Probing Worst-Case Environmental Outcomes Under Trump and the G.O.P.

Probing Worst-Case Environmental Outcomes Under Trump and the G.O.P.

- in House of Representatives

Updated, 2:24 p.m. | I was just interviewed by the English-language France 24 news service, and the video is here:

As the election results emerged last Wednesday (a “black elephant” more than a “black swan”), I focused on the prospect, however slim, of reasonableness on environmental and energy issues in a Trump White House.


Rain didn’t dampen a Trump rally in Charleston, W. Va., in May.Credit Ty Wright for The New York Times

Hidden behind the flow of fact-free tweets and edge-wooing stump statements, Trump’s campaign had posted reasonable ideas when the Science Debate organization asked questions on the role of science funding in fostering innovation (it’s great, unless it’s climate science, evidently) and the merits of a post-fossil energy system.

The “perhaps” qualifier made it clear that the campaign’s response on renewable energy didn’t come from the master of declarative superlatives himself:

“Perhaps we should be focused on developing energy sources and power production that alleviates the need for dependence on fossil fuels.”

But it did imply that someone in Trump’s policy camp was thinking beyond pandering (onetime solar hawk James Woolsey, perhaps?). David Victor of the University of California, San Diego, has written on the prospect of limited damage.

But it’s important to be realistic and consider the darker possibilities (perhaps probabilities, if Trump’s early appointments are a barometer).

First read the “listicle from hell” of 11 steps Trump and a Republican Congress can pursue, assembled yesterday by David Roberts and Brad Plumer at Vox, with the points helpfully distilled in a tweeted image by Cris Robertson here

Here’s the introduction:

Unified Republican control of the federal government over the next two years augurs a sea change in US environmental policy like nothing since the late 1960s and ’70s, when America’s landmark environmental laws were first passed.

If Donald Trump and the GOP actually follow through on what they’ve promised, this time around will be a lurch in the opposite direction. Federal climate policy will all but disappear; participation in international environmental or climate treaties will end; pollution regulations will be reversed, frozen in place, or not enforced; clean energy research, development, and deployment assistance will decline; protections for sensitive areas and ecosystems will be lifted; federal leasing of fossil fuels will expand and accelerate; new Supreme Court appointees will crack down on EPA discretion.

Some of these moves will be easy for Trump and Republicans in Congress to pull off. Others will be harder: Senate Democrats and environmental groups in court will fight them tooth and nail, as they did during the Reagan and Bush years. But there’s no escaping the fact that the GOP is in a strong position to demolish and reshape the regime of environmental protection that has been built up over the past 50 years.


Jerry Taylor, a libertarian who favors a carbon tax.Credit Niskanen Center

Read the rest at, but please return to consider some more thoughts on a Trump presidency offered by Jerry Taylor. Taylor is one of the most interesting voices for me in Washington on climate policy given his path to supporting a carbon tax and other steps after spending years at the free-market-focused Cato Institute challenging the need for substantial steps to blunt human-driven global warming. Taylor, now heading his own organization, the Niskanen Center, still seeks a limited-government approach but has enthusiastically made the conservative case for a carbon tax.

He sent the following note around this morning. Please click the links and read:

While much of Washington is still in shock over the Trumpocolypse, the Niskanen Center has wasted no time reorienting itself to new political realities. Yesterday on our blog, my colleagues David Bailey and David Bookbinder offered a close look at how far Republicans could go in the course of unwinding federal climate action. While the Paris agreement and the Clean Power Plan are almost certainty dead and gone, significant legal and political obstacles confront Republicans wishing to go further. The climate fight that’s likely coming will be pitched and bloody.

Today, I offered my own thoughts on the impact the elections have had on those of us who support carbon taxation in the GOP. While it’s not impossible to imagine scenarios where carbon taxation still goes forward in the 115th Congress, it’s obviously less likely now under a Trump administration. There are lessons to be learned from last week, however, that should inform our efforts in the future, and I discuss them on our blog today.

Many of you have contacted me since the election to ask about Myron Ebell, the head of the Trump transition team at EPA. I shared my thoughts about Myron (who I’ve known professionally for about 20 years) with reporter Danny Vinik in Politico yesterday. Danny writes an excellent profile for those interested in where environmental policy may be heading in the next four years.

But do not despair! Washington energy attorney Brian Potts makes the case yesterday in Forbes that I would make a great choice to run the EPA in the upcoming Trump administration. Don’t hold your breath.

Related | The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, which runs one of the critical hubs for climate analysis, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, has just published “guidance for the next U.S. presidential administration and Congress on the importance of better understanding and predicting weather, water, climate, and other aspects of the Earth system.”

I hope it’s read by the Trump team, not because this’ll convince Trump that the warming impact of greenhouse gases is a serious threat. With or without global warming, there’s a solid argument that improved understanding of planetary dynamics, particularly the climate system, is essential to sustaining human progress given how risks rise as populations expand, build, farm and concentrate in zones that are  implicitly vulnerable to hard knocks like floods, droughts, heat and severe storms.

Here’s part of the news release:

“[The] UCAR white paper emphasizes that focused investment of federal resources in the atmospheric, Earth, and related sciences will make significant contributions addressing important societal needs. These include protection of lives and property, expansion of new economic opportunities, enhancement of national security, and strengthening U.S. leadership in research and development.

“More than ever, federal support of research and education into the Earth system is critical to the nation,” said UCAR President Antonio J. Busalacchi. “We are on the verge of a new era of prediction, based on understanding how the entire Earth system works. This will have a direct, positive impact on lives and livelihoods.”

…The white paper proposes federal support for advanced computer models, new observing systems, and more powerful computing resources, as well as a strong science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education system. Its proposals include a National Academies’ decadal survey, involving representatives of the public and private sectors, which would develop priorities for weather research and forecasting.

Related tweets and postscripts

Lindsay Iversen of the Council on Foreign Relations explores whether China can take the lead on climate if Trump pulls the United States back:

I reached out on the same question to David Sandalow, a former Obama administration climate official who now runs a U.S.-China Energy and Climate program at Columbia University. He sent this note from the climate talks in Marrakesh:

The Paris Agreement is designed to be resilient to the withdrawal of a major emitter. Many countries would be determined not to let that prevent the rest of the world from fighting climate change. There would be some attrition, but it could end up strengthening resolve on the part of some countries.

Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement would hurt US interests and reputation around the world. It would provide China with a strategic opportunity, elevating Chinese credibility at the expense of the United States in the eyes of many countries around the world.


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