbing global greenhouse gas emissions. While the U.S. remains locked into the deal until 2020, the move sent a message about the president’s “America first” environmental priorities.


Trump’s former campaign manager Corey LewandowskiCorey R. LewandowskiClinton lawyer: Mueller's failure to draw conclusion on obstruction a 'massive dereliction' of duty Mueller's facts vs Trump's spin The time has come for the Democrats to act, finally MORE praised the move, noting “This agreement was a scam that ultimately hurt U.S. economy and worker productivity.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeDems probe DOJ's handling of civil rights violations by law enforcement Reparations: The 'lost cause' of black politics? Dem lawmaker says Trump 'has in many respects become a dictator' MORE (D-Texas) had a different take, calling the withdrawal shortsighted.

“Trump has often questioned the need for such an agreement, and yet he has no scientific basis to pull away from the consensus of thought of most Americans,” she wrote.

Others argued the U.S. could make good on its part of the deal with or without Trump.

Ultimately, the White House move to leave the pact reignited a larger debate about climate science, the impact of humans on the environment and U.S. policy toward greenhouse gases.

  1. An evolving EPA

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOn The Money: New financial disclosures provide glimpse of Trump's wealth | Walmart, Macy's say tariffs will mean price hikes | Consumer agency says Education Department blocking student loan oversight Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog finds Pruitt spent 4K on 'excessive' travel | Agency defends Pruitt expenses | Lawmakers push EPA to recover money | Inslee proposes spending T for green jobs Lawmakers take EPA head to task for refusing to demand Pruitt repay travel expenses MORE reshaped the agency, scaling back regulatory oversight, repealing the Obama-era Clean Power Plan and instituting a “back-to-basics” agenda.

Emmett McGroarty and Erin Tuttle at American Principles Project praise Pruitt, noting he “drains the swamp like no one else in Washington.” Former EPA Assistant Administrator Win Porter argues Pruitt is “returning Reagan-era principles” to the agency.

John O’Grady, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, says it's more like sabotaging the EPA, arguing “Pruitt has muzzled science and his dissenters” at the agency.

  1. Natural disasters

A series of natural disasters hit the U.S. this year, including Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. These storms ravaged and flooded Texas, Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands, while also leaving areas of Puerto Rico without power for months.

Ahead of the storm, former FEMA director Michael Brown cautioned a powerful storm during an August recess could be a recipe for disaster. Brown advised Trump, “don’t let Hurricane Harvey be your Katrina.”

Shaye Wolf, Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute climate science director, criticized the Trump administration for rolling back coastal flood protections just before Harvey hit.

“With hurricane season looming, Trump rescinded a life-saving Obama-era rule that required federally funded infrastructure like schools, housing, and highways to be better able to withstand flood damage,” Wolf wrote.

Two months after Maria hit Puerto Rico, Inter American University of Puerto Rico law professor Andrés L. Córdova reminded those on the mainland much of the island was still without power. Tom Sanzillo, director of finance at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, laid much of the blame at the governor’s feet, arguing Gov. Ricardo Rossello “betrayed Puerto Ricans, clenching to power over broken energy grid.”

  1. Public lands

The Trump administration has also reevaluated public lands by scaling back national monuments.

Environmental groups feared iconic American landscapes would lose federal protection. Lena Moffitt, senior director of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign, argued “nobody looks back with regret on the decision to protect the Grand Canyon or to save the Giant Sequoias.

Ultimate, only two monuments were singled out. The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument will be reduced by about half and Bears Ears National Monument by about 85 percent.

The review overshadowed a proposed fee hike for some of the most popular national parks.

Audrey Peterman, a member of the Next 100 Coalition, argued the increase would create a “class system” among park goers. Others noted, “we’re not paying our fair share” to fund national parks.

“If our parks, forests, and wilderness areas are truly national treasures, then outdoor recreationists should have no qualms paying to enjoy — and support — them,” wrote Tate Watkins, a research fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center.

Congress also opened public lands in Alaska to oil drilling. Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources Andy Mack notes Arctic drilling can be safe, based on previous successful drilling in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay. Former Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) warns it could cause the destruction of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

This is too important a national decision to make without offering an opportunity for a full examination of the consequences,” Lieberman wrote.