Opinion: Trump’s Environmental Rollbacks Destroyed United States Climate Policy

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

With 84 completed environmental rule reversals and 20 more in the works, the Trump administration has established an anti-climate stance throughout President Trump’s term. From legislation governing air and water quality, wildlife, toxic chemicals, and other environmental issues, the Trump administration has dismantled an alarming number of policies covering a wide range of topics. Although past administrations emphasized eliminating regulation over fossil fuel industries, similar to how Trump has, the scale and nature of Trump’s rollbacks are “fundamentally different” according to Harvard Law School’s Environmental and Energy Law Program.

In a report by Yale Climate Connections, they described the Trump administration as “the most anti-climate, anti-science, and anti-environment executive branch in U.S. history.” Moreover, Staff Writer Dana Nuccitelli stated that “numerous high-level Trump nominees” have “cut their teeth as lobbyists with major polluting industries.” Thus, due to the inherent bias within the administration against the environment, the process of the plethora of rollbacks that occurred expedited exponentially.

Looking at Trump’s rule reversals, a New York Times analysis found that the sectors most prominently affected were air pollution and emissions, drilling and extraction, infrastructure and planning, and animals. These four sectors accounted for over 70% of the total rollbacks, with other reversals impacting water pollution and toxic substances and safety sectors.

The prior Obama administration had made significant strides in environmental sustainability by implementing limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, cars, trucks, protections on the U.S’s wetlands, and legal restrictions on harmful mercury emissions from power plants. Unfortunately, these measures have been significantly weakened by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who has facilitated most of the rollbacks. In a statement, an EPA spokeswoman claimed that the agency was merely “delivering on President Trump’s commitment to return the agency to its core mission: Providing cleaner air, water, and land to the American people.”

However, this is simply not reality. Hana V. Vizcarra, a staff attorney at Harvard Law School’s Environmental and Energy Law Program, has been analyzing and following environmental rollbacks for Harvard since 2018. Her findings corroborate those of numerous environmental and legal groups who have found that the EPA limits its power as an environmental agency by removing legislation put in place by Obama’s administration. Taking a closer look at a couple of the rollbacks, these findings are found to be accurate and reveal that Trump’s rule reversals are simply not achieving any sort of mission of “providing cleaner air, water, and land.”

For example, former President Barack Obama established the Clean Power Plan in 2015 to serve as the primary policy to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The plan was written to reduce power-sector-based carbon dioxide emissions and regulate coal plants that did not implement carbon capture and storage technology. However, the Trump administration gutted the Clean Power Plan, and in its place, implemented the Affordable Clean Energy Rule. According to the EPA, this replacement policy only reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 1%, suggesting that the U.S. would not experience any ramifications without it.

The regulatory rollbacks also extend to foster fossil fuel production. President Trump had promised to revive the U.S. coal industry, one of the most harmful fossil fuel industries, in his original campaign. As president, Trump eliminated legislation regulating poisonous mercury emissions, water-polluting coal ash, arsenic, and other toxins. According to a Brookings Institution report, “President Trump has lifted bans on oils and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and parts of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, in coastal waters around the United States, and areas formerly protected as National Monuments in Utah.” The fact is that oil exploration bolsters risks to the sensitive Arctic ecosystem by increasing damages to fisheries, tourism, and other sustainable economic activities.

With the implications of the climate crisis becoming more and more severe by the day, Trump’s rollbacks have destroyed the United States’ ability to actively reduce harmful emissions and mitigate climate change.