04 • 24 • 2020

Trump Administration Continues to Weaken Climate Change Laws Amid Pandemic

By Stefanie Sekich-Quinn

Most American are probably unaware of how aggressively the Trump administration is rolling back environmental laws. Just recently, the administration implemented a far-reaching climate change rollback that dismantled an Obama-era clean air standard.  Unfortunately, that rollback, as well as other rollbacks, have received little media attention—and understandably so—because most news outlets are preoccupied with Covid-19.  

However, this pandemic does not provide decision makers with a license to haphazardly reverse decades of environmental progress and climate change laws.  Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening as the administration is seemingly using the pandemic as a ‘red herring’ to gut numerous laws. This misguided attempt to undermine climate change policy is particularly troublesome especially when considering that 64% of Americans believe climate change is a serious threat and/or a crisis. 

Surfrider believes it is unconscionable to gut environmental laws while most Americans are deeply concerned about the global pandemic and will be less likely to engage in civics.  Not only are these rollbacks underhanded, but they contribute more air and water pollution which will impact residents with health conditions, making them more susceptible to Covid-19.  A new Harvard study found that air pollution can be significantly linked to higher rates of death in people with Covid-19. 

It should be noted that some rollbacks were proposed prior to Covid-19, and are part of a broader pattern of environmental deregulation under the Trump administration. Yet, the most recent rollback is particularly troubling because it dramatically weakens vehicle emissions standards that were hard-fought over the past decade.  Another attempt to undermined climate change efforts came when the administration proposed to revoke California’s authority's to set higher air quality standards than the federal government.  Of course, California promptly sued and the case is making its way through the courts.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a paramount environmental law that mandates climate change review, has also become another target. The Trump administration brazenly proposed a rule that climate change impacts should not be considered under NEPA. The proposal has met significant opposition in Congress where a Democrat and Republican co-authored a bipartisan sign on letter opposing the administration’s plan. Moreover, the courts have a long history of requiring government agencies and businesses to weigh climate change impacts during decision-making and implementing large projects.

Then there are oil and gas production rollbacks.  For years, the Department of Interior has drastically weakened offshore drilling safety regulations. To add insult to injury, the administration launched a controversial plan to open up roughly 90 percent of U.S. waters to oil drilling, which Surfrider and our partners have helped stall.  Most recently, the administration auctioned off 78 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to oil/gas producers despite cries to halt sales until after the pandemic. 

Right now, our global community is experiencing two crises—Covid-19 and climate change—and we should be applying the same lessons to each crisis.  While times have been challenging the past several weeks, there are positive lessons to embrace that relate to climate change: 

  • Global society can work together to stave off ‘worst case scenarios.’ With sufficient leadership, we can take the necessary (albeit painful) collective steps to avoid catastrophe. A similar global response is needed to tackle climate change. 
  • There is undeniable strength in science.  At first, Covid-19 was framed as being no worse than the flu (some alluded it was a hoax).  Once clear facts and science were embraced, the situation was taken more seriously.  
  • A deeper appreciation for nature is emerging.  Since people have been staying home, the great outdoors has never been so appealing.   
  • The earth has appreciated the pause. Satellites images show air pollution over major worldwide cities has significantly dropped. In fact, in the northeast U.S. there was a 30% drop in pollution. 

Needless to say, it shouldn’t take a global pandemic for us to make bold reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The threats posed by climate change have become abundantly clear and the solutions are right in front of us. Please join Surfrider in opposing environmental rollbacks and urging our government leaders to take bold action on climate change. 

Visit Surfrider’s climate change website

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