Don’t get distracted by Trump’s ludicrous claim that he’s against energy-efficient light bulbs because they make him look orange. That may or may not be the case—but it’s certainly not the main reason his administration is moving full throttle to dismantle decades of environmental regulations, any more than his opposition to wind power has to do with his loony notion that windmills cause cancer.
Over the past weeks, the administration, in league with Big Oil and other fossil fuel industries, has gone full-bore in its efforts to roll back half a century of environmental regulations. Pay attention, America. This isn’t scattershot; it is a concerted, well-planned effort to neutralize environmental regulations and investments built up over decades.
A few examples: In late August, the administration announced plans to end restrictions on methane emissions, despite the fact that methane is a powerful contributor to global warming. That month it also moved to allow logging in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. And last week it eradicated Obama-era regulations, building on the 1972 Clean Water Act, that limited industry’s ability to use polluting chemicals near waterways. It also moved to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling by year’s end.
Lest anyone doubt how retrograde this moment is, GOP senators have begun floating proposals not only to eliminate the federal tax credits that come with purchasing electric vehicles, but even to subject them to a road-usage tax in lieu of the gasoline taxes that owners of such cars don’t pay. The latter measure has already been successfully pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which coordinates conservative policy proposals for state governments, in more than two dozen states in recent years. Implemented federally, these proposals would stifle the development of the still-fragile, and urgently needed, electric vehicle market.
All of this was capped by the September revelation that the Trump administration may be preparing to withdraw the long-standing waivers allowing California to set its own tailgate-emissions and fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles; 13 other states (14, if Colorado, which recently voted to join the compact, is counted) use California’s standards rather than the lower federal ones. The waiver withdrawal deliberately sabotages states’ ability to curtail global warming.
California, is, of course, fighting back with increasingly radical countermeasures. Last week, legislators passed SB1, intended to preserve, in legislative amber, vital federal environmental and labor regulations in the shape that they existed on the last day of Obama’s presidency. The provisions of SB1 would have remained in place through a possible second Trump term, expiring the day after the 2025 presidential inauguration.
At the urging of Senator Dianne Feinstein and Central Valley water interests, however, who fear it would break apart a delicate set of water agreements brokered at the federal level, Governor Gavin Newsom has indicated that he will veto the measure. But other imaginative and powerful policy measures will almost certainly follow. Stay focused; pay attention; filter out the noise—the environmental battle has truly been joined. It’s time to take sides.