Many environmental protections in the United States can be traced back to the first Earth Day in 1970, which generated support for creating the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as the Clean Air and Water Acts. Environmental safeguards are critical to protecting Americans and ensuring sustainable economic growth.
Unfortunately, over the last three and a half years President Donald Trump has initiated an unprecedented number of regulatory rollbacks that ignore science and severely impact public health, the economy and the environment. Even as the extraordinary health and economic crises caused by COVID-19 continue to unfold the Trump Administration is keeping pace in undermining environmental regulations.
Here are seven of the most consequential examples of how Trump has dismantled, rolled back and otherwise weakened efforts to tackle climate change — and a summary of the resulting impact on Americans' health and well-being.
1. Disregarded Scientific Data About the Risks of Climate Change
The Trump Administration has consistently sought to weaken the role of scientific evidence in environmental rulemaking. In a series of moves, the EPA ordered the dissolution of advisory boards that offer external, apolitical science-based guidance and barred scientists who receive EPA grant funding from serving on the boards, thus opening the door for greater influence by business interests. The effects of this scientific sidelining were acutely felt in 2019 when an EPA panel to review soot standards did not include an epidemiologist to evaluate public health impacts.
The administration's efforts to diminish scientific data and input from scientists are unprecedented and too numerous to list. Some additional moves include blocking a State Department scientist's Congressional testimony on the threats climate change poses to national security, and inserting climate denial language into scientific reports.
2. Dismantled the Clean Power Plan
The Clean Power Plan, a policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, was quickly put on the chopping block when Trump entered the White House. The EPA effectively repealed the policy and put forth a replacement policy in 2018, which — according to the agency's own analysis — could result in 1,400 additional premature deaths from air pollution and $30 billion in health damages per year compared to the original Clean Power Plan, with the most dire impacts felt in the Midwest.
These actions are more confounding when considering that falling costs of energy from wind and solar make it cost-effective to close three-quarters of the country's remaining coal plants and replace them with new renewable power. To defend this rollback, the Trump Administration downplayed its adverse economic impact by using flawed analysis in assessing the damage climate change would cause in the United States. The EPA eschewed mainstream economics in estimating the benefits of avoiding human-caused climate change. Whereas the original assessment accounted for the social cost of carbon (the estimate of damage caused by each ton of carbon dioxide emissions) by considering global damages, the Trump administration EPA adopted a narrow domestic lens, not taking into account transboundary impacts. Moreover, it used higher discount rates (the tool by which economists determine the value of future costs or benefits, relative to the present value) to undervalue the cost to future generations.
3. Blocked Rule to Phase Out Inefficient Lightbulbs
The U.S. Department of Energy recently rolled back a commonsense policy that requires new lightbulbs to meet stringent energy-efficiency standards, originally established by the Bush Administration in 2007. Since then the cost of the most efficient lighting, LEDs, has fallen by roughly 90%. The rollback is expected to cost the average household $100 per year in higher electricity bills. In total, families and businesses are projected to spend an extra $12 billion dollars a year under the proposal. The rollback will also increase carbon emissions by 34 million metric tons per year by 2025, equivalent to the annual emissions of 7 million cars.
4. Refuses to Support Bipartisan Legislation to Curb Super Pollutants from Air Conditioners and Refrigerators
Super pollutants, such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), are potent heat-trapping gases common in air conditioners and refrigerators. HFCs have extremely high potential to accelerate climate change — some trap thousands of times more heat than an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. The global Kigali Amendment requires countries to phase down the production and usage of the most potent HFCs, potentially preventing 0.5 degrees C of warming (0.9 degrees F) by the end of the century. The bipartisan American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act, currently being considered in the Senate, would put the United States on a phasedown schedule in line with the global agreement.
After successful negotiation among 197 countries and ratification by 81, the Kigali Amendment went into effect in 2019. However, the Trump Administration continues to oppose the domestic legislation to implement this phasedown. By missing this opportunity, the United States could lose out on 30,000 new jobs and billions of dollars' worth of exports over the next few years alone. The AIM Act has bipartisan backing on Capitol Hill and is strongly endorsed by the business community, including corporate trade associations such as the Chamber of Commerce; the National Association of Manufacturers; and the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute.
5. Rolled Back Rules Limiting Methane Pollution from Oil and Gas Infrastructure
In 2019, the Trump EPA proposed to eliminate existing standards requiring oil and gas companies to monitor and repair leaks of methane — another super pollutant — from both new and existing equipment. The Environmental Defense Fund estimates this rollback will lead to an additional 5 million metric tons of methane emissions per year, as well as significantly increase emissions of hazardous volatile organic compounds and cancer-causing benzene. By rolling back the rule, the Trump Administration not only imperils the climate but also the 9.3 million Americans who live within a half-mile of the older oil and gas wells that would no longer be regulated. If anything, the wells should have more oversight, as a recent study found that methane leaks from oil and gas fields may be 60% higher than the EPA's estimations.
Oil and gas behemoths BP, Exxon and Shell joined scientists and environmental groups in opposing the rule change, with BP America's president citing the "clear business case" for avoiding costly leaks. Studies show that the natural gas industry could save more than $1 billion per year by capturing wasted gas.
6. Loosened Emissions Standards for Cars and Trucks
In March 2020, the Trump Administration significantly weakened the 2012 rule requiring automakers to produce more fuel-efficient and less polluting vehicles. As a result, families and businesses across the country are expected to pay an extra $231 billion at the pump between 2021 and 2035. The rollback will also eliminate 13,500 jobs, according to the administration. Meanwhile, cumulative greenhouse gas emissions over this timeframe would increase by 654 million metric tons, equivalent to adding another 140 million cars to the road for one year.
The Trump Administration has also taken steps to prevent states from filling the growing regulatory void created by these rollbacks, revoking the waiver that enabled California and other states to voluntarily set higher efficiency standards for passenger vehicles. Altogether the revocation impacts 14 states, which comprise more than one-third of the U.S. auto market.
7. Withdrew from Paris Agreement on Climate Change
In November 2019, Trump initiated a formal request to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, the landmark international treaty to address the climate crisis. The withdrawal is an abdication of U.S. leadership on climate as the world's largest historical greenhouse gas emitter. The United States is now a climate loner, absent from the global stage.
Research shows that bold climate action could deliver at least $26 trillion in net global economic benefits between now and 2030. China, the European Union and other nations will now shape the terms of climate diplomacy and be better positioned to take advantage of financial opportunities as the world transitions to cleaner forms of energy.
Even as the federal government refuses to address the climate crisis, American states, cities and businesses are ramping up climate action￼transitioning to clean energy, adopting zero-emission vehicles, shifting away from super-polluting refrigerants and more. Since President Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, nearly 150 U.S. businesses have set or committed to set ambitious emission reduction targets which align with the Agreement's goals to limit global warming. The most recent America's Pledge report found that subnational actors that support ambitious climate action represent 65% of the U.S. population and 68% of the economy. Nonetheless, the scale of the climate crisis is such that federal leadership is paramount to tackle this challenge both domestically and internationally.
Environmental Rollbacks Harm the American Economy and Threaten Public Health
The Trump Administration's reversal of these key policies hurt Americans and hamper the world's ability to address the climate crisis. Nearly 70% of Americans, including most Republicans, want the United States to take "aggressive" action to tackle the climate crisis. As the United States reels from the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn, the last thing the country needs is the continued rollback of measures that grow the economy, save consumers money and protect Americans' health, all while ignoring the tremendous opportunity offered by renewable energy and other low-carbon investments.
On this Earth Day, we encourage you to share this blog post and accompanying video and let your state and Congressional representatives know that you stand firmly against these rollbacks.