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Trump: Making America polluted again

Trump: Making America polluted again
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With America’s COVID-19 death toll closing in on 200,000, a recent Pew public opinion poll in major countries showing a sharp decline in respect for America, American travelers barred from most foreign destinations, the economy in a deep recession, and the largest U.S. trade deficit since the Bush administration, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida MORE does not seem to have made America “great again.” His persistence in rolling back environmental regulations and preventing action to address climate change, however, is making America polluted again — which is far from great.

In the 1960s, America faced a crisis of pollution. Major cities were choked with smog; acid rain was killing forests and polluting waterways; many rivers and lakes across the country were unfit for swimming, fishing or drinking and one — the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland — was so polluted it burst into flames. The pollution was not only bad for the environment, it was unhealthy for people.

Rising popular concern about pollution led Congress and the Nixon administration to establish the EPA in 1970. What followed was decades of effort from both Republican and Democratic administrations and bipartisan majorities in the Congress to pass laws and implement regulations to clean America’s air and water and generally protect the environment.

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Federal leadership, laws and regulations produced progress and benefits. Acid rain was curtailed. Concentrations in the air of harmful industrial and power generation by-products, such as sulfur dioxide and mercury, were reduced. Lead was removed from gasoline; automobile emissions were reduced — even as fuel efficiency was increased. Many polluted lakes and rivers were cleaned up, permitting recreational activities that strengthened local economies. Smog was reduced in all cities.

An OMB study in 2013 estimated that in the previous decade EPA regulations cost the economy $45 billion, but produced some $640 billion in benefits.

Despite this record of bipartisan environmental progress and strong public support for protecting the environment, Trump has had a singular focus in undoing environmental policies and regulations. His first EPA Administrator sought to reverse EPA’s long-standing positions in legal proceedings, as well as its regulations and policies addressing industrial emissions of toxic chemicals, green house gases and other substances that hurt the environment and human health, including new standards to protect children from lead in paint.

Trump’s second and current EPA Administrator, a former coal industry lobbyist, has reduced the role of science in EPA rule making, gutted EPA’s coal ash rule, proposed unsafe levels for a chemical water contaminant, rolled back protections for vulnerable wetlands, and weakened mercury emission standards. He also rolled back two major Obama-era environmental initiatives: an agreement with the auto industry to increase fuel efficiency by 2025 and the Clean Power Plan.

At a Sept. 8 rally in Florida, Trump claimed a positive environmental record as he reversed his 2018 Executive Order to expand offshore drilling along the Atlantic coast. In contrast to this self-promotion, the New York Times reports Trump’s administration is on track to reverse 100 environmental regulations covering air and water pollution, toxic substances and safety, extraction industries, and species protection, among others. In some cases, the industries involved, such as the auto industry on fuel standards, and electric utilities on mercury emission standards, opposed Trump’s proposals to weaken environmental regulation.

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Rolling back environmental regulations has consequences. For example, an Associated Press analysis of EPA data found a 15 percent increase in the number of high air pollution days in the first two years of Trump’s presidency as compared to the last four of Obama’s. An environmental group’s analysis found the Clean Power Plan repeal would boost sulfur dioxide emissions in 19 states, and EPA’s analysis predicted up to 1,400 premature deaths by 2030 because of increased pollution.

Trump’s actions not only make America dirtier and Americans less healthy, they also hurt the economy and future generations. For example, Trump has consistently sought to protect coal and coal-fired power plants. The plants promote climate change and tie regions to old technologies. The future lies with clean energy and the innovative technologies that produce and support it. America’s global competitors, as well as major foreign oil companies, are investing in these future technologies, as Trump works to keep the American economy, which is a natural innovator, tied to old and damaging energy technologies.

Record global heat waves, melting ice caps, unprecedented wildfires in the U.S., Australia, and the Arctic Circle, and increasingly severe storm systems demonstrate the climate is changing now, not some time in the future; nonetheless, Trump has renounced the Paris Climate Agreement, cut government funding for climate related research, inhibited information sharing with the public, rolled back efforts to rein in greenhouse gas emissions and empowered climate deniers.

The cascading impacts of a changing climate will reshape American coastal geography, pummel our national security infrastructure, create domestic climate migrants, damage the economy, and leave future generations wondering how the American people could have elected someone who would work against solving such an obvious and catastrophic problem.

But that is Donald Trump: a man whose election slogan talks about American greatness, but whose actions and policies reverse American environmental progress and will ultimately produce hardship for future generations — our grandchildren and their children.

Kenneth C. Brill was a career Foreign Service Officer who served as U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA in the George W. Bush administration and as a senior intelligence official in the Obama Administration. He was founding director of the U.S. National Counterproliferation Center in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (2005-2009). He was involved in international environmental issues and negotiations in both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.