From now until Election Day, The Brian Lehrer Show is hosting a series called “30 Issues in 30 Days.” The idea is to dive deep on one issue a day to give voters a sense of what candidates are saying about the policies that affect their lives. Next up: Trump's climate change polices.
This week the United Nations issued its most urgent report on climate change ever, concluding that the prognosis for planet Earth is much more dire than previously thought—and worsening more rapidly than previously anticipated.
But for now, the globe and the White House keep spinning.
“I’ve seen [other] reports that are fabulous,” said President Donald Trump to a reporter Tuesday. As to where these other reports are, and what constitutes “fabulosity” when it comes to climate change, the President did not say, but Trump has been invoking this alternative reality where climate change doesn’t exist, or even where climate change is good, since the campaign days. (Remember in 2016 when he wished for MORE climate change on a chilly day upstate?)
So how does this cavalier, dismissive attitude toward a looming catastrophe with no historical precedent translate into actual policies? Let’s consider how Trump has affected climate change policy since taking office:
Pulled out of Paris Deal:
A year ago, Trump announced the U.S. would not participate in a global pact between 194 countries intended to battle rising temperatures and reduce carbon emissions. Under the accord, the U.S. would have had to cut greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and commit to give $3 billion to poorer countries by 2020. Trump called these provisions “demeaning,” and an attack on American sovereignty.
What’s the impact?
Technically the U.S. isn’t even out of the deal yet—Trump only announced an intention to withdraw but can’t formally do so until the year 2020. In the meantime states are stepping up, promising to meet the Paris accord standards, and reach new goals. California, for example, has committed to 100% renewable energy and carbon neutrality by 2045. But also, observers worry, the U.S.’s non- compliance could inspire more countries to withdraw. Brazilians are expected to elect far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who promised he would withdraw that country from the deal if he wins (Brazil is the world’s seventh-largest emitter of greenhouse gases).
Increased the amount of allowable auto emissions:
In 2012 President Obama announced that car manufacturers would have to start making cars with an average fuel economy of 54 miles per gallon (nearly double what it is now) by 2015. In August the Trump administration announced a policy that would prevent regulatory standards from getting stricter after 2021, freezing the fuel economy standard at 37 miles per gallon. In a statement entitled Make Cars Great Again, Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao and Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of the E.P.A., wrote that their proposal would “give consumers greater access to safer, more affordable vehicles, while continuing to protect the environment,” while Obama’s plan would “eliminate jobs.” (Obama predicted his plan would “create or save more than 700,000 jobs.”) The Trump administration also said it would revoke California’s special ability to set its own regulations, which other states can follow.
What’s the impact?
According to the New York Times, Trump’s weaker standards would add the “climate equivalent of putting an extra 31 million cars on the road [in 2030 alone]” which is “more carbon dioxide than many midsize nations like Belgium or Greece put out in an entire year.” States aren’t giving in without a fight. This month regulators in California voted to require automakers to comply with the state’s stricter rules on pollution if they want to sell cars in state. The Trump administration is set to face legal battles over the policy, and if they lose the court ruling, observers anticipate that the nation’s regulatory standards will be split in two, with some states following weaker federal guidelines and others following California’s lead.
Replaced the Obama administration’s clean power plan:
Also in August Trump announced the Affordable Clean Energy [ACE] plan, his proposal to reduce greenhouse gases from power plants. Observers called it a toothless version of Obama’s plan, the main defanging mechanism being a switch from sector wide level regulations, to plant-specific regulations. Obama's Clean Power Plan was designed to lower carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants by 32 percent by 2030. Trump's proposal, on the other hand, would reduce emissions from these same plants by 1 to 2% by 2035, says his own EPA.
What’s the impact?
Trump’s plan is not finalized and will likely end up stalled, challenged by the lower courts (Obama’s Clean Power Plan actually never took effect and is still tied up in legal battles). If Trump’s plan ever does go into effect the E.P.A.’s own numbers showed how ACE could lead to as many as 1,400 premature deaths a year by 2030 due to heart and lung disease. And that’s not taking into account untold deaths caused by the accelerated pace of global warming, which is fueled by coal burning.
Trump isn’t running yet, so why does this matter in the midterms?
Although Democrats are reluctant to make climate change a centerpiece of their campaign message (it doesn’t poll well, because most voters feel they have more pressing things to worry about like how to afford healthcare), most Democrats do care about the issue and flipping the House blue would result in more legislation being introduced to try to mitigate climate change catastrophe. As noted above, right now there's more chance for meaningful climate change legislation at the state level, and here in New York a Democratic-controlled Senate could yield advances in environmental protections.
For more, here's Brian Lehrer's segment: