Perhaps the greatest damage done by the Trump administration is to the environment- to our air, water and to the Earth, as a whole. Trump’s records on public health, on human rights, on infrastructure, on criminal justice, on international relations, on the economy and economic opportunity are abysmal but the world may pay the heaviest price for the environmental degradation engineered by Trump and his industry henchmen. How does Trump defend making air and water more toxic, ignoring our critical responsibility to address climate change, failing to protect fragile ecosystems and endangered species? He lies. But the truth of Trump’s catastrophic environmental impact is all too evident. Trump’s defenders say he has done more than any other president. I would agree that he has done more to dismantle our democratic institutions than anyone before him, but that is hardly something to celebrate. His defenders point to his systematic roll back of environmental regulations and his repudiation of environmental stewardship as accomplishments. Those regulations came with a cost to US industries, but they also provided a somewhat less tangible benefit in cleaner air and water, protection of nature’s delicate balance and a chance to prevent runaway, catastrophic climate change. These important concerns have all been undermined to provide higher corporate profits. Does overturning environmental protections to boost corporate profits constitute an accomplishment? Other than the CEO’s and profit-obsessed investors in those polluting corporations, most people would say ‘no’.
Reporters at the New York Times, using research from Harvard and Columbia law schools, have compiled a list of 100 environmental rules that the Trump administration has already reversed or is in the process of reversing. (NYT, May 20, 2020) It would take a thick-skinned defender of corporate profits at all costs to not balk at the environmental and health risks these rule reversals portend. For example, car fuel economy standards have been rolled back. Rather than the goal of averaging 54 miles/gallon by 2025, the goal has been rolled back to 40 miles/gallon. This change by itself will result in nearly a billion excess tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Europe and Asia won’t buy those cars because in most countries, public policy is based on science and the science of climate change is incontrovertible. Who exactly is helped by less fuel efficiency? The rule reversals cataloged by the Times are divided into 7 areas: Air pollution and emissions; Drilling and extraction; Infrastructure and planning; Animals; Toxic substances and safety; Water pollution; Other. Will most Trump’s supporters see an overall benefit from their hero’s wholesale repudiation of environmental policies going back to the Nixon administration? Will the few who see a net financial benefit be able to enjoy their greater wealth in an increasingly toxic world? Trump may have convinced his supporters that he is fighting for them but how do increasingly toxic air and water and out of control climate change make America great again? The US auto industry nearly died in the 90’s because Detroit was building cars that no one outside of the US wanted. The world is trying to move toward greater environmental sustainability. Trump and his industry henchmen are moving the US in the opposite direction, with his supporters trailing behind, inhaling his toxic mendacity.