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Reactions to Trump Environment Plans: From Defiance to Welcome

Some environmentalists and climate scientists took stances ranging from outrage to hope for common ground, whereas some industry groups embraced the new administration on energy and environment.  

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Scientists, environmental leaders, and industry experts voiced widely varying responses this week to expected shifts in the country’s policies on climate change and other environment and resource development issues under U.S. president-elect Donald Trump.

During a teleconference with reporters on Wednesday, analysts with Bracewell, a law and government relations firm serving the oil and gas, power, and other industries, said the Trump administration likely would favor less environmental regulations and promote fossil fuel energy development.

Bracewell senior counsel Salo Zelermyer, a former senior counsel in the Office of the General Counsel at the Department of Energy (DOE) during the George W. Bush presidency, said Trump likely would work to revoke the Clean Power Plan, with which the Obama administration planned to cut energy production from coal to reach U.S. climate emission reduction goals. He said that some methane and fracking rules also could be targeted along with some energy efficiency standards that DOE has tightened under Obama, among other measures. Zelermyer said that Trump advisers have stated that the transition team “has detailed guides for rolling back regulations on an agency-by-agency basis.”

He added that Trump might not believe it is in his or the country’s interest to try to renegotiate or cancel the Paris climate agreement. “It would certainly use up lot of time and attention to try to cancel the agreement when there would really be no practical reason do so,” Zelermyer said, noting that the agreement doesn’t impose any legal obligations on the United States. “He can simply not pay attention to it.”

Environmentalists on Trump

Environmental leaders speaking at a separate briefing the same day in Washington, D. C., reacted to Trump’s election with defiance and vowed to fight any efforts to roll back environmental protections.

“The president-elect has claimed that [climate change] is a hoax. We are going to keep in his face to make sure that he understands that the public knows that climate change is real and needs solutions. We’ll be in the Congress, in the courts, in the boardroom, in the streets organizing the broad public that supports action on climate change,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the Washington, D.C.–based League of Conservation Voters.

Michael Brune, executive director of the Oakland, Calif.–based Sierra Club, said that Trump “must choose whether he will be a president remembered for putting America and the world back on a path to climate disaster or listening to the American public, investing in the fastest growing sector of the U.S. economy, the clean energy sector, and keeping us on a path to climate progress.”

If Trump doesn’t “choose wisely,” he will face “the hardest fight of his political life,” Brune added.

Some environmentalists at the briefing hoped they might find some common ground with the new administration. Kevin Curtis, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Action Fund, said, “We don’t know what [Trump] stands for. He’s had multiple positions on multiple issues over the course of his campaign.” Curtis pledged to follow Secretary Clinton’s advice in her concession speech Tuesday night and approach the Trump government “with an open mind.” He said, “We have our goals, we know what the world needs, and we look forward to engaging in conversation.”

David Goldston, director of government affairs for NRDC, said infrastructure improvements, which Trump mentioned in his victory speech, could prove an area of common interest.

With regard to climate science, Trump told Fox News in a 29 October interview that “I’m a total believer in science but nothing is very conclusive.”

During the interview, Trump also said, “Now climate change, some people agree and some people don’t. I consider myself to be somewhat of an environmentalist, believe it or not.” He added, “But we can’t afford to be giving billions and billions of dollars away and restricting our businesses when other countries that we’re competing against don’t have those restrictions.”

Reaction from the Science Community

Some scientists also reacted sharply to expected Trump administration moves. It is “a nightmare” that has “put a climate denier in charge of the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] until they can kill it and derail potentially the Paris [climate] negotiations,” David Archer, professor of geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago, told Eos.  The role of climate scientists during the Trump administration will be “staying out of jail, keeping research going, advocacy,” he added.

Climate scientist Robert Corell, principal at the Global Energy and Technology Foundation, told Eos that although Trump’s statements about climate change are disappointing, scientists need to be resilient and redouble their efforts regarding the issue. “Science is a very resilient world. Knowledge and the search for knowledge is ingrained in all of us. We won’t let that go,” he said.

Corell, former assistant director for the geosciences at the National Science Foundation, said that since the election, he and other scientists have discussed trying to work with Trump’s transition team on recommending Republican appointees at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and federal science agencies.

Swaying with Economic Arguments?

The executive director of RepublicEn, a Fairfax, Va.–based group that promotes free enterprise action on climate change, also expressed concern about the incoming administration’s stance on climate change. Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina, told Eos that he fears that the United States “will abdicate its world leadership” on climate change during the Trump administration.

“The people who felt they had their backs against the wall, being pinned there by a big government solution to climate change now should feel empowered because they won,” said Inglis. “Maybe if we approach in humility and ask how could we do this together, maybe they could engage” in climate change efforts.

Inglis said he hopes that Trump could be swayed by economic arguments including RepublicEn’s advocacy for a revenue-neutral carbon tax that is “consistent with free enterprise growth principles.”

Industry Perspective

Since Trump’s surprise win Tuesday, several industry organizations released statements congratulating the now president-elect. Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, a trade association based in Washington, D. C., said the group looks forward to working with the new administration “on smart energy policies that protect the United States as the global leader in oil and natural gas production, development, and refining, as well as in reducing carbon emissions.”

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Editor’s Note: The American Geophysical Union, publisher of Eos, has issued this statement about the election.

Citation: Showstack, R. (2016), Reactions to Trump environment plans: From defiance to welcome, Eos, 97, https://doi.org/10.1029/2016EO062841. Published on 11 November 2016.
© 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0