Getting America Back on Course

By William S. Becker
With important elections coming up this fall and in 2020, the American people will have opportunities to correct the mistake of putting Donald Trump in the White House, where he has used his office to undermine some of our most important institutions and laws.
Trump’s damage has been widespread. Others have spoken about his impact on international relations; the stewardship of public lands; the press and the courts; the government’s divorce from science; and so on.
Of special importance to those of us in the environmental sector is Trump’s great leap backward on environmental protection, energy policy and climate change. The question now is what we can do to rebuild what Trump and his minions have weakened or destroyed.
On these and other issues, there seems to be three levels of volume in national politics right now. There is virtually no sound coming from the Democratic Party. It seems to have no message beyond an implicit “We’re not Trump”. Perhaps party strategists are content to remain quiet and hope that Trump will hang himself along with those who aided and abetted him in Congress.
Next, we have moderate Republicans. Some of them, including several of the GOP’s most distinguished senior members, speak up from time to time, publishing op-eds for example that call on their colleagues to act more responsibility on issues like environmental protection and global climate change. But their thoughtful arguments seem to make little difference to the third and loudest group, the ultra-conservatives who are in power, hell-bent to destroy the mythical “deep state” that enforces federal environmental regulations.
The first two groups must raise their volumes. We humans, a category of which Americans are part, have more power to ruin ecological systems than any generation before us. There are more people, more cities, more resource demands, more waste, and more technologies to degrade or destroy forests, fresh water reserves, soil quality, natural habitat and even the planet’s climate. Since some people seem inclined to exploit rather than protect these resources, it falls upon government to conserve them for this and future generations.
The Trump Administration, and notably Scott Pruitt at EPA, have been serving the exploiters instead of the people. In fact, a peer-reviewed study published two weeks ago by the American Journal of Public Health concludes that EPA is on the brink of “regulatory capture” – in other words, a takeover by corporate interests that are moving the agency away from its mission to “protect human and environmental health.”
So, what shall we do to make sure that the next two elections – the mid-term congressional elections in November and the presidential election in 2020 – allow us to rebuild what Trump has torn down?
One approach would be to create two coalitions of strange bedfellows, where each would develop a rebuilding plan. The first coalition would consist of the CEO’s of the hundreds of U.S. companies that brand themselves as “green” and/or endorse the Paris climate agreement and specific policies to mitigate global climate change.
In December 2015, 154 companies joined a collaboration called American Business Act on Climate Pledge, to support U.S. participation in the Paris accord. The companies employed 11 million people and represented more than $4 trillion in annual revenues. More than 360 businesses and investors encouraged Trump to keep the United States in the Paris agreement.
Their mission this year and next would be to develop a new U.S. Climate Action Plan that would keep or exceed America’s commitments under the Paris agreement. It would build on President Obama’s plan, but it would propose market-based actions to replace federal regulations where markets can be more effective. For example, Obama’s Clean Power Plan to regulate carbon emissions from power plants would be replaced by a carbon tax. More about that in a future post.
The second coalition would consist of veterans of public service from the moderate wings of both parties – a bipartisan group that symbolizes how environmental protection and climate action are not and never have been partisan issues. Their mission this year and next would be to restore and improve upon many of the environmental and climate-related policies of the Obama Administration; to propose legislation that would codify the most important policies so they cannot be so easily changed in the future; and to reinforce the statutory role and authorities at EPA.
Many organizations are bringing lawsuits to reverse, stop or stall the Trump Administration’s rollback of environmental protections. They are largely holding actions. What voters deserve to see in these next two elections are specific bipartisan blueprints on how our new members in Congress and the next president will put America back on course.